China is planning to ramp up large-scale military drills around the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which began as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flew into Taipei for a visit that has angered Beijing.
The unprecedented six days of military exercises began on Tuesday night after Pelosi landed on the island, featuring J-20 stealth fighter jets and test firing of conventional missiles, according to the Global Times tabloid.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would also conduct expanded live-fire exercises from August 4 to 7 in six different areas around the island.
Taiwan said on Wednesday that the drills violated United Nations rules, invaded its territorial space and amounted to a blockade of its air and sea.
It said it would respond appropriately.
“PRC [People’s Republic of China] announcing air-naval live-fire drills around Taiwan is self-evidently apparent that they seek a cross-strait resolution by force instead of peaceful means,” Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense wrote on Twitter. “Activities around our territory are closely monitored by ROCMND [Republic of China, Ministry of National Defense] and will meet our appropriate response when needed.”
Pelosi is the first sitting speaker of the house to travel to Taiwan in 25 years and Beijing has threatened “serious consequences” over her visit to the island, which China claims as its own. On Wednesday morning, it announced a series of trade restrictions, including a ban on sand exports and the import of certain foods.
The military exercises are a “stern deterrence” against the United States over Taiwan, and a “serious warning” for supporters of Taiwan independence, Senior Colonel Shi Yi, a spokesman at the PLA Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement, according to the Global Times.
China Central Television (CCTV) aired video that showed J-20 stealth fighter jets participating in the Tuesday night drills.
On Wednesday, the Eastern Theater Command said a multi-force exercise involving the Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force and Joint Logistics Support Force took place in the air and sea to the north, southwest and southeast of Taiwan. They practised various exercises, including simulated sea and land attacks.
The Global Times reported that the exercises would be larger than those that took place in 1996 in the run-up to the re-election of President Lee Teng-hui, who had visited the US the previous year.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said it appeared the People’s Liberation Army wanted to practise blockading the island if it had to in a later war.
“The goal of these exercises, to put it bluntly, is to prepare for the military fight with Taiwan,” Zhongping said.
Unusually, the drills were announced with a locator map circulated by the official Xinhua news agency – a factor that for some analysts and scholars shows the need to play to both domestic and foreign audiences.
Maps of the drills produced by China show they go far beyond the missile firings in the straits in 1996 when Beijing protested against the island’s first direct presidential election in what became known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.
In 1996, the US Navy dispatched two aircraft carriers close to the straits to effectively end the crisis – a move many analysts consider more challenging now given China’s military growth, including a vastly more capable missile inventory.
Singapore-based security scholar Collin Koh said the Pelosi visit had trapped China between having to show a resolute and sweeping response while avoiding a full-blown conflict.
“Even if they want to avoid that outcome, there are still significant possibilities for an accidental escalation,” said Koh, of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Koh said advanced US and Taiwanese reconnaissance aircraft would see the drills as an opportunity to probe Chinese military systems and communications, potentially adding to risks if Chinese planes responded.
Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to take control of Taiwan and has increased military activity near the island in recent years, claiming the moves are a response to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
While maintaining formal diplomatic relations with Beijing, the US is Taiwan’s most important international supporter and is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
Taiwan says only its people have the right to decide the island’s future.