China said Monday it was extending threatening military exercises surrounding Taiwan that have disrupted shipping and air traffic and substantially raised concerns about the potential for conflict in a region crucial to global trade.
The exercises would include anti-submarine drills, apparently targeting U.S. support for Taiwan in the event of a potential Chinese invasion, according to social media posts from the eastern leadership of China’s ruling Communist Party’s military arm, the People’s Liberation Army.
The military has said the exercises involving missile strikes, warplanes and ship movements crossing the midline of the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides were a response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island last week.
China has ignored calls to calm the tensions, and there was no immediate indication when it would end what amounts to a blockade.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said Sunday it detected a total of 66 aircraft and 14 warships conducting the naval and air exercises. The island has responded by putting its military on alert and deploying ships, planes and other assets to monitor Chinese aircraft, ships and drones that are “simulating attacks on the island of Taiwan and our ships at sea.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported that Taiwan’s army will conduct live-fire artillery drills in southern Pingtung County on Tuesday and Thursday, in response to the Chinese exercises.
The drills will include snipers, combat vehicles and armoured vehicles, as well as attack helicopters, said the report, which cited an anonymous source.
China hits back against criticism
China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war, but Beijing considers visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognizing its sovereignty.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has called on the international community to “support democratic Taiwan” and “halt any escalation of the regional security situation.” The Group of Seven industrialized nations has also criticized China’s actions, prompting Beijing to cancel a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi.
China has cut off defence and climate talks with the U.S. and imposed sanctions on Pelosi in retaliation for her visit.
The Biden administration and Pelosi say the U.S. remains committed to the “one-China” policy that extends formal diplomatic recognition to Beijing while allowing robust informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.
The U.S. however criticized Beijing’s actions in the Taiwan Strait, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling them “fundamentally irresponsible.”
“There’s no need and no reason for this escalation,” Jean-Pierre said.
Calls for de-escalation
In Washington, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao said China had no reason to “be so furious” over Pelosi’s visit, which follows a long tradition of American lawmakers visiting Taiwan.
“Well, you know, we have been living under the threat from China for decades,” Hsiao told CBS News on Sunday. “If you have a kid being bullied at school, you don’t say you don’t go to school. You try to find a way to deal with the bully.
“The risks are posed by Beijing,” Hsiao said.
On a visit to Myanmar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington was “taking the opportunity to build up its military deployment in the region, which deserves high vigilance and resolute boycott from all sides.”
“China’s firm stance” is aimed at “earnestly safeguarding peace across the Taiwan Strait and regional stability,” Wang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called for a cooling of tensions.
“Australia continues to urge restraint, Australia continues to urge de-escalation. And this is not something that solely Australia is calling for … the whole region is concerned about the current situation, the whole region is calling for stability to be restored,” Wong told reporters in Canberra.