China to stage major drills around Taiwan after Pelosi visit

She was the highest-profile elected US official to make the trip in 25 years



File Photo
File Photo

By AFP

Published: Thu 4 Aug 2022, 9:46 AM

China's largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan were due to kick off Thursday after a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after a trip that defied a series of increasingly stark threats from Beijing.

Second in line to the presidency, Pelosi was the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

The trip sparked a furious reaction from Beijing, which vowed "punishment" and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan -- some of the world's busiest waterways.

The exercises, set to begin at 12 pm (0400 GMT), will involve "training activities including live-fire drills", according to an announcement in state media.

They will take place in multiple zones encircling Taiwan -- at some points within just 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the island's shore -- and will conclude at midday on Sunday.

Tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the exercises were "unprecedented" and that missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.

Drills taking place since last Tuesday have set the stage for the exercises, with the official Xinhua news agency reporting they had simulated a "joint blockade" of Taiwan.

The Group of Seven industrialised nations condemned the planned drills, saying in a statement there was "no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait".

Taiwan's Maritime and Port Bureau issued warnings on Wednesday to ships to avoid the areas being used for the Chinese drills.

The island's defence ministry said Taiwanese forces on Wednesday night fired a flare to warn away a drone flying over the island of Kinmen, which lies just 10 km from the Chinese mainland city of Xiamen.

The statement did not say what kind of drone it was or where it came from.

Beijing has defended its military operations as "necessary and just", pinning the blame for the escalation on the United States and its allies.

"In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi's Taiwan visit, the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing Wednesday.

A Chinese military source also told AFP the exercises would be staged "in preparation for actual combat".

"If the Taiwanese forces come into contact with the PLA on purpose and accidentally fire a gun, the PLA will take stern countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side," the source said.

Just 130 km wide at its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is a major international shipping channel.

"China's announced military exercises represent a clear escalation from the existing baseline of Chinese military activities around Taiwan and from the last Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-1996," said Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group.

"Beijing is signalling that it rejects Taiwan's sovereignty."

Nevertheless, analysts have told AFP that China is not aiming to escalate the situation beyond its control -- at least for now.

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