Beijing: Smarting from the successful visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, the Chinese military Wednesday conducted a series of naval-air joint drills around Taiwan amid speculation that it may be attempting a blockade of the self-ruled island.
The drills featured the Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force and Joint Logistic Support Force in the sea and air space north, southwest and southeast of the Taiwan island, the Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said.
The PLA will also conduct live-fire military drills from August 4 to 7 in six different areas that encircle the island of Taiwan from all directions, official media reports said.
China has intensified the drills as Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, disregarding intense rhetoric from China against the visit to the island, which Beijing claims as part of it and vows to integrate with the mainland, even by force.
PLA drills around Taiwan will continue to rehearse reunification operations and the exercises to blockade the island will become routine, state-run Global Times reported.
Pelosi, who is the third highest official in the US, arrived in Taiwan by a US Air Force jet amid intense speculation about adverse actions by Beijing. The visit of Pelosi is the first by a top US leader to Taiwan in 25 years.
Responding to China’s threats Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing-wen said Taiwan will respond firmly to Beijing’s military intimidation.
Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down, Tsai said at her meeting with Pelosi on Wednesday.
“We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defence for democracy,” the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted her as saying.
Military experts said the PLA could send drones over Taiwan and conduct regular drills in the coming weeks to vent its anger over Pelosi’s visit.
The exercises are unprecedented as the PLA conventional missiles are expected to fly over the island of Taiwan for the first time, the PLA forces will enter an area within 12 nautical miles of the island and that the so-called median line will cease to exist, the Global Times quoted Chinese experts as saying.
The experts also noted that by surrounding Taiwan entirely, the PLA is completely blockading the island, demonstrating the Chinese mainland’s absolute control over the Taiwan question.
One analyst described the prospect of unprecedented PLA unmanned aircraft flights over the island as possible, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Fu Qianshao, a retired equipment expert from the PLA Air Force, said that given their proximity to Taiwan, the large-scale drills would be a blockade of the island and marked a breakthrough in Beijing’s military actions against the island in terms of location and intensity.
He told the Post that the PLA would also respond to any possible move by the US and Taiwanese air forces in those areas, with Thursday’s drills showing for the first time that Beijing did not recognise Taiwan’s territorial waters.
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