Beijing announced four days of military drills near the "rebel" island, encroaching on Taiwanese territorial waters in three areas. Pelosi’s quick visit put Xi Jinping in an uncomfortable position, appeasing Chinese nationalists at the risk of causing an escalation.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Communist China has finally issued its “strong” and “resolute” response to the visit to Taiwan by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Starting tomorrow, four days of military (air and naval) exercises will be held in six maritime areas near Taiwan, with unauthorised ships and aircraft banned from entering any of them.
The operation appears to be a dry run for an eventual military blockade, one of the options available ahead of an invasion of the island, which mainland China considers a rebel province to be seized, by force if necessary.
The military exercises are expected to start tomorrow, well after Pelosi’s departure from Taiwan. The visit by the Democratic leader, second in line to succeed the President after the Vice President, triggered the mainland’s inevitable reaction. For Beijing, it constitutes an interference in its domestic affairs.
For now, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent threats do not appear to have materialised. In a recent conversation with US President Joe Biden, he is quoted as saying: “Those who play with fire will only get burnt”.
As several analysts point out, China’s upcoming exercises are the most provocative move since its live-fire exercises near Taiwan in 1996 when the island held its first direct presidential elections.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that China’s planned drills “would qualify for the UN definition of state aggression.”
Three of the six no-go zones mentioned by Chinese state media encroach on Taiwan's territorial waters (picture 2). Beijing, however, has avoided more threatening actions, such intercepting Pelosi’s plane, which would have created an instant crisis with the United States.
In such situations, the greatest risk is miscalculations by one or both parties. One of the areas is located less than 20 kilometres from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city.
Meanwhile, not far, in the Philippine Sea, the United States has deployed the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier with its combat group; north of Taiwan, near Okinawa, Washington has deployed the big deck amphibious ship USS Tripoli.
In the coming weeks, the Chinese could increase the pressure on Taipei. In addition to military manoeuvres, Beijing has already imposed a ban on some Taiwanese food and agricultural products.
More bans could come, but the greatest fear in Taiwan is that the Armed Forces of the People’s Liberation Army will begin to systematically violate the midline that informally divides the Taiwan Strait, arguing that the latter is within China’s maritime borders, and not an international waterway.
Ultimately, both Washington and Beijing have placed themselves in an unenviable position, unable to avoid escalating tensions.
Biden said that he was against Pelosi's trip (or at least claimed to), but faced with Chinese threats, the United States could not back down and risk appearing weak to allies and partners in the region.
For his part, Xi too must respond to the nationalist wing in the Communist regime and Chinese society. Placed in an uncomfortable position by Pelosi’s visit, ordering military exercises was the least he could do.
This said, sending Chinese ships and planes into Taiwan's territorial waters and airspace represents a dangerous escalation.
(Photo 2, Focus Taiwan and Xinhua)