Shortly after President Nancy Pelosi’s plane was shot down in Taiwan, China’s military announced it would conduct drills that appeared to violate Taiwan’s territorial waters, setting the stage for a potential showdown on the self-ruled island between China and the United States.
Beijing announced plans for six zones encircling Taiwan, where it said it would hold live-fire military drills from Thursday to Sunday, according to a statement released by Xinhua, China’s state news agency. Ships and aircraft were warned not to violate these areas – some of which overlap with the island’s territorial waters – for “security reasons”, the statement said.
In a separate statement, China’s People’s Liberation Army said that starting Tuesday afternoon it would begin conducting a series of joint naval and air exercises in the waters and airspace in the north, southwest and southeast of Taiwan, according to a statement attributed to Col. Shi Yi, representative of the China Eastern Theater Command.
These drills will include “long-range firing in the Taiwan Strait” and “tactical guided-fire tests in eastern waters” off Taiwan, the statement said. The timing leaves open the possibility that the exercises could begin while Ms. Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is still in Taiwan.
Separate statements released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense framed the military actions as necessary to “resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Chinese state media maintains a steady drumbeat of threatening messages. The official newspaper People’s Daily wrote on social media on Tuesday that “people who play with fire will get burned,” apparently echoing similar warnings issued by Chinese officials over the past year.
The Global Times, a nationalist Chinese newspaper, reported in one pension that “China’s countermeasures will not be isolated, but a combination of long-term, decisive and steadily promoted actions.”
Song Zhongping, an independent Chinese military analyst, said the two announcements related to a single exercise. He said preparations will begin on Tuesday, but that the actual live-fire drills will take place from Thursday to Sunday.
“The People’s Liberation Army’s struggle with Taiwan is set to intensify in frequency and escalate the scale of force to meet the challenges of the US government,” he said, adding that the drills crossing the middle line dividing the waters between Taiwan and China will become more frequent.
The planned drills will likely be the most assertive display of Chinese military power in the region since the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis, when China fired missiles to intimidate the island and President Bill Clinton ordered aircraft carriers into the area. The drills will effectively block access temporarily to some of Taiwan’s commercial shipping lanes and ports, analysts said.
However, the exercises appeared to be largely a signaling exercise aimed at projecting power at home and abroad.
“They’re signaling that we really don’t like this and that we want to see less of it,” said Joe McReynolds, senior China analyst at the Washington-based Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. “They don’t signal that we’re about to go to war.”
One concern, however, is that the fast-moving situation could lead to a chance encounter that could get out of hand. It remains to be seen whether and how Taiwan and the United States will respond to China’s actions.
“The upcoming Chinese military exercises will put a lot of pressure on Taiwan’s military,” said Chieh Chung, a security analyst at the National Policy Institute in Taipei. “If a minor accident occurs, the low trust between the two sides of the strait and the lack of experience in crisis management is likely to escalate tensions and lead to irreversible consequences.”
The Chinese have taken other countermeasures in response to Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. On Tuesday, before it arrived, China banned shipments from more than 100 Taiwanese food exporters – an apparent attempt to increase economic pressure.
China has increasingly sought to leverage its status as Taiwan’s largest trading partner and has moved several times to limit the island’s access to its huge consumer market in recent years.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Twitter that several Chinese state media reports of Su-35 fighter jets crossing the strait on Tuesday were “fake news”. The ministry said separately that 21 Chinese military aircraft had searched the airspace near Taiwan on Tuesday, which has become an almost daily occurrence in recent years.
Joy Dong contributed to the report. Claire Fu contributed to the research.