Taiwan drills amid China tensions, worries over Pelosi’s visit

BEIJING (AP) — Taiwan’s capital held air raid drills Monday and its military mobilized for routine defense drills, a sharp response from China to a possible visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the concerns are consistent.

Although there was no direct link between China’s new threats and Taiwan’s defense measures, they do raise the possibility of a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait, which is considered a potential hotspot for conflict that could engulf the entire region. can take

Air raid sirens sounded in the capital, Taipei, and the military was holding its annual multi-day Han Kuang exercises, which included joint air and sea exercises and the mobilization of tanks and troops.

In Taipei, police directed people to shelters when sirens went off shortly after lunch. The streets are empty and the shops are closed.

“In recent years, Chinese military aircraft have often harassed Taiwan, and war broke out between Russia and Ukraine in February this year,” Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-Jie told reporters, citing concerns. That a similar conflict may erupt in East Asia. “All these things make us understand the importance of being vigilant in times of peace and the need to be prepared if war breaks out.”

Pelosi has not confirmed when, or even if, she will visit, but President Joe Biden told reporters last week that U.S. military officials believed such a visit was “not a good idea.” ” Administration officials are believed to be critical of the potential trip, both because of the difficult timing and the lack of coordination with the White House.

China’s authoritarian ruling Communist Party considers democratic, independent Taiwan its territory, to be seized by force if necessary, and regularly publicizes the threat by conducting military exercises and warplanes targeting Taiwan’s air defenses. By flying in the identification zone or the centerline of the 180-km (100 mi)-wide Taiwan Strait.

Beijing says the measures are aimed at deterring supporters of the island’s formal independence and foreign allies – particularly the United States – from interfering, 70 years after the sides split during a civil war. Polls consistently show that Taiwan’s 23 million people reject China’s claim that the island is a Chinese province that has gone astray and should be brought under Beijing’s control.

Pelosi, a longtime critic of Beijing, is second only to the White House. He is seen as a Biden proxy by China, which calls on members of Congress to follow through on the previous administration’s promises.

Taiwan is one of the few issues that enjoys broad bipartisan support among lawmakers and the administration, with Biden saying earlier this year that the United States would defend Taiwan if it was attacked.

U.S. law requires Washington to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself and view all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern,” but is vague about whether it could use forces in response to a Chinese attack. will commit

Although the two sides lack formal diplomatic relations, the United States is the main provider of external defense aid and political support to Taiwan, which aims to limit China’s growing influence and maintain a strong American presence in the Western Pacific. Reflects desire.

US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a visit to Indonesia on Sunday that the Chinese military has become significantly more aggressive and dangerous over the past five years.

Milli’s Chinese counterpart, General Li Zhucheng, told him in a call earlier this month that Beijing had “no room for compromise” on issues like Taiwan.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing had repeatedly expressed its “firm position” on a possible visit by Pelosi, who would be the highest-ranking US elected official to visit Taiwan since 1997.

“We are fully prepared,” Zhao told reporters at the daily briefing. “If the US is determined to follow its course, China will take stronger and stronger measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

China has not said what specific steps it will take, though speculation has centered on a new round of threatening military exercises or an attempt to prevent Pelosi’s plane from landing by declaring a no-fly zone over Taiwan.

“If the U.S. is determined to (visit), they know that China will take unprecedented tough measures and the U.S. should make military preparations,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Beijing’s Renmin University.

“Expect huffing and puffing, maybe some firebending, military posturing, and maybe economic punishment of Taiwan,” said Michael Mazza, a defense and China expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

The timing of Pelosi’s visit, which could be as early as August, is particularly sensitive, depending on a number of factors. Among them is the birthday of the founder of the People’s Liberation Army – the military wing of the ruling Communist Party – which falls on August 1, a date used to fuel nationalism and draw out troops.

Chinese leaders are also under pressure from hardline nationalist forces within the party ranks.

It refers to the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995 and 1996, when China conducted drills and fired missiles into waters north and south of the island in response to a US visit by the island’s then-president Lee Teng-hui. The U.S. responded by sending two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, a move that has helped China’s massive military upgrades since dramatically changing the balance of power in Asia.

Xi, meanwhile, is seeking a third five-year term as party leader at a congress later this year and needs to show that he can rally public opposition to the sluggish economy and his “zero-COVID” policy. Among the reactions are in charge.

Overall, the situation appears more dire than in 1995-96, said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“If the Chinese want to show commitment, they have many ways to do it,” Glaser said.

Oriana Scaler Mastro, an expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy at Stanford University, said China does not want to create a “crisis for crisis’ sake,” but could try to use the possibility of Pelosi’s visit to advance its own agenda. .

Mastro said China could take the opportunity to test capabilities through a large-scale emerging exercise, which he would justify as a response to an “aggressive move” by the United States.

“So I think they’re going to use this as an opportunity to make a move that might be problematic, but (which) they wanted to do anyway regardless of Pelosi’s visit.”

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Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu and videographer Johnson Lai contributed to this report from Taipei, Taiwan.

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