China announces Taiwan Strait drills ahead of possible Pelosi trip

US officials have neither confirmed nor denied reports that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (above), a key Biden ally, will go ahead with a stop in Taiwan during a tour of Asia. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - China on Saturday (July 30) will hold live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait, the government announced via state media, raising the stakes ahead of a possible trip to the self-governing island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The manoeuvres will be limited in scope and will take place off the island of Pingtan in Fujian province, according to a statement issued on Thursday, but reported by Chinese state media only on Friday.

"Live ammunition will be fired... between 8am and 9pm and any entry (into these waters) will be prohibited", said the government statement, which does not mention Mrs Pelosi.

Tensions have been simmering between the world's two biggest economies and growing geopolitical rivals over Taiwan, with Chinese President Xi Jinping warning US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Thursday "those who play with fire will eventually get burned."

The US administration has not confirmed or denied reports that Mrs Pelosi, a key Biden ally, is going ahead with a stop in Taiwan during a tour of Asia.

Mrs Pelosi has also not commented publicly on the widely reported plan.

Beijing sees such a trip as a provocation, given its claim to sovereignty over the self-ruling democratic island.

Although US officials often make discreet visits to Taiwan, Mrs Pelosi is second in line to the presidency and she will be using military transport during her visit to Asia.

The area where Saturday's Chinese manoeuvres are set to take place is located about 120km from the Taiwanese coast.

Meanwhile, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Friday the United States has seen no evidence of looming Chinese military activity against Taiwan, when asked about a possible visit to the island by Mrs Pelosi.  

“(We’ve) seen no physical, tangible indications of anything untoward with respect to Taiwan,” Mr Kirby told reporters.

China has been stepping up military activity around Taiwan seeking to pressure the democratically elected government there to accept Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan’s government says only the island’s 23 million people can decide their future, and while it wants peace, it will defend itself if attacked.  

Mrs Pelosi, who as House speaker is No. 3 in the line of US power hierarchy after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, signalled on Friday she was going on a trip to Asia. She did not say she was going to Taiwan.  

“I’m very excited, should we go, to the countries that you’ll be hearing about along the way,” she said, after citing the importance of the US-Asia-Pacific relationship.  

The White House has refused to comment on reports that she will go to Taiwan. “Where she’s going and what’s she’s going to be doing, that’s for the speaker to talk to,” Mr Kirby told reporters.  

Mr Kirby said US officials have seen bellicose rhetoric from China about a potential trip by Mrs Pelosi and said, “there’s no need for that.”

A US military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the military had so far not sent additional ships or planes near Taiwan in recent days. 

The United States already has a large military presence in the Asia-Pacific, including around the South China Sea, through which a US aircraft carrier is currently sailing.

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