China has ramped up its military exercises surrounding Taiwan in what is expected to be a sustained uptick in provocations after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s high-stakes visit to Taipei.
Mrs. Pelosi, who sparked tensions with Beijing by becoming the first speaker in more than 25 years to visit the self-governed island 100 miles off China’s mainland, departed Taipei on Wednesday after a one-day stopover that included bilateral meetings with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials.
In her wake, the waterways and airspace surrounding Taiwan have become a powder keg as China responds with a series of military maneuvers meant to signal its discontent with the visit.
Chinese officials say Mrs. Pelosi, who is leading a delegation with five other Democrats throughout Asia, and the Biden administration are at fault for going against long-standing pledges under the “One China” policy not to encourage the island democracy from breaking away from the mainland.
Beijing quickly condemned the U.S. delegation as it touched down in Taipei on Tuesday and announced via China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency that the People’s Liberation Army would conduct “a series of joint military operations around the Taiwan Island,” including live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait.
The PLA sortied 21 warplanes toward Taiwan on Tuesday night in a highly provocative show of force.
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On Wednesday, the PLA’s Eastern Theater command announced that it would continue to conduct “joint combat training exercises” in the waters and airspace surrounding Taiwan involving troops from China’s navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support force.
“The exercises focus on key training sessions including joint blockade, sea target assault, strike on ground targets, airspace control operation, and the joint combat capabilities of the troops [to be] tested in the military operations,” the PLA said in a statement.
The maneuvers signal a rise in tensions that could cast a shadow over China’s relations with the West for the foreseeable future. The Biden administration, which did not encourage Mrs. Pelosi’s visit, said the high-profile stopover does not represent any change in official U.S. policy regarding Taiwan and China.
The White House said it expects Beijing to “continue to react over a longer-term horizon,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“I couldn’t give you a date certain of what that horizon looks like, but we certainly would expect them to react even beyond her trip, including announcing additional large-scale fire exercises,” Mr. Kirby said.
He said there is no reason for Beijing to turn the visit into “some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressiveness and military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait.”
SEE ALSO: Taiwan cancels flights as China holds military drills
Similar drills, including live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait, are expected through Sunday. They mark what the Chinese Communist Party-sanctioned Global Times said is a “combination of long-term, resolute and steadily advancing actions” in response to the visit.
“[E]very provocation by the U.S. and Taiwan in recent years has been countered by the mainland’s further strengthening of actual control over the Straits,” Global Times editors wrote Wednesday. “This time won’t be an exception.”
The outlet warned that the military maneuvers serve “as rehearsals for the PLA to reunify the island by force” and are likely to be “larger in scale” than the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. That episode prompted the deployment of two U.S. aircraft carriers to the region to quell tensions.
During that flashpoint, the PLA mobilized more than 100,000 troops in Fujian province, opposite Taiwan, and lobbed missiles just short of Taiwan’s coast in response to the U.S. granting of a visa to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui for a reunion at Cornell University, his alma mater.
In addition to China’s latest military escalations, Beijing has responded with diplomatic and economic statements of ill will.
On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Xie Feng summoned the U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, in protest over the visit. On Wednesday, Beijing banned certain Taiwanese imports, including fruits and fish, to the mainland.
In her remarks as she met with Ms. Tsai, Mrs. Pelosi dismissed China’s saber-rattling surrounding the visit. She suggested that China’s response was a reflection of President Xi Jinping’s “insecurities” about his own political situation.
“I think that whatever China was going to do, they will do in their own good time. What excuse they may use to do it is another thing,” she said.
The speaker said China should not stand in the way of visits by American dignitaries. She said it has been difficult for joint sessions of Congress to host foreign leaders because of COVID-19.
“I just hope that it’s really clear that while China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings, that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan,” she said.
Ms. Tsai said during the meeting that Taiwan will not bow in the face of Beijing’s intimidation.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down,” Ms. Tsai said at her meeting with Mrs. Pelosi. “We will firmly uphold our nation’s sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy.”
Mrs. Pelosi said her visit should serve as “a strong statement that America stands with Taiwan.”
“America’s solidarity with the people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as we continue to support the defense of democracy against autocracy in the region and in the world,” the speaker said in a statement recapping her visit.
The Group of Seven leading industrial nations condemned China’s provocations in a statement after Mrs. Pelosi’s departure.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his G-7 counterparts warned against Beijing’s use of the U.S. delegation’s visit “as a pretext for aggressive military activity” and said China’s “escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region.”
“We call on the PRC not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region, and to resolve cross-Strait differences by peaceful means,” the foreign ministers said.
The foreign ministers also reiterated their “shared and steadfast commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage all parties to remain calm, exercise restraint, act with transparency, and maintain open lines of communication to prevent misunderstanding.”
• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.