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China’s Drills Threaten Status Quo of Taiwan Strait, Warns Taipei

China’s Drills Threaten Status Quo of Taiwan Strait, Warns Taipei

The People’s Liberation Army sent 68 aircraft and 13 vessels for the activities around the Taiwan Strait, “part of which had crossed the median line and jeopardized the status quo of the strait,” said Taiwan’s defense ministry. It is the second consecutive day Chinese planes and ships have crossed the median line, the de facto sea border between China and Taiwan.

China has declared four days of military exercises in six designated zones surrounding the island, as part of a response to a Taiwan visit this week by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The drills are raising fears of a miscalculation, although, so far, Taiwanese and U.S. officials say they have no desire to escalate the situation.

On Friday, the Chinese military held air and sea combat drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan, according to a social media post by the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army.

A day earlier, China fired at least 11 missiles into the waters near Taiwan’s coast. At least four of the missiles overflew Taiwan, according to Japanese defense officials, in what many defense analysts described as an unprecedented provocation. Five of the missiles landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, prompting firm condemnations by Tokyo.

A Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flies over the 68-nautical-mile scenic spot, one of mainland China’s closest points to the island of Taiwan, in Pingtan island, Fujian province, China on August 5, 2022. /Reuters

“China’s behavior has a serious impact on the peace and stability of the region and also the world,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday after meeting with Pelosi, whose congressional delegation was in Tokyo on the final stop of an Asia tour.

China is furious over Pelosi’s visit, which was meant to express solidarity with Taiwan, a democratic island of about 24 million people. Despite never having controlled Taiwan, China’s Communist Party insists the island is a Chinese province, and has vowed to take it, by force, if necessary. 

On Friday, China’s foreign ministry announced unspecified sanctions against Pelosi and her immediate family, accusing the lawmaker of “seriously interfering in China’s internal affairs.” China’s foreign ministry also announced Friday that Beijing would end cooperation with the United States in several areas, including dialogue between senior military officials and climate talks.

Late Thursday, the White House summoned Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to the United States, to condemn Beijing’s actions toward Taiwan, The Washington Post reported. “We condemned the PRC’s military actions, which are irresponsible and at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” read a White House statement obtained by the paper.

◆ New Normal?

In China, some state-controlled media have characterized the drills as a rehearsal for invasion and a demonstration that Beijing can impose a blockade on the island. A key question is how long the Chinese drills last, and whether such provocations will continue in the coming weeks and months.

“It’s a sort of well-documented thing that Beijing will use the opportunity of a crisis to advance other objectives and to create a new normal in a dispute,” said Amanda Hsiao, a senior Taipei-based analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Particularly the increased military activity around the Taiwan Strait median line — I think it is very much for the purposes of expanding and regularizing its presence further into the Taiwan Strait,” she said. “That sort of activity may well endure past the announced exercise time frame.”

If China were to regularize its military presence closer to Taiwan, it would increase the chance of miscalculations and may result in less strategic space for Taiwan’s military to maneuver, analysts warn.

Taiwan’s military has said its forces continue to have freedom of movement and monitor for any incursions, points out Derek Grossman, a senior analyst who focuses on Asia at the Rand Corporation, a policy research organization. “If there really is a problem you’re going to know about it, because they are going to be blinking red for support from the United States in particular, but also Japan and Australia and anyone else willing to help. They’re not going to be bashful about calling in for help,” he said.

Grossman also points out that China’s military has put a time frame on the military exercises — a sign that at least some of the provocations may soon cease. “I think it is good practice for a blockade but it’s not a blockade that’s going to be open-ended in time frame,” he said. “It’s important to bookend when this ends, because if you don’t then everyone’s going to be really nervous and it could spiral out of control.”

Much depends on the response of the U.S. military, which maintains a regular presence in the region. On Thursday, U.S. officials said the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan will remain in the vicinity to “monitor the situation.” The U.S. military will also conduct “standard air and maritime transits” through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks, said John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council. However, to reduce tensions, Kirby said the U.S. is postponing a long-planned test of an Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. 

In a video address Thursday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen insisted Taiwanese forces are “calm and will not act in haste.”

“We are rational and will not act to provoke. But we will absolutely not back down,” Tsai added.

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