Technology · August 6, 2022

China’s missile launch over Taiwan a ‘significant escalation’

While China’s anger over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan continues unabated, a move by the People’s Liberation Army has heightened concerns about the troubled island of 24 million people.

As part of “unprecedented” military drills in the seas around Taiwan, Beijing is widely believed to have fired multiple missiles directly at the democratic nation.

While it regularly threatens Taiwan, sending a missile through Taiwanese airspace over the heads of its residents is a limit it has never crossed before.

A China observer has said that while cross-strait tensions may ease once Beijing vents, another scenario is “mutual escalation” and the possibility “that things could spiral into a very dangerous one.”

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign minister has warned China against having “expansionist dreams” that go beyond its island.

Ms. Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, stayed in Taiwan for less than 24 hours. Despite the short stay, the visit has sparked one of the worst diplomatic crises between China and the United States in years.

Taiwan has been self-governing for more than 70 years and has never been under Communist China’s rule. But Beijing regards the island as its sovereign territory – to take it by force if necessary.

The Chinese government regards any official visit to Taiwan by high-ranking politicians from other countries as a provocation.

Beijing insisted Ms Pelosi should not land in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. As she did so, she announced four days of “live fire” military exercises.

The Strait of Taiwan, which separates the island from mainland China, is no stranger to military exercises both at sea and in the air.

But the current exercises have gone much further than all previous ones. Chinese ships and planes cross the so-called “Central Line” that divides the straits between the two nations. It’s a line that has been widely respected by Beijing.

A map released by China of the zones where its drills took place and where missiles could land showed some were within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan’s coast. That would put the drills in what are commonly considered Taiwan’s home waters.

Images from maritime traffic tracking websites have shown merchant vessels conspicuously leaving these zones to avoid being caught in close combat. Some airlines have canceled flights to Taipei.

China crosses the line with missile over Taiwan

However, it is the reported firing of missiles over Taiwan that has rocked Taipei.

Japan’s defense ministry said five Chinese missiles landed in waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near some of its offshore islands. That in itself is a first.

But Japan added that four of them “were believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”. It released a map (below) showing the trajectories of rockets fired from China’s Fujian province. The missiles landed south of Hateruma Island, passing just over or near Taiwan’s capital en route.

While neither Beijing nor Taipei have officially confirmed the rocket overflights, China is openly discussing them.

“Our exercises this time included live firing tests, and it was the first time they crossed the island of Taiwan,” Meng Xiangqing, a pro-regime professor at China’s National Defense University, told state broadcaster CCTV.

Blinking: China’s ‘significant escalation’

At a summit in Cambodia, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the shooting over Taiwan and in Japan’s EEZ was a “significant escalation”.

“China should not use (Ms. Pelosi’s) visit as a pretext for war, escalation or provocative action.

“There is no possible justification for what they have done and we urge them to stop these actions.”

Optimistic – and pessimistic – scenarios

Professor Todd Hall, director of the China Center at Britain’s Oxford University, wrote on the academic website The Conversation that the current Chinese drills are “unprecedented” and come much closer to Taiwan compared to a similar flare-up in tensions in the mid-1990s.

Back then, for example, military exercises were largely confined to the Taiwan Strait and did not extend into Taiwan as they do today.

Prof Hall said the intensification of military exercises is linked to the upcoming Chinese Communist Party Congress, where President Xi Jinping will try to consolidate his power. One way to do this is to take a hard line on Taiwan.

“Given Beijing’s diplomatic playbook, this will likely mark a powerful display of outrage to make the US, Taiwan and other potential viewers aware of the sensitivity of the issue.

“The optimistic scenario is that once Beijing feels it has gotten its message across sufficiently, things will ease up.

“The pessimistic scenario is that Beijing will take actions that Washington deems too inflammatory to leave unchallenged, triggering a mutual escalation.

“When each side sees that it must respond to the perceived provocations of the other, a very dangerous spiral can ensue.”

Warning: China will not stop at Taiwan

At least the war of words continues unabated, with Taiwan’s Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang calling Beijing an “evil neighbor.”

“(We) didn’t expect the bad neighbor next door to flaunt his power on our doorstep and indiscriminately endanger the world’s busiest waterways with his military exercises.”

As Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told the BBC, Beijing’s territorial ambitions did not stop at Taiwan.

“Look at their behavior in relation to Hong Kong or claiming the East China Sea and the South China Sea, that is the typical expansionism of an authoritarian state.

“Taiwan will not be the last piece in the Chinese dream of expansionism.”

Beijing, for its part, said it was the US that escalated tensions with Ms Pelosis’ visit.

“It is the US side that is the troublemaker,” Jing Quan, an official at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told reporters.

“The only way out of this crisis is for the US side to take immediate action to correct its mistakes and remove the serious impact of Pelosis’ visit.”

Pelosi defends Taiwan visit

But Ms Pelosi insists her landing in Taiwan was justified amid mounting Beijing’s strident demands for the island to submit to communist rule.

“This is about Taiwan, and I’m proud to have worked over the years to demonstrate the concerns they have with mainland China,” she said in Tokyo.

“We will not allow China to isolate Taiwan. They don’t make our itinerary.”

Officials in Taipei, Tokyo and Washington will nervously scan the skies over Taiwan in hopes of one-off rather than regular Chinese missile occurrences.

Originally Posted as China’s Launch of a Missile Directly Over Taiwan “Significant Escalation”