China’s military will conduct its largest military exercises in decades around Taiwan on Thursday in a sharp response to US Vice Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.
Ms Pelosi drew Beijing’s ire by becoming the highest-ranking elected US official to visit Taipei in 25 years when her visit to the Chinese-claimed territory lasted less than 24 hours.
Ms Pelosi, who pledged a “peaceful” approach to the region, hammered out that the US would not abandon the island, which is ruled by a democratic regime and lives under the constant threat of occupation by the Chinese military.
“Those who offend China will be punished, inevitably,” replied Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi from a distance.
In response, Beijing on Thursday afternoon (0400 GMT) began large-scale military exercises in several areas around the island of Taiwan, at the level of busy trade routes.
They included “training activities including live ammunition firing exercises,” according to state media. As a precautionary measure, the China Maritime Safety Administration has “banned” ships from entering the affected areas.
The drills will take place in various areas around Taiwan – sometimes as far as 20 kilometers off Taiwan’s coast – and last until noon on Sunday.
– ” Defense ” –
Officials on the island have condemned the plan, saying it threatens East Asian security.
“Some of China’s maneuvering areas (…) encroach on Taiwan’s maritime territory,” Taiwan Defense Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said.
“This is an irrational act aimed at challenging the international order,” he said.
“There is no justification for using a trip as an excuse for aggressive military operations in the Taiwan Strait”, the diplomatic leaders of the G7 (US, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Canada) rich countries assessed for their part. , UK) in a joint report. “Foreign travel is normal and a part of the routine of parliamentarians in our countries,” they added.
Beijing, for its part, says these exercises – as well as others, more limited, launched in recent days – are a “necessary and legitimate step” after Ms Pelosi’s visit.
“America is the instigator, China is the victim. China is on the defensive,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.
If the hypothesis of an invasion of Taiwan, home to 23 million people, is unlikely, it has increased since the election of current President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016.
Ms Tsai, from an independent party, refuses to recognize that the island and the mainland are part of “one China”, unlike the previous government.
Visits by foreign officials and members of parliament have increased in recent years, drawing Beijing’s ire.
In response, President Xi Jinping’s China, which prefers not to be embroiled in questions of sovereignty, has sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and ratchet up military pressure on the island.
– “clear increase” –
Conclusion: The Taiwan Strait is now becoming the scene of dangerous tensions between US, Taiwanese and Chinese officials, and as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) congress approaches, it is forced to project an image of intransigence.
The conference, organized in the fall, avoided disaster and saw Xi Jinping re-elected as the organization’s leader for a third term.
However, experts told AFP that China does not want the current situation to deteriorate.
“They are cautious and don’t want uncontrolled escalation,” Chong Za Ian, a security expert at the National University of Singapore, told AFP. “There are limits to what they’re willing to do.”
Titus Chen, a professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, said that before the CCP congress, an “accidental war” caused by an incident is the last thing Xi Jinping “wants”.
According to Amanda Hsiao, a China analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, the military exercises starting Thursday “mark a significant expansion compared to the norm of Chinese military operations around Taiwan and the last crisis in the Taiwan Strait in 1995-1996.
“By doing so, Beijing is implying that it rejects any sovereignty of the Taiwanese authorities on the island,” he underlines.
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