China: PLA holds live fire exercises near Taiwan as Pelosi begins Asia tour

The Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises Saturday off its coast opposite Taiwan amid reports that US Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in the air on her way to the region.

The powder keg situation comes as China indicated it may shoot Pelosi’s plane down if she attempts to land on the disputed island democracy, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.

Pelosi is thought to have set off late on Friday for her upcoming Asian tour, which may or may not include a visit to Taiwan, something that Beijing warned the US would ‘bear all consequences’ for.

If it goes ahead, it could precipitate the largest crisis in the Straits of Taiwan for almost 40 years. 

Beijing has reacted furiously to the prospective visit of the third ranking official in the US government to Taiwan. Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned President Joe Biden on Thursday that ‘those who play with fire will perish by it.’ 

‘It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.’

The People’s Liberation Army was conducting ‘live-fire exercises’ near the Pingtan islands off Fujian province, the official Xinhua News Agency announced. The Maritime Safety Administration warned ships to avoid the area.

Such exercises usually involve artillery. The one-sentence announcement gave no indication whether Saturday’s exercise also might include missiles, fighter planes or other weapons.

Two other vessels – identified by Vietnam-based maritime observer Duan Dang as a Chinese Type 052D destroyer and a Type 054A frigate – were seen 27km and 23km away from the Taiwan Strait. Both are armed with surface-to-air missiles.

Meanwhile the Chinese navy was conducting military exercises off its southern coast near Guangdong, following exercises in nearby Hainan province. 

It is all seen as a show of force to dissuade Pelosi from visiting the island. As the leader of the co-equal legislative branch of the US government, Joe Biden has no authority to order her to abandon the visit.

Biden said last week the Pentagon thought a Taiwan trip was ‘not a good idea.’ 

‘Well, I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,’ Biden said in response to a question about Pelosi’s reported trip. ‘But I don’t know what the status of it is.’ 

China has been ratcheting up the rhetoric as the crisis reaches boiling point, with the Chinese state-affiliated Global Times crowing, ‘don’t say we didn’t warn you!’ 

It is a phrase that China apparently used before fighting both India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979.

And a commentator with Beijing mouthpiece the Global Times, Hu Xijn, called US fighter jets escorting Pelosi’s plane into Taiwan an ‘invasion’.

‘The PLA has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane and the US fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction. If ineffective, then shoot them down,’ he wrote on Twitter.

The visit, which a member of the House foreign affairs committee seemed to have confirmed will go ahead, will be the first visit by such a high-ranking American elected official in 25 years. 

China says Taiwan has no right to conduct foreign relations. It sees visits by American officials as encouragement for the island to make its decades-old de facto independence official. 

The PLA has flown growing numbers of fighter planes and bombers near Taiwan and has in the past fired missiles into shipping lanes to the island. 

In a Thursday phone call between the leaders of the two superpowers, the Chinese premier said he firmly opposes Taiwan independence and the interference of external forces. 

Biden expressed the US stance on the issue has not changed, according to a read out of the meeting.

‘On Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,’ the readout states.

‘If she goes, there will definitely be a Taiwan Strait crisis, and it will definitely exceed the last one in 1995-1996,’ Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Financial Times. 

‘That is because China’s military capabilities by far exceed those of 26 years ago.’

Even so, most analysts believe China would be keen to avoid open military conflict with the US, which has military bases dotted around the region and the USS Ronald Reagan carrier group in the South China Sea. 

In spite of this reticence, the PLA has flown growing numbers of fighter planes and bombers near Taiwan and has in the past fired missiles into shipping lanes to the island.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war that ended with a communist victory on the mainland.

The two governments say they are one country but disagree over which is entitled to national leadership. They have no official relations but are linked by billions of dollars in trade and investment.


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