The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

China expands military drills, escalates threats against Taiwan

Two Taiwanese Air Force Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets fly by an air base in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on Aug. 7, 2022. (Ritchie B Tongo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

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 Defense Ministry did not announce the purpose of the expanded exercises, which come as the visit frayed U.S.-China relations. The exercises are Beijing’s 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.

On Aug. 7, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers decried China’s military escalation in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recent visit. (Video: The Washington Post)

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 unspecified Chinese military operations would take place for a month starting Monday.

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.

From the one-China policy to the Taiwan Relations Act, here’s what to know

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

The White House last week 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.”

Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, told CBS News that it is China’s behavior that is unprecedented, not Pelosi’s visit. She said that it appeared Beijing had been preparing such a response for a long time.

“The Beijing government is currently trying to manufacture a crisis over a practice that has been ongoing for decades,” Hsiao said in the interview that aired Sunday. She added that it was up to China if it “will evolve with international respect, or with international condemnation.”

Hsiao also pushed back on the idea that Pelosi’s trip was a “provocation.”

“Well, I think the word ‘provocation’ has only one place and that’s with China right now,” Hsiao said. “They are the ones that are provoking regional instability.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed on Aug. 5 that China would not succeed in isolating Taiwan, amid continued military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. (Video: Reuters, Photo: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko/Reuters)

But China has shown no sign of slowing the pace of military drills. The Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Sunday said it would continue joint air and naval 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, 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.

White House summons Chinese ambassador as crisis escalates

Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the PLA-affiliated National Defense University, told state broadcaster China Central Television in an interview published 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 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.

Pelosi’s Taiwan visit ushers in new phase of China’s pressure campaign

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 visit by a House speaker 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 Taiwan’s main island, flocked to the shore to see if they could catch a glimpse of missiles landing in nearby waters.

In a polarized Congress, Pelosi’s trip received rare bipartisan support. During interviews with half a dozen politicians that aired Sunday, all said Pelosi — like any member of Congress — was within her right to visit Taiwan and that they opposed any use of force by China in retaliation.Cardin, Van Hollen, Graham, Blumenthal, Meeks. Also Bill Richardson, Nikki Haley

Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), who was part of the congressional delegation Pelosi led to Asia last week, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that strengthening economic, cultural and security cooperation with Taiwan is was even more important in the face of China’s aggression.

“We are going to stand by our friends, our partners and our allies. And clearly Taiwan is one of those,” Meeks said. “And so the provocative [country] is not us. It’s the Beijing government.”

Pei Lin Wu contributed to this report.

Loading...