China announces unprecedented military drills in Taiwan Strait
China is planning the largest live-fire exercises it has conducted in the Taiwan Strait in recent memory, and this time the designated areas appear to encroach on territorial waters claimed by the Taiwanese government. If carried out, the drills would represent an unprecedented escalation in cross-Strait tensions.
The drills are the most visible part of Beijing’s reaction to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taipei. His lengthy telegraphed visit is the first by a US official of his rank since 1997, when then-US President Newt Gingrich visited the independently governed island. In an op-ed published to coincide with his arrival, Pelosi delivered a message similar to one Gingrich delivered 25 years ago: “America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself- itself and its freedom”.
For Beijing, Pelosi’s visit comes uncomfortably close to officially recognizing the Taiwanese state. It’s a red line for the People’s Republic of China, which considers Taiwan an integral part of its own territory and has threatened to reunite the island by force if necessary. PLA Navy and PLA Air Force activity over the Taiwan Strait has intensified over the past year, and US officials have warned that an attempted invasion across the strait could occur within the decade.
Beijing’s official response to Pelosi’s visit has been threatening. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi bluntly warned that “some American politicians are blatantly playing with fire on the Taiwan issue for selfish gains and making enemies of China’s 1.4 billion people. not in a good way”. Deputy Foreign Minister Hua Chunying affirmed that
“If the United States insists on following the wrong course, it will bear full responsibility for all serious consequences.”
The People’s Liberation Army announced that a series of military exercises around Taiwan would begin shortly after Pelosi’s departure. Six exercise areas are set up at locations around the island, including – for the first time – three areas that partially overlap Taiwan’s land claims. If China were to continue and carry out military operations in Taiwanese waters, it would mark an unprecedented escalation in cross-Strait tensions.
Chinese military exercises around Taiwan in August 2022 and March 1996 (Third Taiwan Strait Crisis). This time, some exercise areas overlap Taiwan’s territorial waters, an apparent escalation. pic.twitter.com/egw4hyu5U5
— Duan Dang (@duandang) August 2, 2022
Based on satellite tracking and official statements, the PLA Navy aircraft carriers liaoning and shandong took to the sea, with the amphib Guangxi. Japanese forces also tracked two Chinese surface fighters heading south toward Taiwan.
The PLA Navy will not be alone in the area. The US Navy USS Ronald Reagan and the USS amphib Tripoli operate in the area, both carrying F-35 fighter jets and both escorted by several destroyers. The amphibious USS America is in the vicinity of Sasebo, Japan.
Pelosi’s visit is significant for Beijing because of her position – Chinese state media describe her as the United States’ “third politician” – but there may be an additional personal element. Decades before becoming Speaker of the House, Pelosi was already a fierce critic of the PRC’s human rights record. In 1991, early in her elected career, she joined two members of the US Congress to unfurl a pro-democracy banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where the Chinese government had crushed a protest movement two years earlier. .
As a junior congressman, Pelosi also Congress in a hurry to block permanent free trade status for China in the late 1990s, fearing it would cost American jobs. She lost the argument, and the Clinton administration finally greenlighted China’s bid for the World Trade Organization. Over the next two decades, WTO membership led to a five-fold increase in exports of Chinese manufactured goods, providing the foundations of the modern Chinese economy.