China sends ships and planes to Taiwan despite growing criticism

China sent a force of warships and aircraft to the waters and airspace near Taiwan on Friday, defying international criticism of its military drills and demonstrating the country’s growing appetite for confrontation on the island. which he claims as his territory.

The military exercise came a day after at least 11 Chinese missiles landed in waters north, south and east of Taiwan, raising fears that Chinese forces were training for a hypothetical attempt to surround and attack the island. On Friday, the Chinese military deployed fighter jets, bombers, destroyers and escort ships to waters near the island, where a high-profile visit by President Nancy Pelosi infuriated Beijing this week.

Some of those Chinese warplanes and warships crossed the informal middle line in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from the Chinese mainland, on Friday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

More worrying for some analysts, Beijing too canceled or suspended talks with the United States on climate change and military coordination – raising fears that an accidental encounter could escalate into open hostilities. By interrupting the talks, Beijing struck directly at the Biden administration’s strategy of against China on contentious points, such as that of Beijing repression in hong kongwhile trying to work with it to address global threats like climate change.

John Kirby, spokesman for the United States National Security Council, on Friday condemned the shutdown of military communications and climate talks as “irresponsible”. But he suggested these might just be temporary setbacks in the overall US-China relationship, saying such responses were “part of their playbook”.

The maneuvers, experts say, suggest a plan to blockade Taiwan, which is “a bit more than what we’ve seen before,” said Andrew Mertha, director of the China Global Research Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. . “We see what China is capable of doing in the context of war.”

In the history of US-China relations, “the suspension of military talks is always the first casualty,” Mertha added. “It’s dangerous simply because it’s precisely in times of crisis like this that you need to have clear, uninterrupted lines of communication.”

Relations between China and the United States, already at an all-time low before Ms. Pelosi’s visit, are now on a downward spiral.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, denounced the Chinese military exercises on Friday and stressed that American policy in Taiwan was unchanged.

“We will not seek or want a crisis,” she said. “At the same time, we will not restrain ourselves from operating in the seas and skies of the Western Pacific.”

But the two world powers are taking tough, ideological positions that make compromise difficult, heading for a deep chill in relations that could reshape the geopolitical landscape and have ramifications on global issues such as global markets and climate change.

China has long claimed Taiwan, a self-governing democracy off its southern coast, and views any visit by a US politician as an affront, let alone that of Ms Pelosi, the highest-ranking US official to visit since 1997. .

During her visit this week, Ms Pelosi met with the president, lawmakers and human rights activists from Taiwan, hailing the island’s commitment to democracy. She stood by her criticism of Beijing on Friday, telling Tokyo that China “might try to prevent Taiwan from visiting or participating in other places, but it will not isolate Taiwan.”

After Ms Pelosi left, Beijing said it would impose unspecified sanctions against her and her family members.

Beijing has struggled to reconcile Washington’s approach of simultaneous strategic cooperation and competition because it sees cooperation as leverage for Washington, said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“By calling off all these exchanges, however, Beijing is really pulling the last strings out of an already threadbare relationship,” Ms Hsiao said. “It shows that there is little left in the bilateral relationship that Beijing can use to register its protests against Taiwan.”

The end of the defense swaps has worried some experts, who said it left an opening for dangerous interactions between Chinese and American militaries in the South China Sea and around the region.

Concern about the potential consequences of such an accidental — or intentional — conflict was clear Friday. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called on China to suspend its military exercises after meeting in Tokyo with Ms Pelosi, who stopped in several countries allied with the United States.

China had fired five missiles on Thursday which landed in waters claimed by Japan for its exclusive economic use. Mr Kishida said the drills had “a serious impact on peace and stability in the region and the world”, Kyodo News reported.

Zha Daojiong, professor of international studies at Peking University, said the decision to cancel high-level exchanges would not necessarily rule out further cooperation at lower levels of government.

“It is quite possible that the suspension only covers bilateral contacts at high levels,” Zha said. On climate talks, for example, “it should come as no surprise that Chinese and US climate officials are exchanging ideas at multilateral forums,” he said.

As well as demonstrating Beijing’s displeasure with Ms Pelosi’s visit, the drills – which China says will take place in six areas surrounding Taiwan – appear to have been designed as a try to seal the island off as part of a a possible invasion. Chinese leaders, including current President Xi Jinping, have long said that Taiwan must finally be brought under Beijing’s control, by force if necessary.

Taiwan has faced such threats for decades, and a precarious sense of normalcy prevailed Friday, according to Jason Hsu, a former Kuomintang opposition lawmaker. But Mr Hsu said many people had a false sense of security.

“We’re talking about Chinese missiles across the sky, and everyone is sleeping like a log,” he said.

Business leaders in Taiwan, whose biggest trading partner is China, have expressed concern about the potential for economic damage. Nine business groups, including the influential China National Federation of Industries, issued a joint statement on the eve of the exercises, noting the economic repercussions of the war in Ukraine and calling on “both sides of the strait not to misunderstand the situation “.

Criticism of China’s actions by the United States and its allies prompted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to leave a gala dinner in the Cambodian capital on Thursday night, moments before diplomats attending a regional conference are seated. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi had just issued an official protest to China when Mr Wang left.

Earlier in the day, Wang accused the United States of instigating the situation around Taiwan. “It was the United States that caused trouble, it was the United States that created the crisis, and it was also the United States that continued to escalate the tensions,” Wang told ministers of foreign affairs. Foreign Affairs present at the conference.

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking to reporters at the end of the meeting, described the Chinese military exercises as a “significant escalation” and having “no justification”.

The Chinese exercises have put the United States in an awkward position. While the Pentagon wants to project its force into the region, it is also sensitive to the risk that a military miscalculation could cause an unintended escalation.

The Biden administration intends to avoid an incident like the 2001 collision between an American intelligence plane and a Chinese fighter plane over the waters off the south coast of China. The American plane made a forced landing in a province in southern China and more than 20 crew members were captured for 11 days.

Mr Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Thursday that the US military had ordered the USS Ronald Reagan to ‘stay stationed’ in the area but some distance from the entrance to the strait from Taiwan. This represents a more prudent decision than that made during a crisis in 1996, when President Bill Clinton close the aircraft carriers in the strait.

The United States will resume “standard air and sea transits across the Taiwan Strait in the coming weeks,” Kirby added.

In Washington, a former CIA analyst, John Culver, told a meeting of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group, on Thursday that a new low had been reached between the United States and China. .

“We are in a new era,” said Mr. Culver, who was the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council from 2015 to 2018. “This is no longer the middle of the 90s. The context is totally different.

Ben Doley and Mike Ives contributed report.

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