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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After Pelosi’s arrival, China announced military drills in nearby waters

Speaker Nancy Pelosi began the highest-level visit to Taiwan by a U.S. official in 25 years.

By Paul Mozur and Amy Qin

Shortly after Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane touched down in Taiwan, China’s military said it would conduct drills that appeared to infringe on Taiwan’s territorial waters, setting the stage for a new potential showdown between China and the United States over the self-governed island.

Beijing announced plans for six zones encircling Taiwan where it said it would carry out live-fire military drills from Thursday to Sunday, with some of the areas overlapping with the island’s territorial waters, according to a statement released by Xinhua, China’s state news agency. Ships and aircraft were warned against trespassing in those areas for “safety reasons,” the statement said.

In a separate statement, China’s People’s Liberation Army said that starting Tuesday evening, it would begin conducting a series of joint naval and air exercises in the waters and airspace to the north, southwest and southeast of Taiwan, according to an online statement attributed to Col. Shi Yi, spokesperson for China’s Eastern Theater Command.

Those exercises would include “long-range live firing in the Taiwan Strait” and “regular-guided fire testing in the eastern waters” off Taiwan, the statement said. The timing leaves open the possibility that the drills could begin while Pelosi, D-Calif., is still in Taiwan.

Separate statements released by China’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry shortly after Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan framed the military actions as necessary to “resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Song Zhongping, an independent Chinese military analyst, said the two announcements were about a single drill. He said that preparations would begin Tuesday but that the actual live fire exercises would take place from Thursday to Sunday.

“The People’s Liberation Army’s struggle with Taiwan is going to intensify in frequency and it will escalate the scale of force to tackle the U.S. government’s provocations,” he said, adding that drills that cross the median line that divides the waters between Taiwan and China would become more frequent.

The planned drills would likely be the most assertive show of Chinese military power in the region since the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995 and 1996, when China fired missiles to intimidate the island and President Bill Clinton ordered aircraft carriers into the area.

Analysts said the drills in the six zones would effectively block access to commercial shipping lanes and Taiwanese ports.

Although Taiwan and the United States will decide whether and how to respond to China’s actions, the concern is that the fast-moving situation could lead to an accidental encounter that could spiral out of control.

“The looming Chinese military exercises would bring great pressure to the Taiwanese military,” said Chieh Chung, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, Taiwan. “If a slight accident occurs, the low trust between both sides of the strait and the lack of experience in dealing with crises is likely to escalate the tensions and lead to irreversible consequences.”

The military drills appear to be part of a series of Chinese countermeasures taken in response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. On Tuesday, before she arrived, China instituted a ban on shipments from more than 100 Taiwanese food exporters — an apparent attempt to ratchet up economic pressure on the island.

China has increasingly sought to leverage its status as Taiwan’s largest trading partner and has moved several times to restrict the island’s access to its vast consumer market in recent years through bans on products ranging from pineapples to grouper fish.

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