PINGTUNG, Taiwan—Taiwan warned Tuesday that Chinese military drills aren’t just a rehearsal for an invasion of the self-governing island but also reflect ambitions to control large swaths of the western Pacific, as Taipei conducted its own exercises to underscore it’s ready to defend itself.
Angered by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan, the Chinese communist regime has sent military ships and planes across the midline that separates the two sides in the Taiwan Strait and launched missiles into waters surrounding the island. The drills, which began Thursday, have disrupted flights and shipping in one of the busiest zones for global trade.
Ignoring calls to calm tensions, the Chinese regime instead extended the exercises without announcing when they will end.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that beyond aiming to annex the island democracy, which split with the mainland amid civil war in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants to establish its dominance in the western Pacific. That would include controlling of the East and South China Seas via the Taiwan Strait and imposing a blockade to prevent the United States and its allies from aiding Taiwan in the event of an attack, he told a news conference in Taipei.
The exercises show the CCP’s “geo-strategic ambition beyond Taiwan,” Wu said. The Chinese regime claims the island as its own, despite Taiwan being a de facto independent country, with its own military, democratically-elected government, and constitution.
“China has no right to interfere in or alter” Taiwan’s democracy or its interactions with other nations, he added.
Wu’s assessment of the CCP’s maneuvers was grimmer than that of other observers but echoed widespread concerns that Beijing is seeking to expand its influence in the Pacific, where the United States has military bases and extensive treaty partnerships.
The CCP has said its drills were prompted by Pelosi’s visit, but Wu said the CCP was using her trip as a pretext for intimidating moves long in the works. The Chinese regime also banned some Taiwanese food imports after the visit and cut off dialogue with the United States on a range of issues from military contacts to combating transnational crime and climate change.
Pelosi also dismissed the CCP’s outrage as a public stunt, noting on NBC’s “Today” show that “nobody said a word” about a Senate delegation a few visit months ago. Later on the MSNBC news network, she said Chinese leader Xi Jinping was acting like a “scared bully.”
“I don’t think the president of China should control the schedules of members of Congress,” she said.
Through its maneuvers, the CCP has pushed closer to Taiwan’s borders and may be seeking to establish a new normal in which it could eventually control access to the island’s ports and airspace. But that would likely elicit a strong response from the military on the island, whose people strongly favor the status quo of de-facto independence.
The United States, Taipei’s main backer, has also shown itself to be willing to face down Beijing’s threats. Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, but is legally bound to ensure the island can defend itself and to treat all threats against it as matters of grave concern.
That leaves open the question of whether Washington would dispatch forces if the Chinese regime attacked Taiwan. U.S. President Joe Biden has said repeatedly the U.S. is bound to do so—but staff members have quickly walked back those comments.
Beyond the geopolitical risks, an extended crisis in the Taiwan Strait, a significant thoroughfare for global trade, could have major implications for international supply chains at a time when the world is already facing disruptions and uncertainty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In particular, Taiwan is a crucial provider of computer chips for the global economy, including China’s high-tech sectors.
In response to the drills, Taiwan has put its forces on alert, but has so far refrained from taking active counter measures.
On Tuesday, its military held live-fire artillery drills in Pingtung County on its southeastern coast.
The army will continue to train and accumulate strength to deal with the threat from China, said Maj, Gen. Lou Woei-jye, spokesperson for Taiwan’s 8th Army Command. “No matter what the situation is … this is the best way to defend our country.”
Taiwan split with mainland China in 1949 after a civil war. Despite never having governed the island, the CCP regards Taiwan as its own territory and has sought to isolate it diplomatically and economically in addition to ratcheting up military threats.
Washington has insisted Pelosi’s visit did not change its “one China policy,” which holds that the United States has no position on the status of the two sides but wants their dispute settled peacefully.