China steps up pressure on Taiwan

Military exercises to seal off airspace for four days

Updated - August 03, 2022 11:10 pm IST

Published - August 03, 2022 05:46 pm IST - BEIJING

A man watches a CCTV news broadcast, showing a fighter jet during joint military operations near Taiwan by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, at a shopping center in Beijing on August 3, 2022.

A man watches a CCTV news broadcast, showing a fighter jet during joint military operations near Taiwan by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, at a shopping center in Beijing on August 3, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

China’s military on Thursday will begin one of its largest ever exercises in waters off Taiwan that will effectively seal off its airspace and waters for four days, part of a number of measures Beijing is expected to announce in retaliation for Wednesday’s visit by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Chinese military said it will begin large-scale exercises in six areas in the waters and airspace to the north, east, southwest and southeast around the island of Taiwan at noon on Thursday (9:30 a.m. IST) and also conduct live-fire drills and missile tests. Some of the drills will be in what Taiwan sees as its territorial waters.

Editorial | An avoidable crisis: on the Nancy Pelosi Taiwan visit

Chinese analysts described the four-day exercises as an effective “blockade”, which is likely to disrupt both shipping and aviation. “For safety reasons, entering of vessels and aircraft to the above-mentioned sea and air space is prohibited,” an official notice said. Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport on Wednesday said as many as 51 international flights have been cancelled on Thursday alone as the drills begin.

Ms. Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since then House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997, left Taiwan for South Korea on Wednesday following talks with President Tsai Ing-wen and an address to the legislature. Ms. Tsai bestowed on her the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon, a Taiwanese civilian award.

In her address, Ms. Pelosi said the world was “divided between democracy and autocracy” and the U.S. “will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan and we are proud of our enduring friendship.”

That brought a sharp response from Beijing. “The nature of her visit is not about democracy,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “It is an issue about China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity…What she has done is not about upholding democracy, it is a provocation and infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Ms. Hua said China “will do everything to uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity and all possible consequences will be borne by the U.S side and ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”.

Asked if China would take further countermeasures, Ms. Hua told reporters, “We will do what we have said, please have some patience”.

Beijing has already faced questions from Chinese social media users on whether it will take stronger measures to back up the public warnings that failed to deter Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

The military drills around Taiwan have been highlighted by the State media as showing Beijing’s resolve. A few punitive economic measures were also announced but were modest. Given China’s domestic economic challenges, as well as its dependence on Taiwan for semiconductor chips needed in a range of industries, the measures have so far been limited to agricultural products.

Following the curbs issued on Monday on more than 100 Taiwanese exporters, customs authorities on Wednesday announced the suspension of fish and fruit imports. Import of sand, a material used in the crucial semiconductor industry in the manufacturing of chips, was also suspended, although China accounts for a very small portion of Taiwan’s sand exports.  The modest economic measures announced so far concern a small section of the booming $328–billion China-Taiwan bilateral trade, which was up more than 25% last year.

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