China to start major military drills around Taiwan

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of her delegation wave as they board a plane in Taipei, Taiwan.

China is due to begin large-scale military sea and air exercises around the self-ruled island of Taiwan, hours after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s departure from Taipei following a whirlwind visit that infuriated Beijing.

State media says the live-fire drills in six areas around Taiwan will get underway at noon local time (04:00 GMT).

China began military manoeuvres on Tuesday night following Pelosi’s arrival and later announced a raft of retaliatory economic measures in response to Pelosi’s visit.

Military activity continued on Wednesday, with Taiwan saying the drills violated United Nations rules, invaded its territorial space and amounted to a blockade of its air and sea.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island.

The United States, while having formal diplomatic relations with China, follows a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan and is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

On Thursday, the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, framed the drills as a rehearsal for “reunification operation(s)”.

“In the event of a future military conflict, it is likely that the operational plans currently being rehearsed will be directly translated into combat operations,” it quoted Chinese mainland military expert Song Zhongping as saying.

It reported the military planned to launch live long-range artillery across the Taiwan Strait.

“If the conventional missiles of the PLA were to be launched from the mainland toward the west of Taiwan and hit targets to its east, this means that the missiles would fly over the island, which is unprecedented,” the paper quoted another Chinese mainland military expert Zhang Xuefeng as saying.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of her delegation wave as they board a plane in Taipei, Taiwan.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi waves with other delegation members as they board a plane to leave Taipei. Her visit to the self-ruled island riled Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own  [Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via Reuters]

Some of the six areas where Beijing has said the exercises will be held fall within Taiwan’s territorial waters.

The island has already warned shipping firms and airlines to avoid the locations.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said that unidentified aircraft, probably drones, flew above the Kinmen Islands, Taiwanese territory off China’s southeastern coast, on Wednesday night and it had fired flares in response.

Major General Chang Zone-sung of the military’s Kinmen Defense Command told the Reuters news agency that the Chinese drones came in a pair and flew into the Kinmen area twice on Wednesday night, at about 9pm (13:00 GMT) and 10pm (14:00 GMT).

“We immediately fired flares to issue warnings and to drive them away. After that, they turned around. They came into our restricted area and that’s why we dispersed them,” he said.

The Group of Seven developed nations has expressed concern at China’s response to Pelosi’s visit, calling for calm and saying the moves by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) risked unnecessary escalation.

“There is no justification to use a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait,” a statement from the G7’s foreign ministers’ said. “It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally. The PRC’s escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region.”

Pelosi’s visit was the first by a sitting speaker of the house, the third most senior politician in the US, in 25 years. Beijing had threatened “serious consequences” if she went ahead with the visit.

The last big crisis in the Taiwan Strait took place in 1996, in the run-up to the re-election of President Lee Teng-hui, who had visited the US the previous year.

China has modernised and expanded its armed forces since then, launching its first aircraft carrier and testing hypersonic weaponry.

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