Taipei: Chinese aircraft and warships rehearsed an attack on Taiwan on Saturday, island officials said, in retaliation for a visit there by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that also saw Beijing halt talks on security and other issues with the United States.
Pelosi’s brief unannounced visit during the week to the island claimed by China infuriated Beijing and has prompted unprecedented military drills that have included ballistic missiles fired over the capital, Taipei.
The Chinese exercises — centred on six locations around the island — are scheduled to last until midday on Sunday.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said multiple Chinese ships and planes conducted missions in the Taiwan Strait, with some crossing the median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides, in what the Taiwan military described as a simulation attack on the island.
Chinese warships and aircraft continued to “press” into the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday afternoon, a person familiar with security planning said.
Off Taiwan’s east coast and close to Japanese islands, Chinese warships and drones simulated attacks on US and Japanese warships, the person added.
Taiwan’s army broadcast a warning and deployed air reconnaissance patrol forces and ships to monitor while putting shore-based missiles on standby.
Its defence ministry also said it fired flares late on Friday to warn away seven drones flying over its Kinmen islands and unidentified aircraft flying over its Matsu islands. Both island groups are close to mainland China’s coast.
On Friday, China’s military said it conducted air and sea drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan to test its forces’ “joint combat capabilities”.
Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday, the highest-level visit to the island by a US official in decades, despite Chinese warnings. Her trip has promoted a flurry of retaliation, including sanctions against Pelosi and her family.
Shortly after her delegation left Japan on Friday, the final stop of a weeklong Asia tour, China announced that it was halting dialogue with the United States, including contacts between theatre-level military commanders and on climate change.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking on a visit to the Philippines, said the cessation of dialogue on issues including narcotics and transnational crime, was “irresponsible”, and security contacts were vital to ease tension.
Blinken said China’s stopping bilateral links on the climate, in particular, would punish the world.
“Suspending climate cooperation doesn’t punish the United States, it punishes the world, particularly the developing world,” he told a news conference. “We should not hold hostage cooperation on matters of global concern.” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told a media briefing on Friday that Blinken was spreading “misinformation”, adding: “We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis,” Wang said.
Jing Quan, a senior Chinese Embassy official in Washington, echoed that, telling a briefing: “The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take measures immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit.”
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby countered that China’s suspension of some communication channels was “fundamentally irresponsible”.
“There’s nothing here for the United States to rectify. The Chinese can go a long way to taking the tensions down simply by stopping these provocative military exercises and ending the rhetoric,” Kirby told reporters.
China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important in the case of an emergency.
Kirby said it was not atypical for China to shut down military talks at times of tension but “not all channels” between military leaders had been cut.
“Part of this overreaction has been strictly limiting its defence engagements when any responsible state would recognise that we need them now the most,” said acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale.
Speaking in Japan after meeting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Pelosi said her Asia trip was “not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region”.
Japan’s defence ministry reported that as many as four missiles flew over Taiwan’s capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone.
Kishida told visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that he strongly condemned China’s missile launches as “a serious issue concerning Japan’s security and the safety of Japanese people”, the foreign ministry said.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang nationalists in a civil war, prompting their retreat to the island.
Beijing says its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter and that it reserves the right to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary. Taiwan rejects China’s claims saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.