Taiwan says it detected “multiple” Chinese aircraft and naval vessels taking part in military drills around the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, in what could be a possible simulated attack against the island.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said some of the aircraft and vessels had crossed the sensitive median line in the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from the Chinese mainland.
“Our military has broadcast warnings, deployed combat air patrol and naval vessels and activated land-based missile systems in response to the situation,” said the ministry.
By 5 p.m. in Taiwan, 14 vessels and 20 planes operated by the Chinese military had been detected around the Strait, according to a statement from the ministry. Of the 20 aircraft, 14 crossed the median line, it added.
The Chinese military has not yet issued a statement on the purpose of Saturday’s exercises.
The news follows a series of military drills that China has carried out around Taiwan since Thursday after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to the self-governing democratic island earlier this week.
The Chinese Communist Party views Taiwan as its territory, despite never having controlled it, and has long vowed to “reunify” the island with the Chinese mainland – by force if necessary.
Pelosi ignored its furious opposition to her visit by landing in Taipei on Tuesday evening as part of a larger Asia tour that wrapped up Friday with a last stop in Japan.
But the full ramifications of her visit are only now emerging, with China ramping up military exercises in the skies and waters around Taiwan and halting cooperation with the US on various issues.
On Friday, 68 Chinese warplanes were reported in the Taiwan Strait, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. Of those, 49 entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – a buffer of airspace commonly referred to as an ADIZ. That was just a few planes short of the record set last year when 56 Chinese warplanes entered the ADIZ on the same day.
Nineteen of the warplanes on Friday also crossed the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait, the ministry said.
On Thursday, China launched 11 ballistic missiles – some of which flew over the island of Taiwan and landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, prompting Tokyo to lodge a formal complaint with Beijing. That was the first time China had sent missiles over the island.
Also on Thursday, two Chinese drones flew near Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, prompting Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighter jets in response.
The drills are scheduled to last until Sunday local time in Beijing, according to Chinese state media.
The deteriorating situation in the Taiwan Strait has caused a diplomatic storm, with China lashing out against countries that have criticized its exercises and some regional powers calling for de-escalation.
Tensions ran high at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting of foreign ministers in Cambodia this week, where members had originally expected to discuss three main topics: the Myanmar crisis, the South China Sea, and the war in Ukraine.
But Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan added “a fourth hot stone … which has led to heated discussions about cross-strait relations,” said Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn at a Saturday news conference in Phnom Penh.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken both attended the ASEAN meeting; on Thursday, Wang decried Pelosi’s visit as demonstrating the “bankruptcy” of US politics and credibility, calling it “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational behavior.”
A day later, after Beijing fired its missiles over Taiwan, Blinken said China had “chosen to overreact and use Speaker Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.”
On Saturday, Sokhonn described the meeting as lively, saying he had to call all ministers to speak in a calm, dignified, polite, civilized and diplomatic manner.
“There were strong arguments, but in our opinion, it’s much better that we exchange words than less friendly means,” he said.
Japan and other G7 economies have urged China to halt its military drills and maintain the status quo in the region.
Beijing has not heeded those calls. Instead, it has responded by canceling future phone calls between Chinese and US defense leaders and annual naval meetings between the two countries. It has also canceled planned meetings between Chinese and Japanese officials.
China has also summoned the ambassadors of the US, Japan and various European countries.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced a raft of countermeasures against the US, including sanctions against Pelosi and her immediate family.
China also suspended bilateral climate talks and shelved cooperation on issues including the repatriation of illegal immigrants and the investigation of transnational crimes and drug operations.
“We should not hold hostage cooperation on matters of global concern because of differences between our two countries,” Blinken told reporters on Saturday, speaking in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
China’s decision to suspend climate talks “could have lasting consequences for the future of the region, the future of our planet,” and would punish the developing world rather than the US, he added.