China on Saturday continued to vent its anger over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan, with a third straight day of military exercises that have drawn ever closer to the island and raised concerns of a possible conflict.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Saturday that several batches of Chinese military aircraft and warships had been spotted around the Taiwan Strait, with some crossing the informal median line that separates the island from mainland China. They appeared to be taking part in a simulated attack exercise on Taiwan’s main island, the ministry said.
Already, China’s show of force, which is expected to last until Sunday, has threatened territory Taiwan claims as its own more directly than previous drills.
China has fired at least 11 missiles into waters north, south and east of Taiwan, including at least one that flew over the island, although Taiwan said it was at a high altitude that did not pose a threat. On Friday, it also deployed fighter jets, bombers, destroyers, drones and escort ships to waters near the island. Several of the zones designated by the Chinese military for this week’s drills are closer to the island than areas declared during the Taiwan Strait crisis in the mid-1990s, which also included missile launches by the China around Taiwan.
Since the exercises began on Thursday, at least 49 Chinese military aircraft have crossed the median line, according to Taiwanese officials.
Understand China-Taiwan tensions
What does China mean to Taiwan? China claims Taiwan, a self-governing island republic of 23 million people, as its territory and has long vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. The island, to which Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese forces retreated after the Communist Revolution of 1949, was never part of the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that China had “unilaterally created a crisis” by overreacting to Ms Pelosi’s visit.
“The Taiwanese people have the right to befriend the rest of the world, and China has no right to interfere with the rest of the world befriending Taiwan,” the statement said.
The military drills are the most visible element of China’s response to Ms. Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which she said was intended to show support for the island and its vibrant democracy. Before her arrival on Tuesday, China had repeatedly warned that the gesture by Ms. Pelosi — the highest-ranking American official to visit Taiwan in the past 25 years — would have “serious consequences.” China claims Taiwan as its own territory, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has promised an eventual reunification, by force if necessary.
China also said on Friday it would cancel or suspend talks with the United States on military coordination and climate change, which some analysts said could increase the chances of miscommunication escalating into a full-blown crisis.
At the same time, the United States is trying to strengthen its ties with other Asian countries as a counterweight to China’s regional and global influence. On Saturday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila. In a public exchange, Mr Markos told Mr Blinken he did not believe Ms Pelosi’s visit had “intensified” tensions in the region, which he said were already high – an apparent rebuttal to the claims of China that the United States States were responsible for the current frictions.
Fears that China would seek to physically prevent Ms. Pelosi’s visit did not materialize. But U.S. officials remain concerned that the drills, which began less than 24 hours after she left Taiwan, could escalate, intentionally or accidentally, into a more direct conflict.
Chinese officials, who have encouraged raucous and sometimes aggressive nationalism at home, may feel pressure to show they are responding forcefully. Some Chinese social media users have expressed disappointment or embarrassment that the government did not do more to prevent Ms. Pelosi’s visit. some made it clear that they expected military action.
Even if the exercises do not immediately escalate into a full-blown crisis, they could signal a new pattern of aggression and intrusion by the Chinese military. The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, he said in an editorial on Friday that the work to promote reunification with Taiwan had “entered a new stage”.
The United States has sought to avoid further provoking China. It said it remains committed to the status quo on Taiwan, acknowledging China’s stated claim to the island without recognizing it. The Pentagon ordered the USS Ronald Reagan to “remain on station” in the area while maintaining some distance from the Taiwan Strait.
But China has made it clear that it views any criticism of its exercises as an insult. He has called several ambassadors after their countries expressed concern about the exercises. After some of the Chinese missiles landed Thursday in waters Japan claims as its own, prompting Japan’s prime minister to call for an “immediate halt,” a Chinese embassy spokesman in Japan he said Japan should not “slip into the abyss” of geopolitical confrontation.
Amy Chang Chien, John Lew and Edward Wong contributed to the report.