(Bloomberg) -- China started its most expansive military drills in a year around Taiwan, ramping up pressure on Lai Ching-te just days after he took over as the island’s new president.

The drills on Thursday were intended to “serve as a strong punishment for the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and a stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces,” China’s Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a military spokesman.

The “external forces” line is likely a reference to the US, which is Taiwan’s main military backer. President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the US would defend the democracy of 23 million people if it’s attacked, while China has pledged to bring Taiwan under its control eventually, by force if necessary.

Taiwan deployed sea, air and ground forces in response to the exercises, according to a press release from the Defense Ministry in Taipei. It also condemned Beijing for provocations that undermine regional peace and stability. A spokesman for the ministry said at a briefing later that Taiwan’s military was at a normal level of combat readiness.

Chinese defense stocks jumped, with Bestway Marine & Energy Technology Co. and Jiangxi Xinyu Guoke Tech Co. rising as much as 20%. In Taiwan, Lungteh Shipbuilding Co. gained as much as 5.6% and Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. rose 5.7%. The Taiwan dollar climbed 0.1% to 32.25 versus the greenback.

Lai took office on Monday in the island that makes the bulk of the world’s most-advanced chips. He said in his inaugural address that China should drop its threat of war and that neither side of the strait was subordinate to the other.

China has already signaled its displeasure with him, saying his speech “sent a dangerous signal of seeking independence.” It also condemned US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for congratulating Lai, sanctioned a former US congressman who supported Taipei and hit US defense companies with symbolic sanctions.

A CCTV commentary said on Thursday that Lai’s speech showed he’s pursing independence “more aggressively” than his predecessors, including Tsai Ing-wen and Chen Shui-bian.

China’s military drills add to the complications for the new government in Taipei. Opposition lawmakers are pushing through changes to the law that are aimed at reining in the president’s powers, bringing thousands of people onto the streets on Tuesday night. Those demonstrations are likely to resume on Friday when the legislature takes its next steps forward on the changes.

The Chinese drills were being carried out in the Taiwan Strait; north, south and east of Taiwan; and around the offshore islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, Xinhua said. The exercises would last two days, it added.

The PLA issued a map of the drills, marking five areas around Taiwan’s main island and circling four smaller islands off China’s coast. The Chinese Coast Guard announced exercises in the waters near Wuqiu and Dongyin islands on the same day.

China didn’t send out navigational alerts for ships and airplanes as it did during the drills in August 2022, when Beijing blocked off six areas in the sea and fired missiles in response to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

While it wasn’t immediately clear how many ships and planes were involved, China’s military has not held exercises in so many locations around Taiwan since April of last year.

--With assistance from Betty Hou, Sangmi Cha, Yasufumi Saito, Miaojung Lin and Chien-Hua Wan.

(Updates with Taiwan’s Defense Ministry briefing.)

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