(RFI) Despite appeals from Western countries and Japan, China confirmed on Monday (8) the continuation of its military exercises around Taiwan, still as a response to the visit of US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to the island claimed by Beijing.
On Sunday (7), the Taiwanese Transport Minister indicated that flights and navigation could already be gradually resumed in six of the seven “temporary danger zones” – that is, where Beijing has been conducting military maneuvers on an unprecedented scale since Thursday (4).
According to observers, these maneuvers offer just a taste of what may become the norm in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s military announced that it will hold military exercises with live ammunition this week, simulating a defense of the island against a Chinese invasion.
In a statement, Taiwan’s foreign ministry condemned the continuation of Chinese maneuvers that undermine the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and increase tensions in the region. The Taiwanese will train next Tuesday (9) and Thursday (11) in the Pingtung region in the far south.
The exercises were already scheduled and are not a response to Chinese military maneuvers. “In the face of the military intimidation created by China, Taiwan will not be frightened or back down, and will more firmly defend its sovereignty, national security, and free and democratic way of life,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said in a statement.
On Sunday, Taiwan’s Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang said that “China’s brutal use of military force is undermining regional peace and stability.” According to Chinese state television CCTV, ballistic missiles flew over Taiwan this week for the first time.
To prove how close they were to the coast, the Chinese military released a photo it said it took from one of its warships over the weekend, showing a Taiwanese navy building just a few hundred meters away.
Lesson to Learn: Taiwan Trapped
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army was able to test the firepower of its air and sea forces. Some observers believe that China has developed its military means so much that a “blockade” of Taiwan now seems possible.
This is the first time that the army has extended its exercises to the east of Taiwan in order to encircle the island – a very strategic area for incoming supplies. It is also from this side that possible American military reinforcements would arrive, in case of an attack.
The lesson to be learned, in case of war, is that Beijing will be able to prevent any ships and planes, civilian or military, from entering or leaving Taiwan. The 23 million inhabitants would therefore be trapped. Should the Taiwanese expect other maneuvers of such magnitude in the future?
Yes, because such full-scale exercises are likely to become the norm, observers say. If today Beijing’s military capabilities are still inferior to those of the United States, China is putting in the means to catch up.
According to the Pentagon, Beijing’s goal would be to achieve enough firepower to overcome any resistance to an invasion of Taiwan by 2027.
Response to Democrat’s Visit
The day after the departure from Taipei of Nancy Pelosi, the US number three and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chinese Army launched vast “real fire” maneuvers in six major areas around Taiwan. The exercises were supposed to end at noon this Sunday (04:00 GMT), according to the Chinese Maritime Security Administration. But the maneuvers continue.
“The People’s Liberation Army (…) continues to conduct practical joint exercises at sea and in airspace around Taiwan, focusing on joint anti-submarine and maritime assault operations,” the Chinese Army’s Eastern Command said Monday.
In recent days, Beijing’s Army has been holding the largest military exercises in its history in this area, deploying fighter jets, warships, drones and firing ballistic missiles. Because of their scale, the exercises drew criticism from the G7 heads of diplomacy (United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and the United Kingdom), who considered that there was “no justification for these “aggressive” maneuvers.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Chinese reaction “totally disproportionate.” Especially after China suspended a number of Sino-American discussions and cooperation, including on climate change. Along with his Japanese and Australian colleagues, Blinken also issued a statement calling on China to stop its military exercises.
Asked on Monday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, stressed that Beijing’s reaction was “legitimate, rational and legal.” “This is a warning to troublemakers as well as a lesson for Taiwan independence advocates,” he said during a regular press conference.
“We call on the United States to do some soul-searching and rectify its mistake as soon as possible, as well as to stop playing the Taiwan card to impede [China’s] development,” he added.
China considers Taiwan as one of its provinces that has yet to reunite with the rest of its territory since the end of the Chinese Civil War (1949). Against any initiative that would give international legitimacy to the Taiwanese authorities, Beijing discourages official contact between Taiwan and other countries.
U.S. officials frequently visit the island, but China considers the visit by Pelosi, one of the highest ranking figures in the American state hierarchy, a major provocation. The trip, the first by a high-ranking U.S. official to the island since 1997, was considered by Beijing to be a violation of its sovereignty and a boost to the island’s independence.
What do the Chinese think?
China’s outrage over U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has aroused the nationalist fervor of some Chinese Internet users, but opinions on the street are more varied. It is difficult to get a general idea of what the Chinese think, as the authorities strictly control discussions on the Internet, with a censorship system that deletes the most negative posts about government policy.
Experts believe that the majority of the population is in favor of reunification with Taiwan and would not accept independence for the island under any circumstances. The most extremist internet users are calling for a war, but on the streets the people AFP spoke to are more moderate and hope for a return to calm.
“It doesn’t worry me too much because I don’t think there will be [a war]. Whoever uses force first will make a mistake,” estimated Zhao, a Chinese national who provided only his last name. The Chinese government considers Taiwan – where Chinese nationalists took refuge when Mao Zedong and the Communists seized power in China in 1949 – as a province that will someday be reunited with the rest of its territory, by force if necessary.
This goal is shared by much of the population. “Many Chinese hope for reunification with Taiwan someday. It’s an idea we were taught from childhood and considered politically correct,” explains 29-year-old Zhao.
“But there are few in-depth debates about it, as the internet doesn’t allow a variety of opinions and real-life debates easily end up in fights,” he adds. For David Sacks, a researcher at the American think tank Council on Foreign Relations, Pelosi’s visit has come at the worst time for Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The president wants to forge, in front of his countrymen, an image of strength and stability for the 20th Communist Party Congress, which should, barring any surprises, grant him a third term.
“It’s likely that Xi felt he had to act, for fear of looking weak or passing for someone who doesn’t have the (Sino-American) relationship, the most important one for China, under control,” explains Sacks, interviewed by AFP.
Text by: Maria Paula Carvalho (With information from RFI and AFP) *** Translated by the DEFCONPress team ***