China holds drills as US lawmakers pay ‘provocative’ visit to Taiwan

China says it conducted military drills around Taiwan on Friday, coinciding with a US Congressional delegation’s visit to the island, with Beijing blaming the visitors for raising tensions with the “provocative” trip.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said in a statement that its military sent frigates, bombers, and fighter planes to the East China Sea and the area around Taiwan.

“This operation is in response to the recent frequent release of wrong signals by the United States on the Taiwan issue,” it said, without mentioning the visiting American delegation.

“The US bad actions and tricks are completely futile and very dangerous. Those who play with fire will burn themselves,” it added.

In a separate statement, China’s Defense Ministry said the visit of lawmakers was “deliberately provocative” and had “led to further escalation of tension in the Taiwan Strait”.

The bipartisan group of six lawmakers arrived on the island on a two-day visit Thursday.

Senator Lindsey Graham, part of the visiting delegation, told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen during the delegation’s meeting that the war in Ukraine and provocative behavior by China had united US opinion in a way not seen before, reports said.

“To abandon Taiwan would be to abandon democracy and freedom,” he said. “There’s a backlash growing in the world to thuggery – to the bad guys.”

Senator Bob Menendez, who heads the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said technology hub Taiwan’s security has implications for the world.

Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has put Chinese Taipei on alert as the island’s Western allies fear Beijing might launch a similar military move there.

China, which enjoys sovereignty over Taiwan, has repeatedly warned the US against formal ties with the self-ruled territory. It maintains that weapon sales to the island violate China’s sovereignty.

Under the “One China” policy, almost all world countries recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

The US also recognizes Chinese sovereignty over the island, but in an attempted affront to China and violation of its official policy, Washington constantly sells weapons to the island.

Earlier this week, a report in the Wall Street Journal alleged that China has accelerated the expansion of its nuclear arsenal due to a change in the country’s assessment of the threat posed by the US.

The report said the US government’s wariness about getting directly involved in the Ukraine conflict along with Beijing’s emphasis on creating a credible deterrence had led Beijing to work on the construction of more than 100 missile silos that can house nuclear weapons.

The report comes in the wake of an earlier claim by the Pentagon that the Chinese Communist Party aims to “modernize, diversify and expand” its nuclear forces, investing in “land, sea and air-based nuclear delivery platforms.”

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