Several Chinese warplanes said to be flying close to median line of Taiwan Strait

Taiwan had dispatched aircraft to monitor the situation. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday (Aug 2) morning, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters, as tensions mounted on news that US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was set to arrive in Taipei on Tuesday night.

China has repeatedly warned against Mrs Pelosi going to Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province to be reunited, and the United States said on Monday that it would not be intimidated by Chinese “sabre rattling” over the visit.

In addition to Chinese planes flying close to the median line of the sensitive waterway on Tuesday morning, several Chinese warships had remained close to the unofficial dividing line since Monday, the source told Reuters.

The source said both Chinese warships and aircraft “squeezed” the median line on Tuesday morning, an unusual move the person described as “very provocative”.

The person said the Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly “touching” the median line and circling back to the other side of the strait on Tuesday morning, while Taiwanese aircraft were on standby nearby.

The Chinese planes left the area in the afternoon but the ships remained, the person said.

Neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said in a statement it has a full grasp of military activities near Taiwan and will appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to “enemy threats”.

China’s defence and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency, citing unidentified sources, reported on Tuesday that Taiwan’s defence ministry had “reinforced” its combat alertness level from Tuesday morning to Thursday noon.

The agency said the alertness level of Taiwan’s armed forces is roughly categorised into “peace time” and “war time”, and at the moment the level stayed at peace time, but it would be “appropriately adjusted” according to the level of threat.

In the south-eastern Chinese city of Xiamen, which lies opposite Taiwan and is home to a large military presence, residents reported sightings of armoured vehicles on the move on Tuesday and posted pictures online, which could not immediately be verified by Reuters.

Chinese social media was abuzz with both trepidation about potential conflict and patriotic fervour over the prospect of unification with Taiwan, and the topic of Mrs Pelosi’s visit was the top-trending item on the Twitter-like Weibo. 

Mrs Pelosi was visiting Malaysia on Tuesday, having begun her Asia tour in Singapore on Monday. Her office has said she will also go to South Korea and Japan, but has made no mention of a Taiwan visit.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had no comment on reports of Mrs Pelosi’s travel plans, but the White House – which would not confirm the trip – said she had the right to go.

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