Why China Keeps Sending Warplanes To Fly Near Taiwan
Chinese warplanes streaking through the skies around Taiwan, once a rare sight, are showing up much more frequently. Why China Keeps Sending Warplanes To Fly Near Taiwan
The exercises signal China’s displeasure with the island’s democratically elected government and its efforts to deepen ties with the U.S. In response to the People’s Liberation Army’s moves, the Pentagon has stepped up surveillance flights in the region, raising the risk of a confrontation between two of the world’s most powerful militaries.
China’s warplanes made incursions into the southern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on 87 days in 2020 — more than in the previous five years combined — and have surpassed that number already this year. Some of the PLA planes, including bombers, fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft, fly east from China across the 130-kilometer (80-mile) Taiwan Strait and near the southern tip of Taiwan. Some break off and dart farther south toward tiny Pratas Island in the South China Sea before turning back. The PLA flew close to Pratas — uninhabited except for a garrison of Taiwanese marines and coast guard officers — roughly once a week on average between mid-September 2020 (when the Taiwanese Defense Ministry began releasing detailed data) and mid-June 2021.
2. Is China Breaching Taiwan’s Airspace?
No. Generally speaking sovereign airspace refers to the air over a territory and a “belt of sea adjacent to its coast” as far as 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) from shore. Any incursion by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan’s sovereign airspace would be a very serious and unprecedented provocation. That’s why China strongly protested in June 2020 when a U.S. military aircraft flew over Taiwan. An ADIZ is an area beyond that in which aircraft are supposed to identify themselves to the jurisdiction that declared it, usually in the interest of national security. Many places have them, including China and the U.S. and Canada jointly.
3. What’s China Trying To Accomplish?
The incursions allow Chinese President Xi Jinping to highlight Taiwan’s vulnerability while probing its defenses and testing the limits of the American commitment to ensure Taiwan’s self-defense. The focus on Pratas demonstrates that Beijing has options for striking a blow against Taiwan that fall well short of an invasion, which is becoming a more urgent concern for American military planners.
Regular incursions also help establish China’s long-term presence in territory it claims as its own. Meanwhile, the drumbeat of exercises adds to the domestic political concerns for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who rejects Beijing’s claims to sovereignty.
4. What’s The Risk?
Pratas is closer to Hong Kong than Taiwan and hundreds of miles from the nearest American base in Japan. Taking it could give China a new launching ground for future military operations without provoking a full-scale conflict with the U.S. Despite the saber-rattling, China has many reasons to avoid a war, not least being that it could kill tens of thousands, devastate the economies on both sides and potentially lead to a nuclear confrontation.
But other forces may prod China toward action: Xi’s desire to cement his legacy by gaining “lost” territory, falling public support in Taiwan for any union with China and the rise of pro-independence forces, and the U.S.’s increasingly hostile relationship with China. The U.S. has renewed calls for China to open a hot line to help keep any military misunderstandings from escalating, so far with little success.
5. What’s Been The Response?
While Beijing has blamed the exercises on Tsai’s refusal to accept that both sides belong to “one China,” the increase has tracked with U.S. efforts to step up arm sales and diplomatic exchanges with Taiwan.
The island’s aging air force announced in March that it expected to spend NT$2.1 billion ($76 million) more in 2021 countering PLA operations (it sends patrol aircraft, issues radio warnings and uses air-defense missile systems to monitor the activity).
Taiwan has reinforced the garrison on Pratas with 200 marines, sent in anti-armor rockets and restarted a project to upgrade the airstrip. But it would be operating more than 400 kilometers from its coast and be facing the world’s largest navy.
Taiwan Says 19 Chinese Military Aircraft Entered ADIZ Sunday
Nineteen Chinese military aircraft were detected in Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone on Sunday, Taipei’s defense ministry says in a statement.
Taiwanese patrol issued radio warnings and deployed air defense missile systems to monitor the activity. The aircraft models include one Y-8 ASW, four H-6, ten J-16 and four SU-30.
Chinese military aircraft have frequently entered the southwestern part of Taiwan’s ADIZ over the past year. While China has repeatedly threatened to take control of Taiwan through military intervention, leadership in Beijing has expressed a preference for peaceful unification.
China’s Military Holds Beach Landing Drills About 100 Miles From Taiwan
The drills took place in an area that has a similar landscape and climate to Taiwan.
Taiwan Plans To Bulk Up Military Budget To Contend With Chinese Pressure
Special $8.7 billion spending package would fund missiles, naval ships and other systems.
Taiwan plans to significantly increase military spending in the next five years, according to a draft bill that calls for new outlays on weapons systems that would better equip the island to repel an attack by China.
The proposal, unveiled by Taiwan’s cabinet on Thursday, calls for the allocation of the equivalent of about $8.7 billion over the next five years to fund the acquisition of homegrown precision missiles, high-performance naval ships and weapons systems for existing warships.
The new spending would be on top of Taiwan’s annual military-related budget, which is set to grow 4% in 2022 to a record $15.1 billion.
“In the face of severe threats from enemies, our military urgently needs to obtain mature weapons capable of being produced on a large scale,” Gen. Chen Huang-rong, deputy head of strategic planning at Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, said at a news conference Thursday.
China’s ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan a part of its territory. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to take control of the democratically self-ruled island, by force if necessary.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has ramped up its presence and actions around the island over the past year, amid rising nationalist sentiment on the mainland and more concerns about tightening ties between Taipei and Washington.
The PLA air force flew 19 warplanes into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone on Sunday, its largest show of aerial force against the island in more than two months, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of data released by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. The PLA has sent more than 600 aircraft on sorties near Taiwan in the past year, including nearly 450 since January.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Wednesday that recent actions by the PLA weren’t aimed at “Taiwanese compatriots,” but were instead targeting “external forces and Taiwan independence separatist activities.”
Some U.S. and Taiwanese military analysts have criticized the island for spending too little on defense, and for spending money on eye-catching purchases such as F-16 fighter jets rather than less-flashy weapons systems that would better enable Taiwan to wage asymmetric warfare against the PLA’s superior strength.
The new five-year spending plan aims to address some of those complaints and to make Taiwan’s military more self-sufficient. It places a priority on cultivating domestically developed military technology, including antiship missiles, combat drones, and field and ground-based air-defense systems.
“We’re increasing the budget not to provoke wars, but to tell Beijing not to start wars,” said Tsai Shih-ying, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Mr. Tsai said the new budget was a demonstration to the U.S. and Japan that Taiwan is determined to defend itself.
Still, he acknowledged the shortfalls in Taiwan’s defense spending, given the growing military imbalance with China.
China said in March that it would increase military spending 6.8%, to $208 billion for 2021—more than 13 times the size of Taiwan’s regular military budget.
The special military budget is expected to win approval in the legislature, where the ruling party commands a majority.
Ma Wen-chun, a lawmaker with the opposition Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, said that while her party supports an increase in military spending, the extra money should be spent on ready-to-use weapons that can meet urgent needs.
Some of the items included in the special bill, such as the domestically made Tuo Chiang-class warships, are still under production.
Increasing military spending is politically tricky for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who needs to strike a balance between national security and social welfare, especially with the pandemic weighing on the island’s economy, analysts say.
Su Tzu-yun—a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, a military-backed think tank—described the special budget as an attempt to increase the island’s defenses without cutting into regular spending on nondefense items.
According to the regular budget released last month, Taiwan’s air force plans to spend more than $1.7 billion over the next six years to buy long-range precision-strike munitions for its F-16 jets, while setting aside an additional $780 million to develop a drone system.
The budget allocates more than $3.1 billion to purchase 100 Harpoon missiles announced as part of a U.S. arms deal last year, as well as $1.6 billion to upgrade the Taiwanese navy’s La Fayette-class frigates.
Taiwan’s military has been holding annual live-fire exercises simulating attacks by China’s military.
Dozens of military enthusiasts, families and television journalists gathered near a pineapple field in southern Taiwan’s Pingtung County early Wednesday to watch fighter jets—including a locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighter—take off and land from a provincial highway, a first in the military’s history.
President Tsai, who observed the drills, later wrote on social media, using Taiwan’s formal name, that the exercises have “shown the confidence of the Republic of China’s Air Force to defend our airspace!”
China Conducts Military Exercises Southwest of Taiwan
China announced naval and aerial military exercises were conducted in areas southwest of Taiwan Friday, the second time in a month.
Combat ships, early-warning aircraft and bombers were among the forces that joined the exercises “to improve integrated operational capability” in territory southwest of Taiwan, Shi Yi, spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement Saturday, without saying how close to the democratically-ruled island the drills were.
Shi said military exercises will be “conducted regularly” based on the situation in the Taiwan Strait and the need to maintain sovereign security.
China had another drill in areas south of Taiwan in mid-August, with combat ships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets among the forces that joined the exercises. Shi described repeated collusion between the U.S. and Taiwan had become “the largest source of trouble” for security and stability in the area.
The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said in a statement Friday that ten Chinese military aircraft, including two Y-8s, two J-11s, and six J-16s, were detected in Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone.
Two U.S. ships sailed through the Taiwan Strait in late August, in what both the U.S. and Taiwanese administrations described as normal operations. Early last month, the Biden administration approved its first arms sale to Taiwan, a potential $750 million deal.
China Sends Fighter Jets To Show Anger At Taiwan Over Trade Deal
China sent two air force incursions close to Taiwan on Thursday, underscoring its displeasure at the government in Taipei’s bid to join a regional trade deal.
Twenty four People’s Liberation Army aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in two separate statements. That was the largest number of Chinese planes to enter the zone in a day since June, when China’s air force sent 28 aircraft close to Taiwan in the biggest sortie this year.
The flights came a day after Taiwan announced it had requested to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation group China also applied to join last week. In the past, Beijing has used large-scale incursions to signal its anger at Taiwan for challenging China’s claims to sovereignty over the island democracy.
The dispute wasn’t limited to military maneuvers, with Beijing and Taipei exchanging barbs over the latter’s attempt to join the CPTPP.
“We firmly oppose any official ties between Taiwan and any countries, and firmly oppose Taiwan’s accession into any treaties and organizations that are of official nature,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular briefing Thursday.
The Foreign Ministry in Taipei responded by saying China has no right to comment on the Taiwan government’s application to join CPTPP and that the People’s Republic of China doesn’t represent the people of Taiwan on the international stage.
Record Chinese Aircraft Sorties Near Taiwan Prompt U.S. Warning
Beijing flies 93 military sorties over three days, prompting warning from the U.S.
Beijing flew 93 military sorties near Taiwan over three days as China celebrated its National Day holiday, its largest such prodding in the past year, prompting the U.S. to warn against what it called provocative military activity.
On Friday, the Chinese sent 38 military aircraft, including J-16 jet fighters, H-6 strategic bombers and Y-8 submarine-spotting aircraft, flying into Taiwan’s southwestern air-defense identification zone, more than in any other sortie over the past year.
The following day, the People’s Liberation Army broke that record by sending 39 more aircraft. On Sunday, China sent another 16 military aircraft, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.
Taiwan responded to the PLA deployment with combat aircraft to keep the intruders at bay, issued radio warnings and deployed missile systems to track their activity, Taiwan’s Air Force said in statements.
The Air Force also released a video Saturday in response to such activities, declaring in the text accompanying images of its jet fighters and pilots: “How can we let our enemy’s aircrafts fly over us!”
The aircraft maneuvers coincided with China’s National Day on Oct. 1. Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory and has vowed to assimilate, celebrates its own National Day on Oct. 10.
The frequency of such aircraft deployments has increased, as China’s PLA has ramped up its presence around Taiwan over the past year, amid closer ties between Taipei and Washington.
Rising concerns about the Taiwan Strait as an international flashpoint are evident from comments by politicians and military maneuvers. President Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies in June cited the worry in a communiqué that said, “We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”
It was the first-ever official mention of Taiwan by G-7 leaders and it has been echoed by officials in individual countries, notably in an increasingly hawkish Japan.
The U.S. Navy has stepped up freedom-of-navigation operations in and around the Strait, with sailings by other Western nations including French and British forces.
Last month, the U.S. passed a bill calling for the U.S. to invite Taiwan to next year’s multi-navy Pacific Ocean exercises; a few years ago Beijing was disinvited from the American-led biennial Rim of the Pacific drills.
The U.S. Department of State reiterated its commitment to Taiwan in a statement on Sunday, adding that the U.S. was very concerned by the military activity near Taiwan and would continue to assist Taiwan to maintain a “sufficient self-defense capability.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it would strengthen cooperation with the U.S. to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
J. Michael Cole, senior fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute, said the maneuvers were an effort to send signals to a variety of actors, not just Taiwan’s government and its people.
“It’s a low-cost instrument for China to show to its own people that they are setting the agenda in cross-straits relations, and to send a message of deterrence and intimidation to Taiwan and other governments deploying vessels in the Taiwan Strait and the region.”
The PLA has flown more than 750 sorties of warplanes near Taiwan over the past year, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of the sorties based on statements by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, which began releasing such data on Sept. 16, 2020. More than 600 of those aircraft were dispatched this year, the data showed.
An air-defense identification zone, or ADIZ, extends beyond a territory’s airspace and is monitored in the interest of giving its military time to respond to any incoming foreign aircraft. The Chinese aircraft didn’t enter within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan’s coast, which it claims as its airspace.
China set its own East China Sea ADIZ in 2013, requiring planes to identify themselves when entering the zone that extends 200 miles from its coast into the East China Sea. The U.S. government said at the time it wouldn’t honor the zone but commercial aircraft have done so.
The Wall Street Journal reported the Air Force in February 2020 flew a B-52 through China’s zone, in a triangle that swept from Guam along the Japanese coast and neared Taiwan’s northern tip.
China tries to wave U.S. forces away near its shores and track Navy ships that enter the region, including the South China Sea, where Beijing has constructed military outposts on reclaimed landmass.
Domestically in Taiwan, the aircraft deployment has alarmed policy makers such as Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister. Mr. Wu tweeted on Saturday that China had sent a record number of sorties the day before. He added, “Threatening? Of course.”
On Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office had issued a stern statement against Mr. Wu and dismissed what it called “Taiwan independence provocations.”
“We are telling people like Joseph Wu: Taiwan independence is a dead end,” the statement said. “All kinds of Taiwan independence talks are nothing more than flies buzzing. A few screams, a few sobs.”
China’s National Day marks the Communist Party’s triumph in 1949, and military muscle flexing is standard operating procedure of the celebrations. For the 70th anniversary of its rule on 2019’s National Day, for example, President Xi Jinping reviewed PLA troops and new ballistic missiles from an open-top limousine.
The sorties also come just weeks after Taiwan unveiled a draft bill calling for authorities to significantly increase military spending over the next five years. The effort called for the allocation of about $8.7 billion over the next five years to finance new weapon systems that would better equip the island to repel an attack by China.
These include homegrown precision missiles and high-performance naval ships, and the new spending would come on top of Taiwan’s annual military-related budget, which is set to grow 4% in 2022 to a record $15.1 billion.
In January, China also staged a similar show of aerial might toward Taiwan, just days after Mr. Biden took office. Then, the move was seen as an attempt to warn the Biden administration and the U.S.—Taiwan’s most important supporter—of the stakes involved in supporting the island.
U.S. Urges China To Halt ‘Provocative’ Flybys Near Taiwan
The U.S. called on China to halt its “provocative” pressure on Taiwan after a record number of daily incursions by Chinese warplanes, saying the military actions are destabilizing and risk leading to “miscalculations.”
“The U.S. commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Sunday.
The flybys close to Taiwan extended a display of military might as the country continued its celebrations of communist China’s founding. People’s Liberation Army aircraft conducted 16 flights near the territory on Sunday, after 39 on Saturday and 38 on Friday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Twitter.
The U.S. “is very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” Price said. “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry thanked the U.S. for its comments and said China had “destroyed the regional peaceful status quo” and led to rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, in a statement Sunday evening.
“Taiwan will continue strengthening cooperation with U.S. and like-minded nations to safeguard rule-based international order together, in a joint effort to promote the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region,” the ministry said.
The incursions came as the Oct 1. National Day holiday started on the mainland to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the People’s Republic’s founding. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said Taiwan should probably expect further such incidents.
“These warplanes appearing at Taiwan Straits on China’s National Day is a new ceremony of Chinese people to celebrate the holiday,” he wrote on Twitter. “There could be more warplanes appearing there next year on the National Day, if Taiwan authorities continue their provocation.”
The shows of force came after Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued an angry denunciation of Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on its official Weibo account. China derided his efforts to strengthen Taiwan’s international relations as “shrilling and moaning,” and “the buzzing of flies.”
The statement followed Wu’s assertion, in a Sept. 27 speech to the Hoover Institution in the U.S., that Taiwan is under constant threat from China, including gray zone tactics and information security attacks. China is attempting to lure Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and exclude it from important international organizations, Wu said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council hit back at China’s criticism of Wu, calling it “unprecedented verbal abuse in the international community.”
China has increased its diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan over the past year. The Chinese air force made more than 500 incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ in the first nine months of 2021, Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told lawmakers, compared with more than 300 a year in the past.
Some 24 PLA aircraft flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone a week earlier, one day after Taiwan announced it had requested to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. In June, China’s air force sent 28 planes close to Taiwan in what was then the biggest sortie this year.
Blinken Warns Of Risks In China’s ‘Provocative’ Taiwan Moves
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China’s recent military maneuvers around Taiwan, urging leaders in Beijing to stop such behavior for fear of a miscalculation.
“The actions we’ve seen by China are provocative and potentially destabilizing,” Blinken said Wednesday in an interview in Paris with Bloomberg Television. “What I hope is that these actions will cease because there’s always the possibility of miscalculation, of miscommunication, and that’s dangerous.”
China has ratcheted up tension around Taiwan in recent weeks, sending scores of warplanes into the island’s air-defense-identification zone. At the same time, the U.S. and several allies, including Japan and the U.K., have been conducting naval drills in nearby waters.
“It’s very important that no one take unilateral actions that change the status quo by force,” Blinken said in the interview, conducted on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “We need to see China stop these actions.”
In a news conference later in the day, Blinken called the U.S.-Taiwan relationship “rock solid.” His remarks on China’s actions echoed those by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday, comments that prompted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying to criticize the U.S. for its “extremely erroneous and irresponsible” statements toward an island it considers its territory.
Blinken said “we’ll see” whether U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are able to meet in person in coming weeks or months. The leaders of the world’s two largest economies have yet to meet face-to-face since Biden became president, and the U.S. administration has so far signaled it will continue with former President Donald Trump’s aggressive approach to China, especially on trade.
While there had been speculation that Biden and Xi might meet in person at the Group of 20 summit in Rome this month, Chinese diplomats have informed members that Xi doesn’t currently plan to attend the gathering, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday. Xi hasn’t left the country since the early days of the pandemic, the longest gap without a foreign trip by any G-20 leader.
On Tuesday, Biden said he and Xi have reaffirmed their agreement on Taiwan.
In Zurich on Wednesday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met for talks with China’s top official for foreign affairs, Yang Jiechi. A White House statement said Sullivan raised a host of contentious issues — including “human rights, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Taiwan” — in their discussion.
“Mr. Sullivan made clear that while we will continue to invest in our own national strength and work closely with our allies and partners, we will also continue to engage with the PRC at a senior level to ensure responsible competition,” according to the statement.
Taiwan has recently stepped up warnings about China’s military threats in an apparent appeal for greater international support. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a piece published in Foreign Affairs magazine Tuesday that the island’s fall “would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system,” while Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Wednesday that China would be capable of mounting a full-scale invasion by 2025.
Blinken said the U.S. relationship with China was “one of the most consequential relationships in the world,” with adversarial, competitive and cooperative aspects to it. He said the challenge of climate change, which he called an “existential” issue, was one area of possible cooperation.
“It’s important for both of us to step up and meet our responsibilities,” Blinken said, including steps such as moving away from coal, a major source of energy for China.
Pressed on the financial woes of Chinese property developer China Evergrande Group, Blinken said the U.S. is looking to China “to act responsibly and to deal effectively with any challenges.”
“China has to make sovereign economic decisions for itself but we also know that what China does economically is going to have profound ramifications, profound effects, on literally the entire world because all of our economies are so intertwined,” he said.
China Would Be Able To Launch Attack On Taiwan by 2025, Island’s Defense Minister Warns
Taiwan’s military faces its most dire challenge from Beijing in decades, Chiu Kuo-cheng said after sorties by Chinese fighters and bombers.
Taiwan’s military is facing its most dire challenge from China in decades, the island’s defense minister said, reflecting a surge in tensions after a flurry of Chinese military sorties in the region sparked expressions of concern from the U.S.
China’s People’s Liberation Army would be able to launch a full-blown attack on Taiwan with minimal losses by 2025, the defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, also warned.
“For our military the current situation is really the grimmest in the more than 40 years since I joined the service,” Mr. Chiu said in a speech to Taiwan’s legislature on Wednesday as he answered lawmakers’ questions about a proposed $8.7 billion special defense spending package.
Mr. Chiu’s comments came after China’s military sent close to 150 fighters, bombers and other aircraft near the self-ruled island in the space of four days—an escalation that on Wednesday prompted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to accuse China of undermining peace in the region.
“Here I want to warn Beijing authorities that they must exercise a certain amount of restraint to avoid accidentally sparking conflict,” she said in videotaped comments delivered to senior leaders of her Democratic Progressive Party, echoing a warning from Mr. Chiu that even a small miscalculation risked setting off a crisis.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. China is in the middle of a weeklong holiday.
China’s ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Deng Xijun, tweeted late Wednesday that by dispatching 149 warplanes near Taiwan, the PLA “sent strong warning to the Taiwan secessionists and their foreign supporters.”
He added, “China will take all measures necessary to crush any ‘Taiwan independence’ attempts, which is doomed to fail.”
The sorties by Chinese aircraft began on Friday, around the same time that an armada of 17 ships, including two U.S. carrier strike groups, gathered to conduct joint exercises southwest of Okinawa, Japan, not far from Taiwan. The first sorties also coincided with China’s national day.
The Biden administration has responded to the sorties by saying its commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and calling on Beijing to end the flights.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan expressed deep concern to a top Chinese official Wednesday about the flights, a senior administration official said.
He “made quite clear the concerns we have about Beijing’s recent, provocative activities and our concerns about the continued pressure and coercion that we see by Beijing,” the official said, declining to characterize the Chinese response.
Mr. Sullivan expressed the need for stability across the region and in the Taiwan Strait.
“It was a very candid and direct conversation,” the official said.
The flights, the official said, are the continuation of a “very concerning trend.”
The flurry of military activity has focused renewed attention on Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s intentions toward Taiwan, which the Communist Party considers a part of China. Beijing has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary.
While Mr. Xi has made the unification of Taiwan a key element of his plans for China’s national rejuvenation, military analysts have disagreed over when and even whether the PLA, which hasn’t fought a war since 1979, would feel confident enough to launch an invasion. Mr. Chiu waded into the debate with his comments on Wednesday.
“It is capable now, but it has to calculate what it would cost, and what kind of outcome it would achieve,” the defense minister said. After 2025, he continued, “it would have lowered the cost and losses to a minimum.”
Mr. Chiu didn’t elaborate further, though military analysts have pointed to the valuable experience PLA aircraft have amassed in flying their sorties into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone. There have been number more than 800 over the past year.
U.S. Troops Have Been Deployed In Taiwan For At Least A Year
Small presence of Americans secretly training local forces marks concern over China’s yearslong military buildup and recent moves.
A U.S. special-operations unit and a contingent of Marines have been secretly operating in Taiwan to train military forces there, U.S. officials said, part of efforts to shore up the island’s defenses as concern regarding potential Chinese aggression mounts.
About two dozen members of U.S. special-operations and support troops are conducting training for small units of Taiwan’s ground forces, the officials said. The U.S. Marines are working with local maritime forces on small-boat training. The American forces have been operating in Taiwan for at least a year, the officials said.
The U.S. special-operations deployment is a sign of concern within the Pentagon over Taiwan’s tactical capabilities in light of Beijing’s yearslong military buildup and recent threatening moves against the island.
Taiwan and U.S. officials have expressed alarm over nearly 150 flights near Taiwan in the past week by Chinese military aircraft. The Chinese aircraft have included J-16 jet fighters, H-6 strategic bombers and Y-8 submarine-spotting aircraft and have set a record for such sorties, according to the Taiwan government.
The Chinese flights, while not entering the area Taiwan defines as its airspace, have been a reminder of the Communist Party’s view of Taiwan as a part of China. Beijing has vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary.
Top U.S. military officials testified earlier this year that Beijing is likely to try to use force in its designs on Taiwan within the next six years. Other officials have said China’s timeline could be sooner than that.
Taiwan’s defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, warned Wednesday that China would be able to launch a full-scale attack on Taiwan with minimal losses by 2025.
White House and Pentagon officials declined to comment on the deployment of the U.S. military force. There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Taipei. The deployment is rotational, the U.S. officials said, meaning that members of the U.S. units serve on a variable schedule.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it urged the U.S. to adhere to prior agreements and to cease military aid to Taiwan. “China will take all necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.
Asian media reports last year suggesting a possible U.S. Marine deployment in Taiwan were never confirmed by U.S. officials. The presence of U.S. special operations forces hasn’t been previously reported.
The special-operations unit and the Marine contingent are a small but symbolic effort by the U.S. to increase Taipei’s confidence in building its defenses against potential Chinese aggression.
Current and former U.S. government officials and military experts believe that deepening ties between U.S. and Taiwan military units is better than simply selling Taiwan military equipment.
The U.S. has sold Taiwan billions of dollars of military hardware in recent years, but current and former officials believe Taiwan must begin to invest in its defense more heavily, and smartly.
“Taiwan badly neglected its national defense for the first 15 years or so of this century, buying too much expensive equipment that will get destroyed in the first hours of a conflict, and too little in the way of cheaper but lethal systems—antiship missiles, smart sea mines and well-trained reserve and auxiliary forces—that could seriously complicate Beijing’s war plans,” said Matt Pottinger, a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution who served as a deputy national security adviser during the Trump administration.
Mr. Pottinger said Taiwan’s overall military spending was similar to that of Singapore, which has a quarter of Taiwan’s population and “doesn’t have China breathing down its neck.” Mr. Pottinger said he was unaware of any American troop deployment to Taiwan.
In May, Christopher Maier, who later became assistant secretary of defense for special operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing that the U.S. should be considering strongly such a deployment of forces to help Taiwan strengthen its capabilities. Mr. Maier, who worked at the Pentagon under the Trump administration, didn’t say that special-operations forces already were operating there.
Mr. Maier told senators in May that American special-operations units could show forces in Taiwan how to defend against an amphibious landing or train for dozens of other operations needed to defend the island.
“I do think that is something that we should be considering strongly as we think about competition across the span of different capabilities we can apply,” he said then, referring to special-operations units.
While some aspects of the U.S. deployment might be classified, it is also considered politically sensitive given the tense relations between the U.S. and China, according to U.S. officials.
U.S.-China ties are strained over trade, the Covid-19 pandemic, human rights and regional security, including in the South China Sea. National-security adviser Jake Sullivan met in Zurich on Wednesday with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat.
China is likely to view the presence of the U.S. military forces as a violation of commitments made by Washington in past agreements. In one establishing formal relations between the U.S. and China in 1979, Washington agreed to sever formal ties with Taiwan, terminate a defense agreement and withdraw its forces from the island. The U.S. later said it would reduce arms sales to Taiwan.
A Pentagon spokesman pointed to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress and said that law provides for assessments of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat posed by the People’s Republic of China, or PRC.
“I would note the PRC has stepped up efforts to intimidate and pressure Taiwan, including increasing military activities conducted in the vicinity of Taiwan, which we believe are destabilizing and increase the risk of miscalculation,” the spokesman, John Supple, said in a statement.
The Trump administration loosened rules that restricted contacts with Taiwan by U.S. officials, in a move that was applauded at the time by Taiwan officials. The restrictions limited U.S.-Taiwan exchanges to avoid provoking China.
The Biden administration has continued with some of its predecessor’s moves, sending a U.S. delegation to Taipei in April.
Before leaving office, the Trump administration declassified the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, a 10-page document broadly outlining objectives for the region.
A section on Taiwan says that China will take “increasingly assertive steps to compel unification with Taiwan” and recommends that the U.S. “enable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities that will help ensure its security, freedom from coercion, resilience and ability to engage China on its own terms.”
The strategy also calls for a “combat-credible” U.S. military presence to prevent Chinese dominance in the area that includes Taiwan.
The document hasn’t been supplanted by a new Biden administration strategy, nor is it technically being implemented. Biden administration officials have acknowledged that there are areas of continuity between the two administrations on China policies.
China’s Xi Emphasizes ‘Peaceful Reunification’ With Taiwan, Days After Record Show of Force
Taiwanese people would not bow to Chinese pressure, President Tsai Ing-wen said in a speech Sunday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan days after China’s People’s Liberation Army sent a record 56 bombers and other aircraft on sorties near the self-ruled island in a single day.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen answered in a speech the following day, saying Taiwanese people would not bow to Chinese pressure.
“The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and can definitely be fulfilled,” Mr. Xi said in Beijing on Saturday, adding that achieving that goal by peaceful means is in the interests of people in Taiwan.
Mr. Xi’s remarks were part of a speech that marked the 110th anniversary of the revolution that overturned Qing imperial rule in China. In the decades that followed, the Communists and Nationalists jostled for control of China, which later led to a split between China and Taiwan amid a civil war.
Nationalist forces withdrew to the island, and communist leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
The Communist Party considers Taiwan part of China, despite never having ruled the island, and has vowed to take control of it, by force if necessary.
Mr. Xi has long spoken of realizing what Beijing has called a peaceful reunification with Taiwan, but his remarks came as concerns within the U.S. mounted over China’s yearslong military buildup and recent threatening moves against the island.
The PLA has flown 150 sorties near Taiwan so far this month, a blitz that has sparked expressions of concern from the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that a small number of American troops have been secretly training local military forces on the island.
Taiwan’s independence is the biggest obstacle to Beijing’s goal of unification and poses a “serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation,” Mr. Xi said. “Those who forget their ancestors, betray the motherland or split the country have always been doomed. They will definitely be spurned by the people and judged by history,” he added.
Mr. Xi said the issue of Taiwan is China’s internal affair and that no external interference is allowed, without naming any country. He didn’t mention the use of force on Taiwan in his speech.
On Sunday, in her own speech marking the occasion, Ms. Tsai pledged to maintain the status quo in Taiwan’s relations with China, saying “there should be absolutely no illusions” about the willingness of Taiwanese people to stand up to Beijing.
“Nobody can force Taiwan to take the path that China has laid out for us,” she said, vowing to bolster the island’s defenses.
Shortly after her speech, the Taiwanese military paraded domestically produced weapons through the heart of Taipei as jet fighters flew overhead and a pair of helicopters hovered carrying Taiwanese flags.
U.S. Troops And Chinese Planes Push Taiwan Closer To Crisis
Does the presence of American military trainers mean Washington is getting closer to a security guarantee for the island?
When I was fresh out of the U.S. Naval Academy in the mid-1970s, I was assigned to a destroyer that was preparing for a deployment to the western Pacific. Among many planned calls, one stood out: Keelung , at the northern tip of the island of Taiwan.
It had a reputation as a welcoming port for navy warships — in those days, the U.S. flag was often seen on destroyers and cruisers sailing in and out of Taiwan’s harbors.
Suddenly our schedule changed, and visits to Taiwan — both to Keelung and to Kaohsiung, the island’s largest port — were abruptly canceled. Instead, we headed to the Philippines and Hong Kong, then a British crown colony. We were surprised and disappointed but sensed that a big geopolitical wind had blown through east Asia.
The change of itinerary was due to the Jimmy Carter administration’s decision to acquiesce to Beijing’s insistence that there was only “one China,” and the U.S. forswore diplomatic relations and military-to-military contact with Taiwan. For the following four decades, no U.S. military presence had been visible on the island.
According to credible news reports, that changed last week, when a deployment of U.S. Marines and Special Forces to Taiwan surfaced in public view. According to press accounts, for a year there have been about two dozen American troops conducting training for the island’s armed forces. Neither the U.S. nor Taiwan has denied the reports, and at least one unnamed American official confirmed them.
What Has Changed, And What Is The Future Of U.S.-Taiwan Military Relations?
Context is important. The larger strategic background is that the U.S. continues to follow the basic tenets agreed to in the late 1970s, meaning no official diplomatic recognition for Taiwan and no public support for formal independence. This is likely what President Joe Biden meant last week in saying, “We will abide by the Taiwan agreement,” for which he was widely if erroneously criticized.
In terms of defense arrangements, the U.S. follows a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” meaning it has not explicitly stated it would come to Taiwan’s assistance if it were attacked, but has not denied that it might do so. The U.S. has sold fairly advanced weapons systems to Taiwan, provided support in international forums, and maintains a robust trade and investment relationship with the island.
What has begun to change over the past several years is the increasingly aggressive military stance of China toward Taiwan, which it regards as a “renegade province.” China has been adding dozens of warships each year to what is already the world’s largest fleet when measured by sheer numbers.
The U.S. Navy still holds the qualitative edge in both offensive and defensive maritime systems, major forward bases in the Indo-Pacific, nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. But quantity has a quality of its own, and China’s capacity to conduct an effective amphibious assault on Taiwan is solidifying.
The air force of the People’s Liberation Army is also ramping up operations near Taiwan. The first four days of October saw more than 150 Chinese sorties — fighters, bombers and antisubmarine aircraft — enter Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.
Each of the missions puts a strain on Taiwan’s air forces to respond, and desensitizes its air-defense network to future large-scale operations. The sorties also send a signal to the U.S. to back off from strengthening relations with Taiwan.
Experts in the region are increasingly uneasy. In congressional testimony last spring, Admiral Phil Davidson, then head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned that there was a significant possibility of an attack on Taiwan in the next six years.
Taiwan’s defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, said last week that tensions were at the highest level in 40 years, and that by 2025 China will bring the cost and potential attrition of an attack low enough that it would have the “full ability” to start a war. Two former Australian prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, have also warned of new assertiveness from Beijing.
Expect Biden’s team to abide by the basic tenets of the “one China policy” while working to increase the cost of an invasion. Hence the small-scale but tactically meaningful deployment of Special Forces and Marines, which will likely be followed by high-level exchanges of visits between senior officials.
Many observers have called for increased defense assistance to Taiwan to include naval strike missiles that could hit Chinese vessels at sea; better missile-defense systems to protect key logistics infrastructure (airports, harbors, command-and-control centers); antiship “smart” mines that can be activated on command; offensive and defensive cybersecurity improvements; and special forces training for specific counterinvasion tactics.
The U.S. will also work to strengthen the resolution of allies, partners and friends in the region — especially the “Quad” nations of Australia, India and Japan. U.S. allies from Europe will deploy more frequently to the Indo-Pacific, such as the current mission of the new British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth.
At the same time, look for Biden to push for a direct channel between himself and Chinese President Xi Jinping — including a potential virtual summit this year — following conversations last week between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi. The policy seems to be a sensible one: confronting where necessary but seeking zones of cooperation where possible.
Ultimately, the question is whether any of this will deter Beijing, which has established the brightest of “red lines” on the subject of Taiwan independence. While an explosion is not imminent (and certainly not before the coming winter Olympics in Beijing), tensions will rise steadily. Let’s hope Biden and Xi hold their summit; and while there might be hesitancy to bring up such an inflammatory subject, a candid conversation about Taiwan needs to be part of the discussion.
Taiwan Warns Chinese Aircraft In Its Air Defense Zone
Taiwan’s air force scrambled again on Thursday to warn away nine Chinese aircraft that entered its air defence zone, Taiwan’s defence ministry said, on the same day that Russia invaded Ukraine, a crisis being watched closely in Taipei.
Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained of regular such missions by the Chinese air force over the last two years, though the aircraft do not get close to Taiwan itself.
The number of aircraft involved was well off the last large-scale incursion, 39 Chinese aircraft on Jan. 23, and since then, such fly-bys have been sporadic with far fewer aircraft.
The ministry said the latest mission involved eight Chinese J-16 fighters and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft, which flew over an area to the northeast of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top end of the South China Sea.
Taiwanese fighters were sent up to warn the Chinese aircraft and air defence missiles were deployed to “monitor the activities”, the ministry said, using standard wording for how Taiwan describes its response.
Taiwan has been warily watching the Ukraine crisis, nervous that China may try to take advantage to move on the island.
While Taipei has not reported any unusual movements by Chinese forces, the government has increased its alert level.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and routinely condemns U.S. arms sales or other shows of support from Washington.
Speaking in Beijing earlier on Thursday when asked about the new U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei reiterated that Taiwan was a “core issue” of China’s and it would tolerate no foreign interference.
“We urge the U.S. side to recognise the high sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop playing with fire on the Taiwan issue,” Tan said.
In the 12-page Indo-Pacific strategy overview issued earlier this month, the Biden administration vowed to commit more diplomatic and security resources to the region.
On Taiwan, Washington would work with partners inside and outside the region to maintain peace and stability in the strait dividing the island from China, it said.
China Repeats Military Would Take Action If Pelosi Visits Taiwan
* Taiwan Media Speculate She May Visit As Soon As Tuesday
* Beijing Says Military ‘Won’t Sit Idly By’ If Trip Goes Ahead
China again warned that its military would take action if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes a landmark visit to Taiwan, as speculation mounted in Taipei that she could arrive there as soon as Tuesday.
The People’s Liberation Army “won’t sit idly by” if Pelosi visited Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday, echoing similar comments made by the Defense Ministry last week.
“Her stature as the No. 3 US official means a trip would be highly sensitive,” Zhao told a regular press briefing in Beijing. “As to what measures, let’s wait and see whether she insists on this visit.”
Several media outlets in Taiwan reported that Pelosi may meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, without saying where they got the information.
Multiple hotels in downtown Taipei had been booked for her delegation, private broadcaster TVBS reported, with one of its reporters saying on Twitter that Pelosi will arrive Tuesday.
Speculation has been rife that Pelosi will visit Taiwan this week, risking a heavy-handed response from China, which regards the self-governing island as its territory.
China has a range of military options that fall well short of an invasion, and there are few signs Beijing is planning a broader attack. Beijing has responded to past visits by foreign officials with large sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone or across the median line that divides the strait.
Pelosi left Taiwan out of the itinerary in a statement on Sunday announcing the Asia trip, which will also includes stops in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
The public schedule also didn’t include Indonesia, which is set to host a Group of 20 leaders summit in November. Bloomberg had reported last week that Pelosi would make a stop in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
Her travels come before China’s leadership usually heads to the seaside town of Beidaihe for an annual summer gathering.
President Xi Jinping is just months away from a twice-a-decade Communist Party leadership reshuffle where he’s expected to secure a third term in office, increasing the political stakes.
The timing means Xi can’t afford to look weak in response to what Beijing views as foreign interference in its affairs. China held live-fire military drills over the weekend off the coast of Fujian province, which is opposite Taiwan.
Hu Xijin, the outspoken former editor of the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, said in a tweet that the PLA was “well prepared” for a visit.
“If she dares to stop in Taiwan, it will be the moment to ignite the powder keg of the situation in the Taiwan Straits,” he wrote.
Pelosi would be the most-senior US official to visit Taiwan since House Speaker Newt Gingrich traveled to the island in 1997.
Her possible trip would potentially be more of an affront to China because she’s a member of the same party as President Joe Biden, even though he’s expressed concern about it.
Pelosi and other members of a US congressional delegation discussed the war in Ukraine, cross-strait relations and climate change in a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other high-level officials on Monday, according to a statement from the Southeast Asian nation’s Foreign Ministry.
Lee “highlighted the importance of stable US-China relations for regional peace and security,” the statement added.
Pelosi is accompanied by five fellow House Democrats, including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks of New York.
Nancy Pelosi To Visit Taiwan Despite Warnings From China
U.S. House speaker plans meetings with Taipei officials, raising prospect of increased tensions with Beijing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning to visit Taiwan and meet with government officials this week, defying warnings from Beijing not to do so and setting up the potential for increased tensions between the U.S. and China.
People whom Mrs. Pelosi (D., Calif.) is planning to see in Taiwan have been informed of her imminent arrival, a person familiar with the matter said, though some details remain in flux.
Some meetings are scheduled for Tuesday evening, but most are set for Wednesday, the person said, saying that they include Taiwanese government officials.
“She’s definitely coming,” the person said. “The only variable is whether she spends the night in Taipei.”
A visit by Mrs. Pelosi will make her the first House speaker to do so in 25 years and put her in the center of a longstanding flashpoint in U.S.-China relations—U.S. support for Taiwan, a now democratically governed island which Beijing claims as Chinese territory.
China’s military conducted live-fire exercises in the South China Sea and off the coast of the mainland opposite Taiwan in recent days, according to Chinese state media.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman renewed a warning Monday that the People’s Liberation Army “will not sit idly by” if Mrs. Pelosi makes the visit. He didn’t elaborate on what actions China might take.
The potential for trouble prompted the White House on Monday to try to rein in tensions, with officials reiterating that a visit by Mrs. Pelosi doesn’t break precedent and that U.S. policy hasn’t changed.
“There is no reason to use a potential visit to justify or to spark some sort of crisis or conflict,” John Kirby, the White House’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters.
Mr. Kirby said that Beijing appears to be positioning itself for further action, including staging more military exercises, firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait or near the island or sending more aircraft and naval vessels into areas closer to Taiwan where they haven’t operated.
For Beijing, a visit by Mrs. Pelosi is seen as a high-profile instance of rising U.S. political and military support for Taiwan, contravening Washington’s commitments to limit its ties to the island.
Allowing a Pelosi visit to go ahead without consequences, Chinese foreign affairs specialists said, would only invite more senior political officials from the U.S. and other countries, breaking Beijing’s diplomatic blockade of Taiwan.
Mrs. Pelosi opened her trip to Asia on Monday in Singapore. She and four other Democratic members of Congress met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who hailed the importance of stable U.S.-China relations for regional peace and security, according to a statement by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
She attended a closed-door reception with the American business community, and afterward didn’t respond to questions outside the venue.
A statement released by her office didn’t mention Taiwan, nor did an announcement Sunday of her trip, which said the delegation’s schedule includes high-level meetings in Malaysia, Japan and South Korea.
“As we continue our regional travel, we look forward to additional engagement with our partner nations to advance a free and flourishing Indo-Pacific,” the Monday statement said.
Taiwan’s government, which often doesn’t announce high-level visits in advance, has sidestepped questions about Mrs. Pelosi.
While the White House as well would not confirm the Taiwan stop, its possibility consumed a large portion of the two-hour-plus phone call last week between the U.S. and Chinese leaders.
Mr. Xi Jinping told President Biden that China would safeguard national sovereignty, describing it as “the unbending will of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” “Those who play with fire will perish by it,” China’s official account of the meeting said.
Mr. Biden, for his part, told the Chinese leader that U.S. policy on Taiwan hasn’t changed and that Washington opposes unilateral changes to the status quo.
Mr. Biden also emphasized to Mr. Xi that Congress is independent from the executive branch, the White House’s Mr. Kirby said.
Mr. Kirby criticized China for “irresponsible rhetoric,” and while he said the U.S. will ensure Mrs. Pelosi’s safety, he added that a Pelosi visit, should it occur, is in line with previous official exchanges.
“We urge China, if she goes, to see this for exactly what it is: Nothing new. No change to our policy, and certainly not an unprecedented visit by the speaker of the House,” he said.
The Pentagon meanwhile added to the naval forces operating in the region as a deterrent.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which last week was ordered to leave a port of call in Singapore, was in the Philippines Sea with its accompanying ships plus the amphibious assault ship the USS Tripoli, defense officials said Monday.
A potential stop in Taiwan by Mrs. Pelosi’s delegation has discomfited the Biden administration. Should Mrs. Pelosi’s delegation forgo a stop there, Republican lawmakers are poised to criticize the Democrats for backing down, but if she does go ahead with the visit, the already sharp tensions between China and the U.S. are expected to escalate further.
Mr. Biden didn’t speak to Mrs. Pelosi about her trip, an administration official said. Members of the administration’s national security team briefed Mrs. Pelosi, said Saloni Sharma, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.
“She will make her own decisions, because Congress is an independent branch of government,” Ms. Sharma said.
For Mrs. Pelosi, the visit is a potential capstone for a career that she built focused on strengthening democracy around the world, a former aide said.
Many Democrats expect the longtime leader to step down at the end of this year, so her time to travel as second in line to the presidency and leader of the House is likely ending.
“She’s a woman who uses every minute of her life to get stuff done,” said Daniel Weiss, Mrs. Pelosi’s former chief of staff. “It is expected to be near the end of her career and this is an important piece of her overall legacy in Congress.”
Mrs. Pelosi has previously taken potentially high-risk trips. She visited Ukrainian PresidentVolodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in May, the highest-ranking U.S. official to do so.
Members of Congress have increasingly worried about China attacking Taiwan and when asked two weeks ago how the U.S. could deter such action, Mrs. Pelosi stressed that it was important to “show support for Taiwan.”
Asia has been a focus of Mrs. Pelosi’s since she first arrived in Congress more than three decades ago. She has often spoken out about human-rights violations in China. She unfurled a protest banner in Tiananmen Square in 1991, two years after the Chinese military crushed pro-democracy demonstrations there.
In 2015, Beijing allowed her to visit Chinese-controlled Tibet, a rare concession, especially given her longstanding relationship with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.
When House Speaker Newt Gingrich traveled to Taiwan in 1997, Beijing initially objected and threatened a response. Mr. Gingrich, however, first made a high-profile visit to Beijing, meeting with Chinese leaders before eventually traveling to Taiwan.
Back then, the priority for Chinese leaders was a smooth handover of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, the stakes this time are higher for Beijing and for Mr. Xi in particular.
Having cemented his authority over the past decade, he is poised to break with recent precedent and secure a third term in power at a Communist Party congress set for later this year.
Biden Team Tries To Blunt China Rage As Pelosi Heads For Taiwan
* House Speaker Expected To Arrive Tuesday, Meet President
* Speaker’s Travel Caused Unusual Tension With White House
The White House sought to dial back rising tensions with China over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan, insisting the trip doesn’t signal a change in US posture toward the island and urging Beijing to refrain from an aggressive response.
Pelosi is expected to arrive Tuesday at 10:20 p.m. local time via private plane at Songshan Airport, the Liberty Times reported, without specifying how it got the information.
The landmark visit would make her the highest-ranking US official to set foot on the island in 25 years. China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has promised “grave consequences” for Pelosi’s visit.
A meeting with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen, is on Pelosi’s schedule for Wednesday, according to one of the people.
“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or conflict or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a Monday press briefing.
The House speaker’s visit not only risks sparking a conflict in the Taiwan Strait but has also created unusual tension between her and President Joe Biden.
The two are close political allies, but Pelosi dug in on her travel plans after Biden publicly confirmed she was considering a visit last month and told reporters that the military didn’t think it was a good idea, according to people familiar with the matter.
After administration officials made clear they’d prefer she cancel or delay her Taiwan visit, Pelosi’s team suggested to the White House that she would reconsider if Biden himself publicly asked her not to go.
Administration officials were uncertain she would comply, and in the end Biden made no such request in public or private, the people said.
Kirby said Monday that Biden did not speak directly with Pelosi about the trip. In a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Kirby said, Biden emphasized the US separation of powers and said Pelosi makes her own decisions about her travel.
Xi warned Biden during a discussion of Taiwan that “whoever plays with fire will get burned,” according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kirby on Monday detailed for the first time possible actions the US expects China could take in response to Pelosi’s trip to the self-governing island, including firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait, launching new military operations, crossing an unofficial no-fly zone between Taiwan and the mainland and making “spurious” legal claims about the strait.
“We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we will not be intimidated. We will keep operating in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific as we have for decades.”
He said Beijing had engaged in “irresponsible rhetoric” ahead of Pelosi’s trip and that the US government will ensure the speaker’s safety if she visits Taiwan.
“There’s just no reason for this to escalate,” Kirby said, a point he repeated at least three times.
Pelosi’s office has yet to confirm the visit. Kirby said the White House will know when she lands on the island because she’s flying on a military aircraft.
Under the agreement reached in 1978 to normalize relations between China and the US, Washington agreed to recognize only Beijing as the seat of China’s government, while acknowledging — but not endorsing — the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.
The US has insisted that any unification between the island and mainland must be peaceful, and has supplied Taiwan with advanced weaponry while remaining deliberately ambiguous about whether US forces would help defend against a Chinese attack.
Pelosi, who represents a San Francisco district where almost a third of residents are of Asian ancestry, has long positioned herself as a China hawk.
She opposed China’s ascension to the World Trade Organization and on a trip to Beijing in 1991, unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square honoring pro-democracy protesters killed in a crackdown by the ruling Communist Party two years earlier.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made clear at a Monday news briefing that Pelosi’s stature — she’s second in the presidential line of succession — made her trip highly sensitive, reiterating the army “won’t sit idly by.”
An aggressive response from Beijing and its military could quickly spiral into violence. Chinese media outlets including the Communist Party’s Global Times have suggested the People’s Liberation Army could go so far as to send warplanes over the island.
Taiwan would then need to decide whether to shoot them down, a move that could trigger a wider military conflict. China would have to weigh the possibility that America and its allies in the region would be drawn in militarily.
Biden said in May that Washington would intervene to defend Taiwan in any attack from China, although the White House later clarified he meant the US would provide weapons, in accordance with existing agreements.
Despite the risk of conflict, US lawmakers from both parties have expressed support for Pelosi’s trip, arguing it’s important that the top leader in Congress doesn’t cave to pressure from Beijing.
“What I can say is that the day that China can dictate who goes and visits Taiwan and who cannot, then Taiwan will have already been lost to China,” Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who made his own trip to Taiwan in April, said in an interview Monday.
This Is Why China Is So On Edge About Nancy Pelosi’s Visit To Taiwan
* House Speaker Long Has Put Pressure On Beijing On Human Rights
* Planned Visit Set To Raise US-China Tensions At Critical Time
Nancy Pelosi made a mark with China’s rulers early on in her political career, when she held up a pro-democracy banner on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. More than 30 years later, she’d be coming full circle by visiting Taiwan.
As House speaker she’s second in line of succession to the US presidency. That would make her trip to the democratically-ruled island, which China regards as its sovereign territory, an affront to Beijing.
The visit, much speculated upon for weeks, has had social media in a frenzy trying to track Pelosi’s plane in Asia.
Two people familiar with the discussions said she is expected to land in Taipei on Tuesday. One person said a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen is on Pelosi’s schedule for Wednesday, although another person said such a meeting is still in flux.
Pelosi’s trip caps a decades-long record of pushing back against China for its human-rights record and growing global clout. Her stop is bound to further increase US-Chinese friction at a time of military tension and escalating rhetoric.
Pelosi, 82, would be the highest-ranking elected US official to visit Taiwan in a quarter-century. Illustrating the stakes for the US, President Joe Biden’s administration repeatedly distanced itself in the lead up to her travel to Asia, saying it has no control over her decisions.
Her visit also puts China in a bind — having so vehemently and publicly objected in advance to her trip, and having warned of potential military or economic retaliation, President Xi Jinping can’t afford to now look weak.
A committed liberal on most foreign and domestic issues during her 35 years in Congress, Pelosi also is a China hawk and an advocate for the US to promote human rights.
Two years after Chinese authorities violently suppressed mass protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, Pelosi, then a junior member of Congress, joined a bipartisan congressional delegation that lifted a banner dedicated “To those who died for democracy in China.” Chinese police shut down their small protest.
Pelosi regularly commemorates the Tiananmen crackdown. On the 33rd anniversary in June, she expressed support for “activists on the mainland and throughout the region seeking to exercise their basic freedoms and rights” against the Chinese Communist Party’s “accelerating human rights abuses” of its citizens.
The California Democrat, who represents a San Francisco district where almost a third of residents are of Asian ancestry, has clashed with presidents of both parties in her criticism of China over human rights.
She has met ethnic Tibetans and the revered Dalai Lama, as well as Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters such as Joshua Wong and ethnic Uyghurs subjected to what US officials call a genocide in China’s western Xinjiang region. Beijing denies that atrocities have been committed in Xinjiang.
Pelosi honed her command of China-related issues during her rise in Congress, including as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and on the Appropriations Committee, where she had oversight of State Department programs.
She often repeats variations of a line delivered in May 2021 at a joint hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission: “If we don’t speak out against human rights violations in China for commercial reasons, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights anywhere.”
She has long sought to link China’s trade status to human rights, opposed China’s bids to host the Olympics as far back as 1993 and backed Biden’s diplomatic boycott of this year’s Winter Games in Beijing.
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the first by a sitting speaker since Newt Gingrich visited in 1997, is potentially her most controversial act since Tiananmen Square, given the extreme sensitivity of the Taiwan dispute and the awkward timing.
US officials have emphasized trying to “responsibly manage” competition with China and to avoid the possibility of a miscalculation that prompts conflict — and this trip risks exactly that.
Taiwan was a central issue in a call last week between Biden and Xi.
Biden attempted to convey that Pelosi makes her own decisions as speaker and he can’t control another branch of government, according to people familiar with the conversation. However, Xi made it clear to Biden how big of a problem it would be for her to visit, these people said.
The official Chinese readout said Xi told Biden that “whoever plays with fire, will get burned.”
Chinese officials, including Xi, have stepped up rhetoric about Beijing’s intention to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force. Xi is about to gather with Communist elders at a summer conclave, ahead of a crucial party congress in November where he’s likely to secure an unprecedented third term in power.
Asked at a news conference July 21 about how to deter China from attacking Taiwan, Pelosi said, “I think that it’s important for us to show support for Taiwan.”
“None of us has ever said we’re for independence when it comes to Taiwan,” she added. “That’s up to Taiwan to decide.”
The trip has been a domestic headache for the White House, which is weighing whether to lift tariffs dating to Donald Trump’s era on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods as Biden struggles with the fastest US inflation in four decades and faces midterm elections this fall.
Yet Pelosi may have her reasons for going now.
“For Pelosi, this trip could be seen as capping off a long record as a China hawk and human rights advocate while she is still speaker –- a position she may have to relinquish following November’s midterm legislative elections,” Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said in comments on how to avoid a new Taiwan Strait crisis.
Nancy Pelosi Arrives In Taiwan As China Warns Of Disastrous Consequences
House speaker to meet island’s leader Wednesday; Beijing responds with a military show of force.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday, defying stern warnings from Beijing against a visit that China’s Communist Party regards as a challenge to its sovereignty.
Mrs. Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official in a quarter-century to visit the island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, is set to meet Wednesday with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and legislators in the self-ruled democracy.
The plane carrying Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers departed from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday afternoon and took a roundabout route that appeared designed to avoid transiting the South China Sea, where Beijing has an established military presence. The plane landed in Taipei at 10:44 p.m. local time.
The words “Welcome to TW Speaker Pelosi” were displayed on the facade of Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101. Hundreds of Taiwanese people gathered at Taipei Songshan Airport to greet Mrs. Pelosi’s plane, with one in the crowd saying she wanted to shake hands with the House speaker.
Outside the Grand Hyatt, where Mrs. Pelosi spent Tuesday night, some supporters loudly welcomed Mrs. Pelosi—while protesters held up signs reading “Yankee Go Home.”
China’s military responded with a show of force. The People’s Liberation Army sent an unspecified number of Russian-made Su-35 jet fighters flying over the Taiwan Strait, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television reported minutes ahead of Mrs. Pelosi’s arrival on Tuesday evening.
In describing the flights, CCTV used phrasing that could either mean the Su-35s were flying across the Taiwan Strait or through it. It couldn’t be determined what flight paths the aircraft followed. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense responded by saying that “rumors” about Chinese Su-35 fighters flying over the Taiwan Strait weren’t true.
Minutes after Mrs. Pelosi’s plane landed, the PLA announced via the official Xinhua News Agency that it would conduct live fire exercises in the airspace and sea waters around the island of Taiwan for four days starting Thursday at noon, with detailed coordinates of locations.
A map accompanying the statement showed six zones that encircle the island. In a separate statement, the Eastern Theater Command said it would start a series of military operations around the island on Tuesday night.
Beijing also issued a volley of statements condemning Mrs. Pelosi’s visit, accusing the U.S. of trying to suppress China by indulging pro-independence elements in Taiwan.
Mrs. Pelosi’s trip “severely infringes upon China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and “gravely undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. “China strongly urges the United States to stop playing the ‘Taiwan card’ and ‘using Taiwan to contain China.’”
China’s national legislature, the defense ministry and the Communist Party’s Taiwan policy office also issued strongly worded statements. Mrs. Pelosi “committed a deliberate violation, maliciously provoking and manufacturing a crisis,” said Senior Col. Wu Qian, a defense ministry spokesman, adding that the PLA would conduct a series of targeted military actions in retaliation.
The closely watched Asia tour has raised tensions between China and the U.S., with Beijing’s diplomats and the PLA repeatedly threatening responses should Mrs. Pelosi go through with the visit to Taiwan.
China’s Foreign Ministry warned of potentially “disastrous consequences” if Washington mishandled the situation between China and Taiwan.
U.S. officials have said that Beijing appeared to be positioning itself to make responses to the visit, including staging military drills, firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait or near the island, or sending more aircraft and naval vessels into areas closer to Taiwan where they haven’t previously operated.
The Chinese response will likely be “unprecedented but not unhinged,” said political-risk advisory firm Eurasia Group in an analysis released on Tuesday
Nancy Pelosi Arrives In Taiwan In Defiance Of China
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday, defying stern warnings from Beijing against a visit that China’s Communist Party regards as a challenge to its sovereignty.
Mrs. Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official in a quarter-century to visit the island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, is set to meet Wednesday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and legislators in the self-ruled democracy.
Chinese officials, including leader Xi Jinping in a phone call last week with President Biden, have warned of unspecified countermeasures should Mrs. Pelosi’s Taiwan visit proceed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday, defying stern warnings from Beijing against a visit that China’s Communist Party regards as a challenge to its sovereignty.
Mrs. Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official in a quarter-century to visit the island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, is set to meet Wednesday with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and legislators in the self-ruled democracy.
Chinese officials, including leader Xi Jinping in a phone call last week with President Biden, have warned of unspecified countermeasures should Mrs. Pelosi’s Taiwan visit proceed.
U.S. stocks wavered on Tuesday as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan added to geopolitical tensons and Federal Reserve officials indicated that their fight against inflation was still going strong.
The S&P 500 declined 0.1% in afternoon trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.7% while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.3%.
Mrs. Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday and was scheduled to meet later with Taiwanese officials, in the first visit by a House speaker to the democratically governed island since 1997. Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, had warned Mrs. Pelosi not to go through with the trip. Chinese officials had threatened unspecified countermeasures should her visit proceed.
Pelosi’s Visit Prompts Demonstrations Of Both Support And Opposition In Taipei
Interest In Pelosi’s Visit Overwhelms Social-Media Platform Weibo
Interest in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan appears to have overwhelmed Weibo, one of China’s largest social-media platforms, where there was little indication that authorities were attempting to censor discussions.
On Tuesday night local time, users posted screenshots of the flight status and footage of her arrival real time. The hashtag “#Taiwan Media Reports Pelosi to Arrive at 22:00#” topped the trending topics on Weibo, garnering nearly 1.3 billion views by late Tuesday. The top 10 trending topics were entirely about her visit and the Chinese government’s responses.
The sheer volume of discussion on Weibo was so large that shortly after 10 p.m. local time many Weibo users reported difficulty loading the website and opening the mobile app. The hashtag “#Weibo Crashed#” was a trending topic late Tuesday.
“I had thought it was my international connection issues so I tried to log in several times. Didn’t realize it’s Weibo’s issue until I see the #Weibo Crashed#,” one Weibo user wrote.
Following a series of statements from the Chinese government condemning Mrs. Pelosi’s visit, the hashtag “#Foreign Ministry’s Response to Pelosi’s Secret Visit to Taiwan#” topped the trending topic ranking, although it only gained 180 million views by late Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Kuaishou, a Chinese short-video app, sent push-alerts about the government’s responses to Mrs. Pelosi’s visit. Weibo and Kuaishou didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment sent late Tuesday.
China’s military responded with a show of force. The People’s Liberation Army sent an unspecified number of Russian-made Su-35 fighter jets “flying across the Taiwan Strait,” Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television reported minutes ahead of Mrs. Pelosi’s arrival.
Although many on social media offered strong support under state media posts about the military drills, some urged caution.
“I share everybody’s anger but please calm down, if we move now it’s going to be a declaration of war,” one social-media user wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, in a comment that received nearly 150,000 likes.
Moscow Criticizes Pelosi’s Visit To Taiwan
The Kremlin criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as provocative and warned that it threatened to heighten tensions in the Asian region.
Speaking to journalists ahead of Mrs. Pelosi’s arrival in Taipei, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said everything related to the tour was “strictly provocative. It provokes the regional situation and leads to an escalation of tensions.”
Mr. Peskov told the afternoon news briefing in Moscow that Russia wants to emphasize that “we are absolutely in solidarity with China here.”
“Instead of being respectful, unfortunately, the United States is choosing the path of such a confrontation,” he said. “It doesn’t bode well. We can only express our regret.”
The Kremlin spokesman’s comments came as the focus of the war in Ukraine, triggered by Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor in February, shifts to the south, where a potentially decisive phase of the conflict will play out.
Russia and China have often been contentious rivals, but under Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the two countries’ relations have grown closer than at any time since the early days of the Cold War.
The two leaders, who earlier this year declared a friendship without limits, have agreed to rebuff Western intrusion into their countries’ internal affairs and boost efforts to defend their nations’ security interests, strengthening cooperation between Moscow and Beijing as both face pressure from the U.S. and Europe.
China has cast itself as neutral on the war in Ukraine, but Chinese diplomats have repeatedly said Russia’s concerns over the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are legitimate and said that Western powers, the U.S. in particular, are to blame for pushing Moscow into a corner.
On Tuesday, other senior Russian officials echoed Mr. Peskov’s sentiment over what they view as the inappropriate nature of Ms. Pelosi’s visit.
“The provocation committed and the U.S. plane’s landing in Taipei only exacerbate the already complicated situation,” Russian Federation Council Deputy Speaker Konstantin Kosachev wrote on his Telegram channel.
“The Chinese side—and Washington must clearly understand it—has all legitimate grounds to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Pelosi Hints Gender Is Real Reason China Is Mad At Taiwan Trip
* US Speaker Says Male Senators Have Visited Without “Big Fuss”
* American Calls Trip A Moment Of “Pride” For Women’s Leadership
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted she’d attracted China’s ire not for becoming the highest ranking US official to visit Taiwan in a quarter century, but because she’s a woman.
At an event with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Wednesday, Pelosi noted that several US senators, including the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menendez, had visited the self-ruled island China claims as its territory this year without drawing a firestorm of criticism from Beijing.
“They made a big fuss because I’m the speaker, I guess. I don’t know if that was a reason or an excuse,” she said. “Because they didn’t say anything when the men came.”
President Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden last week that “whoever plays with fire will get burned” on the issue of Taiwan, while the Foreign Ministry warned the People’s Liberation Army would not sit by “idly” if Pelosi visited.
In the face of such opposition, Pelosi, 82, said her meeting with Tsai was a moment to take “pride in women’s leadership,” noting that both politicians had smashed the glass ceilings in their respective governments.
“It’s a great pride for us today, the first woman speaker in the House meeting the first woman president of Taiwan. We have some enthusiasm for that,” said Pelosi, who became the first female House of Representatives speaker in 2007. Tsai was elected in 2016.
In her speech, Pelosi also threw a spotlight on US Representative Suzan DelBene, a Washington Democrat traveling with her delegation, as well as Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei. Other prominent women leaders in Taiwan’s government include Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua, and Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim.
Taiwan’s elevation of female politicians contrasts sharply with China’s entrenched patriarchy, where no woman has ever been admitted into the ruling Communist Party’s innermost sanctum of power, the Standing Committee — a seven-member boys’ club. Sun Chunlan, 72, is China’s sole woman on its powerful 25-member Politburo. She’s set to retire this year.
For her part, Tsai did not reference gender during the public briefings Wednesday. Instead, she reserved her gratitude for Pelosi’s long-standing commitment to “safeguarding freedom, democracy, and human rights.”
The Taiwanese leader has previously pushed back against being labeled a “female” politician. At the Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit in 2019, she said: “I will not stop until the term ‘female president’ is a thing of the past,” while acknowledging her platform conferred a duty to “to push for women’s empowerment at home and abroad.”
Regardless of gender, Pelosi said she hoped her trip had proved a broader point about who can visit the island. Beijing regularly protests foreign officials’ trips to Taipei as a violation of diplomatic agreements to avoid formal recognition of Taiwan.
“I just hope that it’s really clear that while China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings,” she said, “that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.”
Pelosi Stares Down Xi Threats, Giving China A Reality Check
* Beijing Left Asking For Patience After Response Disappoints
* Xi Has Little Appetite For Conflict Before Leadership Meeting
In roughly 24 hours, Chinese officials and propagandists went from warning of a possible war to pleading for patience as Beijing struggled to articulate a cohesive response to Nancy Pelosi’s landmark trip to Taiwan.
Ahead of Pelosi’s visit, the first by a US House speaker in 25 years, President Xi Jinping warned the Biden administration would get “burned” while nationalist Chinese commentators suggested she would “ignite the powder keg.”
Yet after Pelosi landed safely, stayed the night in Taipei and hailed US-Taiwan ties in a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen, China’s tone shifted from belligerent to defensive.
At a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying asked the public to give the government more time to follow through on threats to punish the US and Taiwan.
“We will do what we have said,” she said. “So please have some patience about that.”
China’s response to Pelosi reflects the complexity of dealing with Taiwan, the pragmatism of the Communist Party and Xi’s own political situation. The 69-year-old leader has been focused on eliminating risks to extending his rule at a party congress later this year, leaving little appetite for triggering a conflict that could spin out of control.
Even if Pelosi’s visit ultimately convinces China’s leaders they won’t be able to settle their claims to Taiwan peacefully, that doesn’t mean Xi wants that fight now. The country is already grappling with a property crisis and slowing economic growth after more than two years of strict pandemic-control measures
Missile Tests, Drills
“It’s important for Xi Jinping to respond strongly, but responding strongly and engaging in conflict are two very different things,” said Lev Nachman, assistant professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “There’s not going to be any kind of hot conflict because none of the three sides want that.”
While China’s response disappointed some fervent nationalists, it could still rattle the region. On Wednesday, 27 Chinese military aircraft were detected around Taiwan’s airspace, with 22 crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing announced missile tests that may take place anytime, and military drills starting Thursday that show a capability of surrounding the main island of Taiwan — all amounting to China’s most provocative actions in decades.
China Drills Surround Taiwan
The exercises threaten to disrupt shipping and airline routes in Taiwan, one of the world’s most-crucial suppliers of computer chips.
Several airlines are planning adjustments to their flights, while pilots of Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. were advised to carry 30 minutes worth of extra fuel for possible rerouting in Taiwan.
Taiwan has condemned the moves, saying they are tantamount to blockading its airspace and sea area. It’s not clear whether the three days of flight restrictions would be extended, adding to concerns over soaring commodity prices and supply-chain risks.
Still, the failure to deter Pelosi from visiting in the first place upset China’s most outspoken patriots. Hu Xijin, the prominent former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, accepted blame on Wednesday for suggesting measures that ultimately proved unfeasible.
Beijing is clearly in a stronger position than the last major cross-strait crisis in the mid-1990s, but it’s also far away from being able to push the US around. And unlike Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Xi is much more averse to triggering a military conflict that could quickly spin out of control — particularly with no guarantee of success.
“I don’t think they are eager to change the status quo,” said Bilahari Kausikan, the top bureaucrat in Singapore’s Foreign Ministry until 2013. “To launch an amphibious operation is beyond China’s capability and experience. They have never done something like that and that’s the most difficult kind of military operation.”
Over the years, China has seized on actions from opponents at home and abroad to change the status quo.
In 2012, after Japan nationalized a set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, China began regular coast guard patrols in the area that never stopped.
Around the same time, as the US began forcefully opposing China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing seized the disputed feature of the Scarborough Shoal and proceeded to militarize other outcrops under its control.
And in 2020, after US politicians supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, Xi’s government imposed a sweeping national security law that effectively crushed any opposition.
In a similar way, China could yet use Pelosi’s trip as a way to squeeze Taiwan, hitting the island economically while regularly impeding flights and shipping. On Wednesday, China suspended some fish and fruit imports, and also banned exports of natural sand used in construction.
Yet the stakes are also much higher in Taiwan, raising the risk any provocative actions could blow back on China. The strait is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with almost half of the global container fleet and a whopping 88% of the world’s largest ships by tonnage passing through the waterway this year.
China also faces the constant tension of seeking to woo Taiwan’s 23 million people even as it threatens them with force. Any move to seize Taiwan would fundamentally indicate a failure to convince the island’s residents that Beijing offers a better system than the democratic values advocated by the US and its allies.
At the same time, Xi has staked his legacy on getting Taiwan into the Communist Party’s hands. Last year he declared taking control of Taiwan as the party’s “historic mission” and an “unshakable commitment.”
But while Xi may not be ready for a military strike anytime soon, he’ll still face pressure to act tough — ensuring the Taiwan Strait will be even more of a flashpoint for years ahead.
“Both sides feel that the other is changing the status quo in dangerous ways,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst at Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy research organization. “This visit may make any sort of understanding or agreement around Taiwan more difficult to achieve.”
China’s Drills Around Taiwan Give Hint About Its Strategy
A blockade, not an invasion, could be a less risky way for Beijing to exert its will.
China’s live-fire exercises around Taiwan this week are simulating the steps it might take to seal off the island with a blockade, previewing the kind of coercive tactics Chinese leaders may employ in a future conflict.
The four-day exercises, to protest the visit to Taipei earlier this week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, started at noon on Thursday in six zones that effectively encircle Taiwan.
Several of the zones face the island’s biggest commercial ports and overlap with what Taipei claims as its territorial waters, coming within 12 miles of its coastline in what some military analysts have compared with a temporary blockade.
Beijing sees Taiwan as Chinese territory to be taken by force if necessary and has undertaken a decadeslong military buildup to achieve that goal and deter the U.S., the island’s longtime security partner.
Still, many military analysts and China specialists think Beijing lacks capabilities to launch an outright invasion, making such an operation too complex and risky in the next few years.
Instead, in a crisis, they think Beijing would try to squeeze rather than flatten Taiwan into submission.
“They are amassing forces to look like a blockade to show that they can do it,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “It’s a signaling exercise.”
The Chinese military started the exercises Thursday with drills involving warplanes and ships, as well as multiple ballistic missiles fired into waters bracketing Taiwan. Military analysts expect large naval and air maneuvers to be staged in coming days to demonstrate control of the waters around Taiwan.
The proximity of the action to ports and shipping lanes has forced some delays for cargo and aviation, a small taste of the pain China could inflict on Taiwan and world markets.
The self-governed island is a leading producer of the advanced semiconductors critical to products from cars to advanced weaponry.
“This establishes an encirclement of Taiwan island,” Major Gen. Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, told China’s state broadcaster Thursday morning ahead of the drills. “This creates very good conditions for reshaping the strategic situation in a way that benefits unification.”
When the exercises conclude, military analysts and China specialists said they would watch to see if Chinese forces linger or if drills close to Taiwan become routine. If so, such exercises could become a tool to intermittently disrupt Taiwan’s economy and its ties with the world in an attempt to erode popular support for the government and resistance to Beijing, the analysts said.
“China probably doesn’t want to go to war to achieve its ends,” said Bradley Martin, a retired Navy officer and researcher at Rand Corp. “What we see as more likely is to exert a level of force below the level of outright conflict.”
That below-threshold type of conflict, sometimes called “gray-zone” warfare by some experts, is part of China’s playbook with Taiwan and countries in the region with which it has territorial disputes.
China’s fishing fleet, sometimes backed by China’s coast guard or navy, has swarmed ships of neighboring countries in contested waters.
Cyberattacks, another common feature, have frequently targeted Taiwan, including this week when the presidential office and Defense Ministry’s websites were hit with denial of service attacks that the government attributed to overseas hackers.
China also has turned to forms of economic coercion such as import bans in disagreements with Australia, Canada and others. An immediate casualty of the Pelosi visit were Chinese imports of Taiwanese citrus and other agricultural products.
A full naval blockade banning all ship traffic would be considered an act of war. China is much more likely to launch a selective quarantine—an option discussed in Chinese military journals, Dr. Martin said.
That would give Chinese authorities the option to interdict some vessels while allowing supplies of food, for example, to go through.
That approach places the burden of escalation on the incoming ships, which need to decide whether to cooperate or resist, according to a research paper on the use of coercive quarantines that Dr. Martin co-wrote at Rand.
China has invested heavily in its navy, outnumbering the U.S. in ships, and has made advances in anti-submarine warfare. Faced with a Chinese cordon, the U.S. might have to decide whether to risk a shooting exchange or capitulate, the Rand paper said.
“Inaction is tantamount to accepting the PRC’s actions,” the paper said, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China.
A Taiwan quarantine is the kind of low-intensity challenge that the U.S. might find tricky to manage, analysts said. The U.S. is bound by law to ensure Taiwan can defend itself.
Beyond that, the U.S. has maintained a policy called strategic ambiguity which raises the prospect of but doesn’t explicitly promise American intervention in hopes of keeping both Beijing and Taipei from resorting to force.
President Biden has promised the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked, though analysts said the ambiguity remains in other scenarios.
A blockade or a quarantine are scenarios that members of the national security establishment and some members of Congress say the U.S. military and Taiwan’s forces aren’t ready for.
They have called on the U.S. to build a bigger Navy and invest in bases to disperse military assets around the Asia-Pacific region.
If a Chinese quarantine squeezed world supplies of semiconductors, support for Taiwan in Europe and other advanced economies could crumble, raising the stakes for the U.S., the Rand paper said.
Europe’s unity against Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown signs of fraying as Moscow throttles supplies of natural gas, raising costs for European businesses and consumers.
Concerns that Taiwan may be vulnerable to Chinese invasion or other coercion is one reason the U.S. enacted recent legislation providing tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to encourage the semiconductor industry to produce more chips in the U.S.
Early this year, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin who served in the Marines, warned that the U.S.-China balance of military power over Taiwan was shifting in favor of Beijing. A plan he released, Battle Force 2025, called on the U.S. to steel Taiwan for any blockade.
That means the U.S. must ensure Taiwan has adequate supplies of food and water, he said. The Rand paper suggests including raw ingredients for pharmaceuticals and ample reserves of oil.
Whatever China does, said China specialist Yun Sun with the Stimson Center national security think tank in Washington, “the burden will fall the heaviest on Taiwan.”