Taiwan’s anti-China drills ramp up as island will ‘bear wrath of Beijing’ if Pelosi visit goes ahead

Taiwan has been ramping up its largest ever military drills as its giant neighbor China bristles over a prospective visit to the island by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to have a phone call with China’s Xi Jinping today in an effort to lower the soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Tensions have been rising recently as Beijing has issued escalating warnings about repercussions should Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan go ahead. 

US officials said they have little fear that China could actually attack Nancy Pelosi’s plane if she flies to Taiwan, but if she does make the trip, which is still an uncertainty, the US military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region. 

South China Morning Post report that it would be Taiwan that would have to ‘bear the wrath of Beijing’ should the visit go ahead, with Beijing likely to ramp up military pressure on the island during Pelosi’s time there.

‘Possible action includes sending multiple warplanes across the median line that separates the Taiwan Strait,’ said Chieh Chung, a senior researcher at the National Policy Foundation think tank, noting that this happened when former US undersecretary of state Keith Krach visited Taiwan in 2020.

He said the People’s Liberation Army could also send warships over the median line, stage live-fire drills near Taiwan’s southern coast, or test-fire missiles near the Taipei-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea to send a message during the visit. Attack drones could also be sent near the Taiwanese military outposts on the islands of Quemoy, or Kinmen, and Matsu.

‘But it is less likely that the PLA would take any action close to Pelosi’ given that it could trigger an unintended conflict with the US, he said. 

China has also threatened that the US would ‘bear all consequences’ and face ‘forceful measures’ if the visit goes ahead, prompting debate over whether Pelosi should make the visit as part of an Indo-Pacific tour of Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia in August.

Taiwan has been ramping up its largest ever military drills as its giant neighbor China bristles over a prospective visit to the island by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pictured: Taiwanese navy launches a US-made Standard missile from a frigate during the annual Han Kuang Drill, on the sea near the Suao navy harbor in Yilan county on July 2

Taiwan has been ramping up its largest ever military drills as its giant neighbor China bristles over a prospective visit to the island by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pictured: Taiwanese navy launches a US-made Standard missile from a frigate during the annual Han Kuang Drill, on the sea near the Suao navy harbor in Yilan county on July 2

Amid the soaring tensions between the US and China, President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping are expected to talk on Thursday in what will be the fifth call between the leaders It is thought that Xi sees reuniting the mainland with Taiwan militarily as the centerpiece of any prospective third term, but he will still be keen to avoid a confrontation with the US military at this juncture

Amid the soaring tensions between the US and China, President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping are expected to talk on the phone today in what will be the fifth call between the leaders

If Pelosi does travel to Taiwan, which is still an uncertainty, the US military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region, officials said, with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan and accompanying strike force already in the South China Sea

Soldiers exit from AAV7 amphibious assault vehicle run to position during an amphibious landing drill as part of Taiwanese Han Kuang military exercise in Pingtung, as Taiwan fears Chinese incursions and live-fire exercises in its waters if Nancy Pelosi visits the island

Soldiers exit from AAV7 amphibious assault vehicle run to position during an amphibious landing drill as part of Taiwanese Han Kuang military exercise in Pingtung, as Taiwan fears Chinese incursions and live-fire exercises in its waters if Nancy Pelosi visits the island

Taiwanese fighter jets in action during military drills to simulate a seaborne assault on the island by China, a fear that has only grown since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine

Taiwanese fighter jets in action during military drills to simulate a seaborne assault on the island by China, a fear that has only grown since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine

Self-governed Taiwan's 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary

Self-governed Taiwan’s 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary

The move would be a dramatic, though not unprecedented, show of US support for the island, which says it is facing increasing Chinese military and economic threats. 

This week Taiwan has been undertaking its largest ever military drills to simulate fighting off an amphibious invasion by China, a threat brought into acute focus by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Washington does not have official relations with Taiwan and follows a ‘one-China’ policy that recognizes Beijing, not Taipei diplomatically. But it is obliged by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself, and pressure has been mounting in Congress for more explicit support. 

While Pelosi has not confirmed the report, Biden told reporters last week that the military thought it was ‘not a good idea’ for her to visit. 

White House officials have said the long-planned call between Biden and Xi will have a broad agenda, including discussion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has yet to condemn. 

One person briefed on planning for the call, the fifth between the leaders of the two superpowers, said the Biden administration thinks leader-to-leader engagement is the best way to lower tensions over Taiwan.

But the White House said on Wednesday it was up to Pelosi whether she travels to Taiwan, despite the threats by China and Pentagon reservations. As a co-equal branch of government, the US executive has little control over congressional travel.

Xi has an interest in avoiding a tense confrontation with the United States as he seeks an unprecedented third term in office at a congress of China’s ruling Communist Party, which is expected in October or November, some analysts believe.

But Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory and has not renounced the use of force to take the island under its control. It is thought that Xi sees reuniting the mainland with Taiwan militarily as the centerpiece of any prospective third term.

China has grown more powerful militarily and economically since the last time a Speaker of the House visited Taiwan, as Newt Gingritch did in 1997.

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said it was up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make up her own mind about travel to Taiwan

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said it was up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make up her own mind about travel to Taiwan

The USS Benfold is in the South China Sea as military officials say they will step up the deployment of US forces in the area, with the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group already back in the area after a short stopover in Singapore

The USS Benfold is in the South China Sea as military officials say they will step up the deployment of US forces in the area, with the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group already back in the area after a short stopover in Singapore

Taiwan's M60A3 tanks maneuver during the Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island on July 27 in New Taipei City, Taiwan

Taiwan’s M60A3 tanks maneuver during the Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island on July 27 in New Taipei City, Taiwan

Tensions over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan 

China is warning it will respond forcefully if U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proceeds with a visit to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy it claims as its own territory.

Here’s a look at what’s happening. 

WHY DOES PELOSI WANT TO VISIT TAIWAN?

Pelosi has been a staunch critic of China throughout her more than three decades in Congress, once unfurling a banner on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square memorializing those killed in the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989. 

Taiwan enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress, and Pelosi said last week it was ‘important for us to show support for Taiwan.’ Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has defied Beijing’s threats and her administration has favored core democratic values and liberal policies close to Pelosi’s heart, including same-sex marriage and a strong social security net.

WHY WOULD THE VISIT CAUSE A RISE IN TENSIONS?

China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary and its military buildup in recent years has largely been oriented toward such a mission.

Beijing objects to all official contact between Taipei and Washington, and routinely threatens retaliation. This time, the stakes appear to be higher. 

While experts say it’s unlikely China would use force to prevent Pelosi’s U.S. government plane from landing in Taipei, its response remains unpredictable. Threatening military drills and incursions by ships and planes are considered potential scenarios that would set the entire region on edge.

WHY IS THE TIMING SENSITIVE?

The administration of President Joe Biden, who will speak to Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday, is keen to keeping America’s crucial but often turbulent and highly complex relationship with China on an even keel.

Pelosi had planned to visit in April but postponed after getting COVID-19. She has declined to discuss reported plans to travel to Taiwan in coming weeks. That could coincide with China’s celebrations of the Aug. 1 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.

A more robust Chinese response could also be driven by Xi’s desire to bolster his nationalist credentials ahead of a party congress later this year at which he is expected to seek a third five-year term in office. Xi’s expansion of his powers into every sphere and his hardline zero-COVID response to the domestic epidemic has sowed a degree of resentment and appealing to raw patriotism, particularly over Taiwan, might help him fend off criticism.

WHAT IS TAIWAN’S ATTITUDE TOWARD A VISIT?

Tsai has been welcoming of all foreign dignitaries, serving and retired, from the U.S., Europe and Asia, using such visits as a bulwark against China’s refusal to deal with her government and relentless campaign of diplomatic isolation. Still, her rhetoric on such occasions has generally been relatively low-key, reflecting her own calm demeanor and possibly a desire not to further antagonize China, which remains a crucial economic partner, with around a million Taiwanese residing in mainland China.

The capital Taipei staged a civil defense drill Monday and Tsai on Tuesday attended annual military exercises, although there was no direct connection with tensions over a possible Pelosi visit. While the Taiwanese public strongly rejects China’s demands for unification, the ability of the island’s military to defend against the PLA without U.S. help is highly questionable, so shoring up the armed forces has been a hallmark of Tsai’s term in office.

Some analysts worry such a visit at a time of fraught ties, could spur a crisis across the 100-mile (160-km) wide Taiwan Strait waterway separating China and Taiwan.

‘The relationship is in such a toxic state. Mutual distrust is really at an all-time high. I think people don’t realize how dangerous this particular moment is,’ said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

She said Biden and Xi needed to focus their call on de-escalation, including possible mechanisms to reduce the risk of mishaps.

Kirby said the administration has been in touch with Pelosi’s office to make sure she has ‘all the context’ she needs to make decisions about her travel.

The White House has reiterated that its ‘one-China’ policy has not changed despite speculation over a possible trip by Pelosi, which the speaker has yet to confirm. 

China has given few clues to specific responses it might take if Pelosi, a long time critic of China, particularly on human rights issues, does go to Taiwan.

Martin Chorzempa, a senior research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said playing up the Taiwan issue could serve Xi as a domestic distraction from China’s slowing economy, but ‘any reaction strong enough to trigger US sanctions would create massive damage to China and the world economy.’

At its core, US officials see the exchange as another chance to manage competition between the world’s two largest economies, whose ties are increasingly clouded by tensions over democratically governed Taiwan, which Xi has vowed to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

‘This is about keeping the lines of communication open with the president of China, one of the most consequential bilateral relationships that we have, not just in that region, but around the world, because it touches so much,’ White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

Biden also wants to discuss climate and economic competition issues, the person briefed said, as well as the idea of placing a price cap on Russian oil to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine, an issue Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen raised with Chinese counterparts earlier in July.

The Biden administration has been debating whether to lift some tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to ease soaring inflation, but US officials have said a decision was not expected ahead of the call.

When Biden last spoke to Xi in March, he warned of ‘consequences’ if Beijing gave material support for Russia’s war, and the U.S. government believes that that red line has not been crossed in the months since.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry declined to confirm that the call would take place or share details when asked about it during a regular briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

‘The Chinese and US heads of state maintain communication using various means,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

‘China will announce information about this in a timely manner,’ he said.    

A US aircraft carrier and its strike group have returned to the South China Sea after a port call in Singapore. The move comes amid the ongoing tensions over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. 

Officials with the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet confirmed the deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan to the vital trade route but did not comment on questions about tensions over the trip by Pelosi.

‘USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are underway, operating in the South China Sea following a successful port visit to Singapore,’ Commander Hayley Sims said in a statement.

Sims added that the Reagan ‘is continuing normal, scheduled operations as part of her routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.’

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday he had spoken with Pelosi and given her a security assessment but any comments about a trip she might make to Taiwan would have to come from her office.

The Reagan strike group had been operating in the South China Sea earlier in the month before heading for a five-day rest stop in Singapore at the weekend.

Singapore-based security scholar Ian Storey said he would expect Chinese vessels to shadow the strike group, based on recent actions as well as the latest tensions.

‘Most of the time those interactions are safe and professional, but there’s always a risk they could get too close and spark a confrontation, said Storey, of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

US officials on Tuesday accused China of increased ‘provocations’ against rival claimants in the South China Sea and said its ‘aggressive and irresponsible behavior’ meant it was only a matter of time before there was a major incident or accident.

Meanwhile, a group of Japanese legislators including two former defense ministers have met with Taiwan’s president in a rare high-level visit to discuss regional security. 

The delegation, led by legislator and former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, said it wanted to reach an agreement with Taiwan on defense issues and prepare for any potential conflict in the region, while also seeking to prevent conflict from breaking out.

Multiple aricraft from Carrier Air Wing Five fly in formation over the Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. The supercarrier has returned to the South China Seas

Multiple aricraft from Carrier Air Wing Five fly in formation over the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. The supercarrier has returned to the South China Seas 

‘We need to think ahead about what kind of situations could happen, what kind of laws and agreements we should prepare, and what kind of armaments we could use,’ he said in prepared remarks at the Presidential Office.

‘We need to work together to reach consensus on this ahead of anything that could happen.’

Mr Ishiba noted that Japan is also working closely with the US to prevent conflict in the Indo-Pacific, saying the defense allies ‘had no choice’ but to prepare.

Tensions in the region have risen amid increasing assertiveness from China, whose authoritarian ruling Communist Party considers democratic, self-ruling Taiwan its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.

The group of Japanese legislators was welcomed by President Tsai Ing-wen and will also meet with Su Tseng-chang, president of the Executive Yuan, and representatives from Taiwan’s Defence Ministry.

‘Safeguarding Taiwan is not only about safeguarding sovereignty. It’s also because on the issue of strategic safety Taiwan is a very critical line of defence of the first island chain,’ Ms Tsai said.

‘We will continue to deepen our co-operation with Japan and other democratic partners to uphold the Indo-Pacific area’s peace and stability.’

Mr Ishiba was accompanied by three other Japanese legislators – Yasukazu Hamada, Akihisa Nakashima and Takayuki Shimizu – who are all members of a cross-party national security group that is comprised of many who have served in the defence establishment.

Mr Ishiba said Japan had a responsibility to promote regional security, economic development and rule of law.

‘It cannot just be at the level of thought, just words spoken out of one’s mouth. Japan must take on concrete responsibilities in the Asia region,’ he said.   

Why China set its sights on Taiwan Taiwanese soldiers hoist the flag of Taiwan in Taipei on May 10. China considers Taiwan as a part of its territory, but many Taiwanese people want the island to be independent

Taiwanese soldiers hoist the flag of Taiwan in Taipei on May 10. China considers Taiwan as a part of its territory, but many Taiwanese people want the island to be independent

China and Taiwan have a long-standing dispute over the island’s sovereignty. 

China considers Taiwan as a part of its territory, more precisely a province, but many Taiwanese want the island to be independent.

From 1683 to 1895, Taiwan was ruled by China’s Qing dynasty. After Japan claimed its victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Qing government forced to cede Taiwan to Japan.

The island was under the Republic of China’s ruling after World War II, with the consent of its allies the US and UK.

The leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 and established his government after losing the Civil War to the Communist Party and its leader Mao Zedong.

Chiang’s son continued to rule Taiwan after his father and began democratising Taiwan.

In 1980, China put forward a formula called ‘one country, two systems’, under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification. Taiwan rejected the offer.

Taiwan today, with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders, is widely accepted in the West as an independent state. But its political status remains unclear.

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