Prior to those elections, relations between the two were at a high point after Xi met with then-President Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting in history between leaders of the two governments.
But since then, tensions between China and the island it views as a breakaway province have become strained under Ma’s successor, President Tsai Ing-wen.
The new Trump administration has sought closer ties to President Tsai’s government, angering Beijing by signing two deals in the past month to tighten ties with the island, including a travel act which will allow more official visits between the US and Taipei.
“(China) wants to highlight that the Chinese navy is ever ready and secondly, it is a signal to the government in Taipei you better not go further,” Collin Koh, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Maritime Security Program, told CNN.
Chinese President Xi personally reviewed the troops himself from the deck of the Chinese destroyer Changsha on Thursday, speaking to the troops about the need for the navy to become “world-class.”
Responding to the news of the upcoming live-fire drills, the Taiwanese Defense Military said in a statement the drills were taking place in a routine military zone and reiterated their national army could protect the country from any threat.
“Our people please rest assured,” the statement said.
Long history of confrontation
Taiwan has been self-governed since a bloody civil war ended in 1949, forcing the defeated nationalists to flee to the island and continue to rule under the banner of the Republic of China.
Though both Taipei and Beijing view the island as part of China with neither government recognizes the legitimacy of the opposing side, there is a strong pro-indepedence sentiment within the current ruling party in Taiwan.
This prospect is anathema to Beijing, prompting it to warn that it could retake the island by force if necessary.
The two governments have a long history of international brinksmanship in their efforts to gain economic opportunities and diplomatic support from governments around the world.
Officially, Washington acknowledges Taiwan is part of mainland China under the Communist Party’s “One China” policy.
But under US President Donald Trump, the United States’ has appeared enthusiastic to move closer to Taiwan, a move which has caused deep concern in Beijing.
“Every inch of our great motherland’s territory cannot be separated from China,” President Xi said during a nationalistic speech at the National People’s Congress in March, drawing huge applause.
“Despite a number of people being against reunification by force, the number that is pro-force and anticipating a cross-Straits war is growing unprecedentedly,” the editorial said.
Taiwan holds drills against invasion
“That’s a dangerous trend,” Richard McGregor, senior fellow at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, told CNN.
“(Taiwan’s) not going to cede the lifestyle and virtual independence they’ve got now, so for China it gets more and more difficult in some respects.”
According to Taiwanese state media CNA, it was the first time Tsai has been on a warship since she took power in May 2016.
Boarding a Kidd-class destroyer, Tsai reviewed the Taiwanese navy’s combat readiness and rapid response capabilities, state media said.
The developments follow a surprise move by the Trump administration to facilitate direct communication with Tsai in December 2016, the first known contact between a US president and a Taiwanese leader since the US broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979.
Though that call created diplomatic ruptures with China, in recent months Trump has looked to build closer ties between Washington and Taipei.
Issuing a word of caution, Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at CSIS, said China’s forthcoming military drills were likely planned months in advance and were unlikely to be tied to recent events.
“(But) it is a useful signal, whether it was intended to be as such, to both Taiwan and the United States, to not challenge China’s core interests on sovereignty and not to challenge red lines when it comes to Taiwan,” she said.
China’s military might grows
Now China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, Xi has set his sights on reasserting his country’s power on the international stage, including building a combat-ready military and navy.
McGregor said 20 years ago Beijing’s navy would have been vulnerable in the Taiwan Strait — now, accompanied by the country’s first aircraft carrier the Liaoning, it was no longer a problem.
“Now they have the military capabilities, they want to display them … they want to display their power,” he said.
China would vastly prefer a peaceful reunification of Taiwan, McGregor said, due to the sheer size of the undertaking and number of risks involved.
Not least of which, if war were to break out between Beijing and Taipei, there’s no guarantee whether or not Washington would join the island’s defense.
“You can’t simply take Taiwan over … (China’s) trained for it, they’ve built their military for it but they sure as hell don’t want to do it because how risky it is,” he said.
But as China’s military strength continues to grow, including its second aircraft carrier which will go to sea trials within a month, the balance of power could shift in Beijing’s favor, Zhang Baohui, a professor of political science at Lingnan University, told CNN in March.
“After 20 years, by 2040, if China’s achieved military parity then it may be feasible if they could win at a low cost,” he said.