The largest Chinese military exercises surrounding Taiwan began on Thursday, in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes after a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Ms. Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after a trip that defied a series of strong threats from Beijing, which sees the self-governing island as its territory.
Pelosi was the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years and said her trip made “unequivocally clear” that the United States would not abandon a democratic initiative.
It sparked a furious reaction from China, which promised “punishment” and announced military exercises in the seas around Taiwan, some of the busiest waterways in the world.
The exercises, which began around lunchtime on Thursday, include “live fire,” according to state media.
“Six main areas of the island have been selected for this full-fledged combat exercise and during this time, relevant ships and aircraft are not expected to enter relevant waters and airspace,” the state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The exercises will take place in multiple areas around Taiwan – in some spots just 20 kilometers from the coast – and will end at noon on Sunday.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense said it was closely following the drills.
US House Speaker Nancy Peloisi with Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu in Taiwan on August 2. Credit: Sipa USA / Sipa USA
“The Ministry of National Defense stresses that it will uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and causing controversy,” he said in a statement.
Beijing’s nationalist state tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the exercises were “unprecedented” and that the missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.
“This is the first time that the EPL will launch long-range artillery through the Taiwan Strait,” the paper said, using the formal name of the Chinese army, People’s Liberation Army.
The Group of Seven Industrialized Nations condemned the exercises, stating in a statement that “there was no justification for using a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait.”
“Preparation for the actual fight”
The Taiwan Maritime and Port Bureau on Wednesday issued warnings to ships to prevent the areas from being used for Chinese drills.
The Taiwanese government said the exercises would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region (FIR).
Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said it had ordered its aircraft to “avoid crossing designated areas of airspace around the Taiwan region.”
The maneuvers will take place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to deliver vital semiconductors and electronic equipment manufactured in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.
China has defended the exercises as “necessary and fair”, blaming the escalation on the United States and its allies.
“In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the United States is the provocateurs, China is the victim,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a regular briefing on Wednesday.
A Chinese military source also told AFP that the exercises would be organized “in preparation for actual combat”.
“If the Taiwanese forces come into contact with the EPL on purpose and accidentally fire a pistol, the EPL will take strict countermeasures and all consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side,” the source said.
China “cannot prevent world leaders” from traveling to Taiwan
Pelsoi said China cannot prevent world leaders from traveling to Taiwan after concluding a visit to the self-governing island.
“Unfortunately, Taiwan has been barred from attending global meetings, most recently the World Health Organization, due to objections from the Chinese Communist Party,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“While they may prevent Taiwan from sending its leaders to global forums, they cannot prevent world leaders or anyone else from traveling to Taiwan to pay tribute to its burgeoning democracy, to highlight its many achievements, and to reaffirm our commitment to a continuous collaboration “.
China has shown its outrage over the top-tier U.S. visit to the island in 25 years with an explosion of military activity in the surrounding waters, summoning the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, and stopping several agricultural imports from Taiwan.
According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, some of China’s planned military exercises were to take place within Taiwan’s 12-nautical-mile air and sea territory, an unprecedented move that a senior defense official described to reporters as “equal to a maritime and air blockade of Taiwan “.
Taiwan launched the jets on Wednesday to warn 27 Chinese planes in its air defense zone, the island’s defense ministry said, adding that 22 of them crossed the midline separating the island from China.
Ms Pelosi arrived with a congressional delegation during her unannounced but closely followed visit late Tuesday, defying repeated warnings from China, on a journey that she believes has demonstrated the unwavering commitment of states. United for Taiwanese democracy.
“Our delegation has come to Taiwan to make it clear that we will not abandon Taiwan,” Pelosi told Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whom Beijing suspects is pushing for formal independence – a red line for China.
“Now, more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that’s the message we bring here today,” Pelosi said during her approximately 19-hour visit.
Analysts believe more trade disruptions are on the way
China’s customs administration said Wednesday that it will suspend some citrus imports from Taiwan over alleged “repeat” detection of excessive pesticide residues and fish imports due to coronavirus positive tests on packaging.
In a separate notice, the Commerce Ministry added that it “will also suspend the export of natural sand to Taiwan” from Wednesday, without giving details.
Natural sand is generally used for making cement and asphalt, and most of the sand and gravel imported from Taiwan comes from China.
The moves are part of a “common pattern for Beijing,” said Even Pay, an agricultural analyst at consulting firm Trivium China.
Further disruptions in agricultural and food trade are expected in the coming days, he added.
“When diplomatic or trade tensions are high, Chinese regulators typically take an extremely rigorous approach to compliance … looking for any issues that can be used to justify a trade ban,” he told AFP.
China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner and export market, with bilateral trade growing 26% year-on-year to $ 328 billion in 2021, according to official data.
It is not the first time that Beijing has targeted the island’s exports.
China banned pineapple imports in March 2021, citing the pest discovery, in a move widely considered politically driven.
“Taiwan will not back down”
The Taiwanese president has touched a defiant tone, saying there will be no “retreat”.
“In the face of deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down. We will continue … to maintain the defense line of democracy,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said at an event with Ms. Pelosi in Taipei.
He also thanked Pelosi for “taking concrete action to show her firm support for Taiwan at this critical time”.
“Today, our delegation … came to Taiwan to make it clear that we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan,” she said with Ms. Tsai at the event.
Earlier, Pelosi said their group came “in friendship to Taiwan” and “in peace to the region”.
China tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries that have official trade with Taipei.
President Joe Biden’s administration said ahead of the visit that US policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.
This means support for his government as it diplomatically acknowledges Beijing over Taipei and opposes a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan or a forced takeover by China.
Although the White House is opposed to Pelosi’s stop in Taiwan, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said she had the right to go where she was happy.
Australia joins other nations urging de-escalation
Japan, a key US ally in the region, said Wednesday it expressed concern to China over the exercises, while South Korea called for dialogue to maintain peace and stability in the region.
Both countries are on Pelosi’s Asian route, after stops in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said it was important to avoid any prospect of military conflict.
“All parties should consider how best to help ease the current tensions and we all want peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he told ABC Radio on Wednesday.
“We have a situation where we see increasing rhetoric and we see the deployment of military hardware.”
Ms Wong reiterated Australia’s support for a one-size-fits-all China policy, in which Taiwan is not recognized as a country and the Beijing government is the only Chinese government.
“Australia has a bipartisan policy, a China, and we have a bipartisan one, which discourages unilateral changes to the status quo,” he said.
“We should continue with others in the region to urge the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.”