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China holds major drills in Taiwan after Pelosi visit

#China #holds #major #drills #Taiwan #Pelosi #visit

China on Thursday will launch its biggest-ever military drills around Taiwan, in a show of force that straddles key international shipping lanes, after a visit to the self-governing island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after a less than 24-hour visit that defied a series of escalating threats from Beijing, which considers the island its territory.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, second only to the presidency, was the highest-profile US elected official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

She said her presence “makes it absolutely clear” that the United States would “not let down” a democratic ally like Taiwan.

Her trip sparked an angry backlash from Beijing, which promised “punishment” for those who offended it and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan — some of the world’s busiest waterways.

The drills, which are scheduled to begin at 12:00 p.m. (0400 GMT), will include “training activities including live-fire drills,” according to an announcement in state media.

They will take place in several zones around Taiwan — in some places within just 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the island’s coast — and conclude at noon Sunday.

The nationalist state tabloid Global Times, citing military analysts, reported that the exercises were “unprecedented” and that missiles would be flying over Taiwan for the first time.

“This is the first time that the PLA will fire long-range live artillery across the Taiwan Strait,” the newspaper said, referring to China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army.

Drills held since last Tuesday have set the stage for the exercises, with Beijing’s Xinhua News Agency reporting that they simulated a “joint blockade” by Taiwan.

Taipei has condemned the plans, warning that they threaten the security of the East Asia region.

“Some of China’s drilling areas are invading … (Taiwan’s) territorial waters,” Defense Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“This is an irrational move to challenge the international order.”

The Group of Seven Industrialized Nations also condemned the planned exercises, saying in a statement there was “no justification for using a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait.”

– ‘Preparing for the actual fight’ –

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Authority issued warnings to ships in northern, eastern and southern areas ahead of the drills on Wednesday.

“Vessels are urged to avoid areas of military exercise and use alternative routes,” the office said.

Beijing has defended the planned drills — and the drills that have been taking place around Taiwan since late Tuesday — as “necessary and just,” blaming the escalation squarely on the United States and its allies.

“In the current battle over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the United States is the provocateur, China the victim,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Wednesday.

“US-Taiwan joint provocation came first, China’s just defense came second,” she added.

A Chinese military source also told AFP that the drills would be held “in preparation for actual combat.”

“If Taiwanese armed forces intentionally come into contact with the PLA and accidentally fire a weapon, the PLA will take strict countermeasures and all consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side,” the source said.

– ‘Some limits’ –

Taiwan’s 23 million residents have long lived with the possibility of invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most confident ruler in a generation.

Just 130 kilometers (81 miles) wide at its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is a major international shipping channel and all that lies between now-democratic Taiwan and its huge, authoritarian neighbor.

But now it’s a flashpoint between the United States, Taiwan and a Chinese leadership keen to project strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this fall, where Xi is expected to receive an unprecedented third term.

“China’s announced military drills represent a clear escalation from the existing baseline of Chinese military activity around Taiwan and from the last cross-strait crisis in 1995-1996,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group.

“Beijing signals it rejects Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

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

“I think they’re very careful not to get out of control,” Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor specializing in security issues at the National University of Singapore, told AFP.

“They clearly recognize that there are some limits to what they are willing to do.”

“The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war,” said Titus Chen, associate professor of political science at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan.

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