Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said its military remains on high alert following simulated strikes on the island by China, which is conducting military exercises around the island. Photo courtesy of Taiwan Ministry of National Defense/Twitter
April 10 (UPI) -- Fraught tensions between Beijing and Washington further strained Monday as China's military conducted simulated strikes on key Taiwanese targets and a U.S. Navy warship cruised near South China Sea islands claimed by the Asian nation.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said Monday evening its air defense units remain on "high alert" after it had detected 70 warplanes and 11 ships of the Chinese military within its air defense identification zone within the past 24 hours ending at 6 a.m.
Thirty-five of the planes had crossed the median line, the de facto border between China and Taiwan within the Taiwan Strait, it said.
China's People's Liberation Army's Eastern Theater Command said in a statement the Monday mission included the Shandong aircraft carrier and was conducted in "close coordination of all military services."
State-run China Daily reported that the Monday exercises included "multi-wave simulated strikes on important targets on Taiwan island."
It marked the third consecutive day of China conducting military exercises around Taiwan in response to the island's president, Tsai Ing-wen, concluding a 10-day international trip that included stops in the United States.
China frequently flexes its military might when Taiwan deepens ties with democratic nations, and it has conducted bombastic exercises in protest against diplomatic exchanges between the United States and Taiwan. Following a visit to the island by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in August, Beijing conducted its largest-ever war games around Taiwan.
Chinese aircraft and vessels also frequently make incursions into Taiwan's ADIZ in a tactic Taipei's military calls "gray zone" warfare intended to sap its military of defense resources and morale.
Beijing views Taiwan as a wayward province and has vowed to seize control of it by force if necessary, even though the island has never been part of the People's Republic of China, which was founded in 1949.
While China was conducting the military exercises around Taiwan, hundreds of miles away the USS Milius, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, cruised passed the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The Spratly Islands, an archipelago of more than 100 islets, reefs and rocks, face overlapping claims of sovereignty by China and several coastal nations, including Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.
China, however, lays claim to much of the South China Sea through its so-called Nine-Dash-Line maps, an assertion the United Nations ruled was without any legal basis in 2016.
The U.S. 7th Fleet described the Monday mission of USS Milius as it having "asserted navigational rights and freedoms."
The freedom of navigations operation "upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea" and USS Milius "demonstrated that Mischief Reef, a low-tide elevation in its natural state, is not entitled to a territorial sea under international law."
"By engaging in normal operations within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, the United States demonstrated that vessels can lawfully exercise high-seas freedoms in those areas," it said in a statement that also rejected China's "unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea."
In response to what it views as an illegal incursion of its maritime waters, a spokesperson for China's Theater Command issued a statement reiterating its claims to the area and announcing that the U.S. vessel was surveilled by PLC warplanes.
"China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters, and theater troops are always on high alert to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security, as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea," the spokesperson said.