An aircraft of the Air Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) attends a combat readiness patrols and "Joint Sword" exercises around Taiwan, from an undisclosed location in this handout image released on April 8, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Beijing: China announced it will conduct military drills “around” Taiwan for three days from Saturday, after the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen returned from visits to the US.

The People’s Liberation Army will hold drills and patrols in airspace and waters on the north, south and east sides of Taiwan from April 8 to 10, Eastern Theatre Command spokesman Senior Colonel Shi Yi said in a statement on Saturday.

The exercises will be conducted “according to plan,” Shi said, adding that they are a “stern warning against Taiwan separatist forces’ collusion with foreign elements.”

He didn’t mention Tsai’s visits to New York and Los Angeles, which included meetings with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other US lawmakers.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement it detected 71 PLA aircraft and nine warships near Taiwan between 6am to 4pm on Saturday, with 45 of the warplanes crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait and entering the southwestern part of the island’s air-defence identification zone.

Warships and warplanes passed over the median line in groups from the north, the centre and the south of the strait, according to the statement.

Beijing had pledged to respond to any meeting between Tsai and McCarthy, calling it a provocation that “damages China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The latest planned drills appear to be on a smaller scale than exercises held by China after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, and didn’t include any imposition of exclusive zones in its airspace and waters.

In August, China announced missile tests and military drills near Taiwan less than an hour after Pelosi landed in Taipei. The PLA also imposed six exclusive zones, banning ships and aircraft from entering.

China earlier leveled largely symbolic sanctions on Taiwan’s envoy to the US, two think tanks, and the venue that hosted Tsai in California.

On Saturday, Tsai lauded Taiwan’s stronger relationship with the US in a joint press briefing with US House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul in Taipei. She said Taiwan is looking forward to advance trade ties with the US in addition to boosting security cooperation.

On Friday evening, China announced that it would hold live-fire exercises in the waters off Fujian province on April 10. The shooting drills will take place from 7am to 8pm near Pingtan, a county about 130 kilometers (81 miles) from Hsinchu city across the strait in northwestern Taiwan.