U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has left Taiwan, but the effects of her visit continue to play out, as China intensifies military exercises around the self-ruled island.
A day after Pelosi’s departure, China’s military was set Thursday to encircle Taiwan with four days of provocative live-fire military drills in seven areas surrounding the island.
China’s state-run media said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army conducted “long-range live-fire shooting training” in the Taiwan Strait around 1 p.m. Thursday.
The “expected results had been achieved,” it said, without elaborating.
If the drills proceed as announced, they would be unprecedented – one of the designated live-fire zones is less than 20 kilometers from Taiwan’s southern coast.
The Chinese military activity appears designed to intimidate Taiwan, a vibrant democracy with about 23 million people whose government rejects China’s claims to the island.
Some defense analysts, and even Chinese state media, have portrayed the exercises as a rehearsal for invasion and a demonstration that Beijing can impose a blockade on Taiwan.
The developments have raised fears of a miscalculation that could result in hostilities, though analysts say there is little chance China is planning an assault.
“It really is more propaganda than performance,” said Drew Thompson, a former Pentagon official who noted that China’s military is in the middle of its annual summer exercise cycle.
“It’s interesting to see how calm the U.S. government is, how calm Chinese officials are, and how riled up the Internet is,” said Thompson, now a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore.
The situation was also calm in Taiwan’s capital, where residents have dealt with many decades of threats from the Chinese Communist Party.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about the CCP, they are great at boasting,” said Liang Bo-rong, a 65-year-old retiree and Taipei resident, referring to the party by its initials.
While most Taiwanese are aware of the situation and realize the stakes, they are not overly worked up, said Chen Kuan-Ting, who heads the Taiwan NextGen Foundation, a research organization focusing on Taiwan’s domestic and foreign policy.
“Most Taiwanese will continue their normal lives – that’s the best way to defy China,” said Chen.
In a statement Thursday, Taiwan’s military said it continues to closely monitor the “irrational” Chinese military activities and is prepared for conflict but that it does not seek escalation.
Taiwanese officials have said the Chinese drills are a severe violation of the island’s territorial waters and have compared the action to a blockade.
When China first announced the drills, there were fears that Taiwan’s commercial flights might be disrupted. However, Taiwanese transportation officials said Wednesday alternative routes have been arranged and the impact will be minimal.
Late Wednesday, Taiwan’s military reportedly fired warning flares at a Chinese People’s Liberation Army drone that was flying near the Kinmen islands, which lie next to mainland China. According to Taiwanese media reports, the drone later left the area and headed back to the mainland.
The Chinese Communist Party, which has never ruled Taiwan, views Pelosi’s visit as an unacceptable violation of what it sees as its sovereignty over the island. In China’s view, the visit is the latest in a series of U.S. moves toward more explicit support for Taiwan.
U.S. officials insist that their Taiwan policy has not changed and describe Pelosi’s visit as routine.
“We believe that what China is doing here is not responsible. We believe that it is escalating tensions unnecessarily,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told National Public Radio on Thursday.
According to monitoring by the U.S. Naval Institute, a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, was operating earlier this week in the Philippine Sea, which lies southeast of Taiwan. The U.S. military has a routine presence in the region.
“The most important thing for us to communicate is a clear and steady message, both publicly and privately to China, that we are not going to be deterred or coerced from operating as we operate in the Western Pacific. And China needs to understand that,” Sullivan said.
“We are not looking to escalate, but we are also not going to be deterred,” he added.
In a statement, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations expressed concern at China’s “threatening actions” that risk “destabilizing the region.”
“There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait. It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally,” the statement added.