Taipei—Taiwan’s defense ministry announced late Wednesday that 27 Chinese warplanes had entered the island’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
The incursions happened as Taiwan hosted US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a day, with a furious China gearing up for military exercises dangerously close to the island’s shores in retaliation for the visit.
Over the last two years, Beijing has ramped up military incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ—which is not the same as the island’s territorial airspace but includes a far greater area.
Taiwan said 16 Su-30s and 6 J-11s had crossed the so-called “median line” of the Taiwan Strait—an unofficial boundary in the narrow waterway, which separates the island from the mainland and straddles vital shipping lanes.
Chinese jets also crossed over the so-called “median line” during two high-level visits by US officials in 2020 during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Nevertheless, that is still a relatively rare occurrence.
Earlier in the day, China warned airlines operating in Asia to avoid flying in areas around the island state where it is conducting military exercises in response to Pelosi’s visit to—and departure on Wednesday evening from—the island.
Taiwan is talking to Japan and the Philippines about alternate air-traffic routes, ETtoday reported, citing Wang Kwo-tsai, Minister of Transportation and Communications. Taiwan’s Maritime Port Bureau also warned ships to avoid the area where drills will take place, Wang was reported as saying.
Local branches of China’s maritime safety administration also issued multiple warnings for ships traversing certain territories, citing the military exercises and firing practice, according to government statements as reported by Bloomberg.
An official notice sent late on Tuesday designated six areas of airspace as “danger zones,” according to carriers who received the message and Jang Chang Seog, a Korean transport ministry official. Flights will be restricted from 12 p.m. on Aug. 4 (Thursday) to 12 p.m. Aug. 7 (Sunday).
Although much attention has been on the US House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan—as the highest-ranking American politician to visit the island state in 25 years—the real potential for a military showdown comes now that she has left.
China’s military has said it will conduct a series of live-fire drills beginning on Thursday, with a post on Chinese state media offering coordinates for five swaths of seas surrounding Taiwan, three of which overlap with areas that Taiwan says are a part of its territorial waters.
The drills, assuming they go forward, would mark a direct challenge to what Taiwan defines as its coastline.
They would also strike at the heart of a decades-long disagreement in which China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, a self-ruled island with its own democratically elected government and military.
Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday despite a series of increasingly stark threats from Beijing, which views the island as its territory and had said it would consider the visit a major provocation.
China responded swiftly, announcing what it said were “necessary and just” military drills in the seas just off Taiwan’s coast—some of the world’s busiest waterways.
“In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim,” Beijing’s foreign ministry said.
But Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the island of 23 million would not be cowed.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down. We will… continue to hold the line of defense for democracy,” Tsai said at an event with Pelosi in Taipei.
She also thanked the 82-year-old US lawmaker for “taking concrete actions to show your staunch support for Taiwan at this critical moment”.
China tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries having official exchanges with Taipei.
But at the event with Tsai, Pelosi, second in line to the US presidency after Vice President Kamala Harris, said: “Today, our delegation… came to
Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan.”
She added her group had come “in friendship to Taiwan” and “in peace to the region.”
Before leaving Taiwan, Pelosi also met with several dissidents who have previously been in the crosshairs of China’s wrath—including Tiananmen protest student leader Wu’er Kaixi.
“We are in high agreement that Taiwan is in the frontline (of democracy),” Wu’er said.
“Both the United States and Taiwan governments need to… conduct more in defending human rights.”
Pelosi’s delegation left Taiwan on Wednesday evening headed to South Korea, her next stop in an Asia tour. She will head to Japan after.
The administration of President Joe Biden—a Democrat like Pelosi—said in the run-up to the visit that US policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.
This means support for its government while diplomatically recognizing Beijing over Taipei, and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
While the White House is understood to be opposed to Pelosi’s Taiwan stop, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said she was entitled to go where she pleased.
Beijing summoned US Ambassador Nicholas Burns over Pelosi’s visit, while the Chinese military declared it was on “high alert” and would “launch a series of targeted military actions in response” to the visit.
The drills will include “long-range live ammunition shooting” in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from mainland China and straddles vital shipping lanes.
The zone of Chinese exercises will be within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of Taiwan’s shoreline at some points, according to coordinates released by the Chinese military.
“Some of the areas of China’s drills breach into… (Taiwan’s) territorial waters,” defense ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said at a press conference Wednesday.
“This is an irrational move to challenge the international order.”
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which sets the government’s China policies, accused Beijing of “vicious intimidation” that would “seriously impact the peace and prosperity of the entire East Asia”.
It added that democratic countries should “unite and take a solemn stand to punish and deter” Beijing.
Japan, a key US ally in the region, said Wednesday it had expressed concern to China over the exercises, while South Korea called for dialogue to maintain regional peace.
Beijing has long used diplomatic, military, and economic pressure on Taiwan.
On Wednesday China announced curbs on the import of fruit and fish from Taiwan—citing the detection of pesticide residue and the coronavirus. It also halted shipments of sand to the island.
“Those who offend China will be punished,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Thursday while on a trip to Cambodia.
Outside the Taiwanese parliament, 31-year-old computer programmer Frank Chen shrugged off the Chinese warnings against Pelosi’s visit.
“I’m not too worried about China’s intimidation,” he told AFP. “I think China will take more threatening actions and ban more Taiwanese products, but we shouldn’t be too worried.”
There was a small group of pro-China demonstrators outside parliament as well.
“The United States uses Taiwan as a pawn in its confrontation with China, to try to drag China down so (it) can dominate the world,” Lee Kai-dee, a 71-year-old retired researcher, told AFP.
“If the United States continues to act this way, Taiwan will end up like Ukraine.”
China has vowed to annex self-ruled, democratic Taiwan one day, by force if necessary.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February heightened fears in Taiwan that China may similarly follow through on its threats to annex the island.
Also on Wednesday, Taiwan’s military sought to hold the line, while signaling that it did not wish to escalate the situation. Calling the drills a blockade, it said the exercises had intruded into Taiwan’s territorial waters and endangered international waterways and regional security.
“We resolutely defend national sovereignty and will counter any aggression against national sovereignty,” said Maj. Gen. Sun Li-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s defense ministry, in response to the drills.
“We will strengthen our vigilance with a rational attitude which won’t escalate conflicts,” he added.