While much thought has gone into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the real potential for military confrontation will come after she leaves.
The Chinese military has said it will hold a series of live fire drills on Thursday, a day after her departure. A report on Chinese state media provided coordinates for five areas of the sea around Taiwan, three of which overlap with areas Taiwan claims are part of its territorial waters.
The exercises, assuming they go ahead, would pose a direct challenge to what Taiwan defines as its coastline. And they get to the heart of a decades-long dispute in which China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, a self-ruled island with its own democratically elected government and military.
A New York Times map of the planned drills shows how they will take place in some places within a 10-mile radius of the coast of Taiwan, well beyond areas targeted by previous live-fire drills and within areas that are Taiwan. designates as its territorial waters. Two of the regions where the Chinese military will fire weapons, likely missiles and artillery, are within what Taiwan calls the maritime border. In all, the five zones surround the island and mark a clear escalation of previous Chinese exercises.
In its warning, the Chinese military called on all boats and planes to avoid their designated areas for three days. An important question for Taiwan and the US military will be whether they will obey orders or test China’s determination to carry out the tests by sending boats and planes into those zones.
The standoff is reminiscent of an incident in 1995 and 1996 called the Taiwan Third Strait Crisis. At the time, China fired live ammunition and missiles into the waters around Taiwan to express its anger over a trip by then-Taiwan President Li Teng-hui to the United States. The United States then sent two aircraft carrier groups to the area and one through the Taiwan Strait.
The new live fire drills will take place in areas closer to the island than they were in 1995 and 1996, puzzling Taiwan and the United States. If China takes action, they must decide whether to offer a display of power comparable to the previous crisis.
A lot has changed since then. The Chinese military is more powerful and more emboldened under Xi Jinping. This summer, Chinese officials also argued vigorously that no part of the Taiwan Strait could be considered international waters, meaning they could move to intercept and block American warships passing through the area, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. , sail.
China has wasted little time in signaling that it is serious. The state broadcaster on Wednesday released footage of preliminary exercises in the area showing Chinese forces were in northern, southwest and southeast Taiwan to conduct naval and land strikes, air battles and “joint containment”.
Also on Wednesday, the Taiwanese military tried to hold the line, saying it did not want to let the situation escalate. It called the exercises a blockade and said the exercises had penetrated Taiwan’s territorial waters, endangering international waterways and regional security.
“We resolutely defend national sovereignty and will counter any kind of aggression against national sovereignty,” Major General Sun Li-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s defense ministry, said in response to the exercises.
“We will strengthen our vigilance with a rational attitude that will not escalate conflicts,” he added.