CNN's Paula Hancocks interviews US Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar in Taiwan.
Watch CNN interview with Azar during controversial visit to Taiwan
02:25 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

China is stepping up military drills around East Asia as a war of words with the United States heats up over Washington’s military activities and the visit of a US cabinet secretary to Taiwan.

One Chinese think tank even says the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may consider live-fire exercises near the US island of Guam.

Beijing has stepped up the pace of its war games in recent weeks, after the US sent two aircraft carrier strike groups on rare dual-carrier exercises in the South China Sea twice in the month of July.

But the visit of US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to the self-governed island of Taiwan this week has added fuel to the smoldering tensions. Azar is the highest-ranking US official to visit the island – which Beijing regards as Chinese territory – in decades.

Azar’s presence in Taipei is “a serious breach” of US commitments on Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday afternoon.

“We urge the US side to abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of three China-U.S. joint communiques, stop official interactions and contact of all kinds as well as the upgrading of substantive relations with the island, and handle Taiwan-related issues in a prudent and proper manner, so as not to seriously damage China-US cooperation in major areas as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Zhao said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Four US-made F-16 fighter jets of Taiwan's air force are shown during 2018 exercises.

Chinese warplanes cross line

On Monday morning, China sent fighter jets across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, which Taiwan said its warplanes warned off. The Chinese jets were also tracked by Taiwan’s land-based anti-aircraft missiles, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

Though still in international airspace, the Taiwan Strait median line has been an informal but largely respected dividing line for Beijing and Taipei. According to Taiwanese and US government reports, Beijing’s warplanes have only crossed it intentionally three times since 1999 – once in March 2019, in February of this year, and again on Monday.

A story from state-supported Global Times, appearing on the official English language website of the PLA, showed Beijing’s displeasure with Washington over Azar’s visit to Taiwan.

“The PLA operation is considered a strong response to the US move, which broke a diplomatic bottom line of China-US relations,” the story said.