February 8, 2023

While much of the attention has focused on President Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the real potential for a military showdown will come after she leaves.

China’s military said it would hold a series of live-fire drills starting Thursday, a day after she left. A post on Chinese state media offered coordinates for five areas of the sea surrounding Taiwan, three of which overlap with areas Taiwan says are part of its territorial waters.

The drills, assuming they go ahead, would mark a direct challenge to what Taiwan claims as its coastline. And they strike at the heart of a decades-old dispute in which China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, a self-governing island with its own democratically elected government and military.

A New York Times map of the planned drills shows how in some places they will take place within 10 miles of Taiwan’s coast, well beyond areas targeted by previous live-fire drills and inside areas that Taiwan defines as its territorial waters. waters. Two of the areas where China’s military will fire weapons, possibly missiles and artillery, are within what Taiwan calls its maritime border. Altogether, the five zones surround the island and mark a clear escalation from previous Chinese exercises.

In its warning, China’s military called on all ships and planes to avoid the areas it identified for three days. For Taiwan and the United States military, a key question will be whether they obey the orders or test China’s resolve to conduct the tests by sending boats and planes to these zones.

The standoff is reminiscent of an incident in 1995 and 1996 called the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. Then,

China launched live fireworks and missiles into the waters around Taiwan to signal its anger over a trip by then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to the United States. The United States then sent two aircraft carrier groups to the area and sailed one through the Taiwan Strait.

The new live-fire drills will be held in areas closer to the island than those in 1995 and 1996, creating a conundrum in Taiwan and the United States. If China takes action, it must decide whether to offer a show of force similar to the previous crisis.

Much has changed since then. China’s military is stronger and bolder under leader Xi Jinping. This summer, Chinese officials also strongly argued that no part of the Taiwan Strait could be considered international waters, meaning they could move to intercept and block US warships transiting the area, one of the most busiest shipping lanes in the world.

China wasted little time in signaling that it is serious. On Wednesday, its state broadcaster released images of preparatory exercises in the region showing Chinese forces were in the north, southwest and southeast of Taiwan to practice naval attacks and land strikes, aerial combat and “joint containment.”

Also on Wednesday, Taiwan’s military tried to hold the line while showing no desire to escalate the situation. Calling the drills a blockade, he said the drills invaded Taiwan’s territorial waters and endangered international waterways and regional security.

“We resolutely defend national sovereignty and will counter any attack on national sovereignty,” said Lt. Gen. Sun Li-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s defense ministry, in response to the drills.

“We will strengthen our vigilance with a rational attitude that will not escalate the conflicts,” he added.

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