China expands military drills, escalates threats against Taiwan

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China has announced additional live-fire drills in the Bohai and Yellow Seas, as Beijing broadcasts its fury over a visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with military exercises near the island.

China’s Ministry of Defense did not announce the purpose of the expanded exercises, which come as the visit frayed U.S.-China relations, but they come as Beijing is putting on its greatest show of force around Taiwan since the last cross-strait crisis of 1995 to 1996 — in what it calls a warning to “provocateurs” who challenge Beijing’s claims over Taiwan, the self-governing democracy of 23 million.

China’s Maritime Safety Administration on Saturday announced five exclusion zones in the Yellow Sea where exercises would take place from Aug. 5 to 15, as well as an additional four zones in the Bohai Sea where a month of unspecified Chinese military operations would take place from Aug 8.

Although China officially seeks what it calls “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan — which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party — it also consistently threatens to take the island by force if the government in Taipei declares formal independence.

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Diplomatic fallout from visit escalated sharply on Friday when Beijing imposed sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family, canceled military dialogues and suspended climate talks and other bilateral cooperation on issues including transnational crime.

The White House summoned Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang over “irresponsible” military actions, including firing missiles into the waters around Taiwan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the drills an “extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response.”

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But China has shown no sign of slowing the pace of military drills. The Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Sunday said it would continue joint air and navy exercises in the areas around Taiwan as planned, focusing on long-distance strikes against targets in the sky.

After a record number of Chinese warplanes flew close to Taiwan’s airspace on Friday, 14 jets crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday as 14 Chinese warships were active nearby. Three years ago, crossings of the informal boundary that divides the waterway were unheard off.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry described Chinese drills on Saturday morning as a “simulated attack on Taiwan’s main island.”

Taiwan has also reported drones and unidentified objects flying over Kinmen and Matsu, two Taiwan-ruled islands closest to the coast of China’s Fujian province. The Kinmen Defense Command on Saturday fired warning flares at three drones that flew above its restricted waters.

Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the PLA-affiliated National Defense University, told state broadcaster China Central Television in an interview published on Sunday that the drills aimed to “completely smash the so-called median line” and demonstrate China’s ability to prevent foreign intervention in a conflict by blockading and controlling the Bashi Channel, an important waterway between the western Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.

Military analysts have said the Chinese live-fire drills that started on Thursday and took place on all sides of Taiwan simulate a potential blockade of the island, but Taiwan’s government has said that disruption to shipping routes and flights has so far been limited.

Pelosi ended the congressional delegation’s Asia tour on Friday by vowing that China would not succeed in isolating Taiwan.

The Chinese Communist Party, which has never ruled Taiwan, has for decades pursued a global pressure campaign to diplomatically isolate Taiwan’s democratically elected government by poaching its diplomatic partners and fiercely opposing exchanges between Taipei and foreign officials.

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China accuses the United States of hollowing out its “one China” policy — which neither challenges nor endorses Beijing’s claims over the island — with steps to shore up its unofficial relationship with Taiwan including the first House Speaker visit in 25 years. The White House maintains the policy is unchanged.

Despite the unprecedented military pressure, the Taiwanese public has remained largely calm in the face of intensifying Chinese threats. President Tsai Ing-wen said Thursday, “We are calm and will not act in haste. We are rational and will not act to provoke.”

Annual drills by the Taiwanese military conducted the week before Pelosi’s visit were not altered despite increasingly angry warnings from Beijing. As drills started, local media reported that tourists visiting Xiaoliuqiu, a small island off the southwest coast of mainland Taiwan, flocked to the shore to see if they could catch a glimpse of Chinese missiles landing in nearby waters.

The Taiwan Stock Exchange had recovered from a brief midweek dip by Friday.

Pei Lin Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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