China: last day of extensive military maneuvers around Taiwan
China was preparing on Sunday to complete its largest-ever military maneuvers around Taiwan, an angry reaction to the visit of the head of US deputies Nancy Pelosi to the island that plunged relations between Beijing and Washington to the lowest in years.
Number three in the United States, Ms Pelosi sparked fury in China with her visit on Tuesday and Wednesday, the most important by an American elected official to Taiwan in 25 years. Beijing responded by suspending a series of bilateral Sino-American discussions and cooperation, including on climate change and defense.
The Chinese military has also launched the most important military exercises in its history, sending fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles in what analysts consider a simulation of a blockade and invasion of Taiwan.
On Sunday, it conducted “joint practical exercises at sea and in the airspace surrounding the island of Taiwan, as planned,” said the Eastern command of the Chinese army, which oversees the country’s eastern maritime space – and therefore Taiwan.
The drills were aimed at “testing joint firepower on the ground and long-range air strike capabilities,” he added.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense confirmed that China had deployed “aircraft, ships and drones” around the strait, “to simulate attacks on the main island of Taiwan and against boats in our waters”.
Beijing has also sent drones over Taiwan’s outlying islands, he said.
– New exercises –
In response, Taiwan says it has mobilized a “joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system to closely monitor the enemy’s situation” and sent aircraft and ships.
These extensive maneuvers are scheduled to be completed by mid-day, even though Beijing has announced that new “live-fire” exercises will be conducted until August 15 in the Yellow Sea that separates China from the Korean Peninsula.
To prove how close it had come to the Taiwanese coast, the Chinese military published on Saturday a photo taken according to it from one of its military ships, where we see a Taiwanese navy building only a few hundred meters away.
This shot could be the closest to the Taiwanese coastline ever taken by mainland Chinese forces.
The Chinese military has also published the video of one of its fighter jet pilots showing, from his cockpit in mid-flight, the coastline and mountains of Taiwan.
According to China’s state-run CCTV television, missiles flew over Taiwan this week during exercises around the island – which would be a first.
Taipei has repeatedly condemned these maneuvers in recent days, lambasting its “malicious neighbor” and calling on Beijing on Saturday to “immediately stop escalating tension and carrying out provocative actions aimed at intimidating the Taiwanese people”.
– Warning –
Several experts explained to AFP that these exercises served as a warning: the Chinese army now seems able to carry out a total blockade of the island while preventing American forces from coming to its aid.
“In some areas, its capabilities may even exceed those of the United States,” notes Grant Newsham, a former US Navy officer and researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.
“If a (future) battle is confined to an area directly around Taiwan, then the Chinese navy will be a strong opponent. And if (…) the Americans and the Japanese do not intervene, things will be very difficult for Taiwan.”
The scale of the maneuvers and Beijing’s decision to withdraw from crucial bilateral dialogues on climate and defense triggered a shower of condemnation by the United States and its allies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday in Manila that the United States was “determined to act responsibly” to avoid a crisis after the “total disproportion” according to him of the Chinese reaction.
China should not take discussions on issues such as climate change “hostage” because it “does not punish the United States, but the whole world,” he added.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, warned that “it is impossible to solve the most pressing problems in the world without effective dialogue and cooperation between the two countries,” according to his spokesman.
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