After Pelosi's arrival, China declares 4 days of military drills in areas encircling Taiwan

A screen shows footage of a Chinese People's Liberation Army ship during an evening news programme, in Beijing, on Aug 2, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG) - China declared it would conduct missile tests and military drills around Taiwan shortly after US House speaker Nancy Pelosi defied Beijing on Tuesday (Aug 2) by landing on the island.

The People's Liberation Army said it would stage a series of military drills including "long-range live firing in the Taiwan Strait" from Tuesday evening.

"This action is targeted at the US' shocking recent major escalation on the Taiwan issue, and serves as a serious warning to Taiwanese independence forces or those seeking independence," Mr Shi Yi, a spokesman for the Eastern Theatre Command, said in a statement.

Those exercises would include “long-range live firing in the Taiwan Strait” and “regular-guided fire testing in the eastern waters” off Taiwan, the statement said. The timing leaves open the possibility that the drills could begin while Mrs Pelosi is still in Taiwan.

Separately, the official Xinhua News Agency announced military drills would take place from Aug 4-7 in six areas that encircle Taiwan, giving coordinates for the exercises.

"For safety reasons, relevant ships and aircraft should not enter the above sea areas and airspaces during this period," Xinhua added.

One of the areas of the planned drills appeared to be less than 12 miles from Kaohsiung, a southern port city, according to a map released by Xinhua.

Separate statements released by China’s Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry framed the military actions as necessary to “resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Chinese state media has kept up a steady drumbeat of threatening messages. The official People’s Daily newspaper wrote on social media on Tuesday that “people who play with fire will burn themselves”, apparently echoing similar warnings issued by Chinese officials over the past year.

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The Global Times, a nationalist Chinese newspaper, said in an editorial that “China’s countermeasures will not be one-off but a combination of long-term, resolute and steadily advancing actions”.

Mr Song Zhongping, an independent Chinese military analyst, said the two announcements were about a single drill. He said that preparations would begin Tuesday but that the actual live fire exercises would take place from Thursday to Sunday.

“The People’s Liberation Army’s struggle with Taiwan is going to intensify in frequency and it will escalate the scale of force to tackle the US government’s provocations,” he said, adding that drills that cross the median line that divides the waters between Taiwan and China would become more frequent.

The planned drills would likely be the most assertive show of Chinese military power in the region since the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995-96, when China fired missiles to intimidate the island and President Bill Clinton ordered aircraft carriers into the area.

The exercises would effectively block access temporarily to some commercial shipping lanes and Taiwanese ports, analysts said.

Still, the drills appeared to be largely a signalling exercise intended to project strength at home and abroad.

“They are signalling that we really don’t like this and that we want to see less of this,” said Mr Joe McReynolds, senior China analyst at the Washington-based Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. “They are not signalling that we are imminently about to go to war.”

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One concern, however, is that the fast-moving situation could lead to an accidental encounter that could spiral out of control. It remains to be seen whether and how Taiwan and the United States will respond to China’s actions.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement that it would “respond appropriately in time” and accused China of “unilaterally undermining regional peace and stability.” “The looming Chinese military exercises would bring great pressure to the Taiwanese military,” said Mr Chieh Chung, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, Taiwan. “If a slight accident occurs, the low trust between both sides of the strait and the lack of experience in dealing with crises is likely to escalate the tensions and lead to irreversible consequences.”

Mrs Pelosi became the highest-ranking American politician to visit the island in 25 years when her military aircraft arrived at Songshan Airport at 10.43pm local time.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and protests diplomatic visits to the island.

After Mrs Pelosi leaves Taiwan, she will still be in the region visiting US allies South Korea and Japan.

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