TAIPEI — Taiwan officials said Chinese aircraft and warships rehearsed an attack on the island on Saturday, part of Beijing’s retaliation for a visit there by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi that has also included a halt in talks with the United States on issues including defense and climate change.
Pelosi’s brief visit this week to the self-ruled island that China regards as its territory infuriated Beijing and prompted military drills around Taiwan that are unprecedented in scale and have included ballistic missiles fired over the capital Taipei.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of taking “irresponsible steps” by halting key communication channels with Washington, and said Chinese actions over Taiwan showed a move from prioritizing peaceful resolution towards use of force.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said multiple Chinese ships and planes conducted missions in the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, with some crossing the median line – an unofficial buffer separating the two sides – in what the Taiwan military described as a simulated attack on the island.
The ministry said later that Taiwan scrambled jets to warn away 20 Chinese aircraft, including 14 that crossed the median line. It also detected 14 Chinese military ships conducting activities around the Taiwan Strait, it added.
The Chinese exercises, centered on six locations around the island, began on Thursday and are scheduled to last until midday on Sunday. China’s Eastern Theater Command said it had continued to conduct sea and air joint exercises north, southwest and east of Taiwan. It said its focus was on testing land-strike and sea-assault capabilities.
The United States called these moves an escalation.
“These activities are a significant escalation in China’s efforts to change the status quo. They are provocative, irresponsible and raise the risk of miscalculation,” a White House spokesperson said. “They are also at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is what the world expects.”
Pelosi, a long-time China critic and a political ally of U.S. President Joe Biden, arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday in the highest-level visit to the island by an American official in decades, despite Chinese warnings. Pelosi said her visit showed America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s democracy, noting that “the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
Shortly after her delegation left Japan on Friday, the final stop of a week-long Asia tour, China announced that it was halting dialog with the United States in a series of areas.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang nationalists in a civil war, prompting their retreat to the island.
Beijing says its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter and that it reserves the right to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary. Taiwan rejects China’s claims saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
Chinese warships and aircraft continued to “press” into the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Saturday afternoon, a person familiar with security planning said. Off Taiwan’s east coast and close to Japanese islands, Chinese warships and drones simulated attacks on U.S. and Japanese warships, the person added.
Taiwan’s army broadcast a warning while deploying air reconnaissance patrol forces and ships to monitor and putting shore-based missiles on stand-by.
The island’s defense ministry said it fired flares late on Friday to warn away seven drones flying over its Kinmen islands and unidentified aircraft flying over its Matsu islands. Both island groups are close to China’s coast.
“China’s military drills have unilaterally changed the current situation in the region and seriously damaged the peace in the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said.
Speaking during a visit to the Philippines, Blinken said the United States had been hearing concern from allies about what he called China’s dangerous and destabilizing actions around Taiwan, but Washington would remain steady in its handling of the situation and sought to avoid escalating the situation.
He said China’s cessation of bilateral dialog in eight key areas were moves that would punish the world.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, told a media briefing on Friday that Blinken was spreading “misinformation,” adding: “We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis.”
China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important in the case of an emergency.
Speaking in Japan after meeting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Pelosi said her Asia trip was “not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region.”
Japan’s defense ministry reported that as many as four missiles flew over Taiwan’s capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei, David Brunnstrom in Manila, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Meg Shen in Hong Kong, Jeff Mason in Washington; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo; Writing by Tony Munroe and Greg Torode; Editing by Robert Birsel, Will Dunham and Frances Kerry)