Dozens of Chinese planes have barrelled into Taiwan’s defence zone as tensions hit boiling point between the countries.
Taipei’s defence ministry said at least 27 Chinese aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait median line — forcing the island to scramble jets amid invasion fears.
A total of 27 fighters planes — including 16 Su-30 jets — crossed into the zone as Taipei ramped up its defence after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit infuriated Beijing.
In the latest uptick in tensions, Taiwan said it dispatched aircraft and deployed missile systems to “monitor” the Chinese activities into its air defence identification zone.
Defiant Taiwan leaders have said they “won’t shy away” from fighting with China if pushed to it.
“We are resolved to uphold our sovereignty, liberty and democracy,” the country’s generals said.
“We fear no threat or challenges. We are not eager for a fight, nor will we shy away from one. We have the capacity and the will to uphold our valued liberty and democracy, and maintain our region’s stability.”
China has reacted to the controversial visit by announcing days of live-fire exercises around the island.
The move will effectively close Taiwan’s air and sea access while the exercises are under way. Airlines have been warned to avoid flying close to Taiwan and ships have been told to stay away from “danger zones” during the drills, which are due to start on Thursday.
Beijing has also announced punishing sanctions on Taiwan, suspending citrus and seafood products — although the bans were officially linked to hygiene concerns.
China has also suspended the export of natural sand to Taiwan, a key ingredient for the production of semiconductor chips. Taiwan’s Bureau of Mines later outlined that the ban would have “limited” effect.
Taiwan’s defence ministry accused China of “launching psychological warfare on its citizens”, after Ms Pelosi angered Beijing with her historic visit to the island.
The defence ministry said Taiwan would “firmly defend” its national security, declaring that ongoing Chinese military drills “invaded Taiwan’s territorial space” and “have violated UN rules”.
China’s live fire drills do appear to have encroached into Taiwan’s territory, which Beijing recognises as its own.
Taiwan said China’s drills — which effectively surround the nation’s main island, cutting off shipping and flights — “amount to a blockade of Taiwan’s air and sea space” and “seriously violate” the island’s sovereignty.
Taiwan will enhance its military alert level “with the principle of not asking for a war”.
Ms Pelosi, the third-most senior politician in the United States and second in the presidential line of succession, landed in Taiwan on Tuesday despite a series of increasingly stark threats from Beijing, which views the island as its territory and said it would consider the visit a major provocation.
China responded swiftly, warning the US ambassador in Beijing of “extremely serious consequences” and announcing military drills around Taiwan.
“Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down. We will continue to hold the line of defence for democracy,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said at an event with Ms Pelosi in Taipei.
Ms Tsai thanked Ms Pelosi for “taking concrete actions to show your staunch support for Taiwan at this critical moment”.
Ms Pelosi left on Wednesday, but not before China could fire off another warning shot.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “those who play with fire will not come to a good end, and those who offend China will be punished”.
“The United States is violating China’s sovereignty under the guise of so-called democracy,” he added.
‘Adding fuel to the fire’
Earlier in the day, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd warned Ms Pelosi’s visit was adding “fuel to the fire” as tensions continue to mount between China, Taiwan and the United States.
Speaking with the BBC, Mr Rudd sounded alarm bells over the US visit and what it could mean for the region.
“The US-China relationship has become red raw in recent years,” Mr Rudd said.
“Pelosi’s visit throws fuel on the fire. I doubt China is about to ignite a shooting match with the US over it. But they will unleash a bunch of countermeasures against Taiwan itself.”
Mr Rudd said the region is currently facing an “unpredictable moment”, leaving analysts unsure where the tensions will lead.
“We are at an unpredictable moment in terms of where this will unfold. I agree with the general analysis that while China will escalate its military response, they will not wish to cross a line and bring on a fundamental crisis with the US itself,” he said.
“Our interests are collectively to continue the status quo and let Taiwan continue as its own entity.”
Mr Rudd concluded that, in his assessment, Ms Pelosi’s visit was overall detrimental to Taiwan’s national security.
He insisted there was a wider range of measures the US establishment could take to show support to the region, and warned the region would likely see live fire drills commence in the near future.
Ms Pelosi is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
“Today, our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan,” she said at the event with Ms Tsai.
Earlier, the US House Speaker said her group had come “in friendship to Taiwan” and “in peace to the region”.
The administration of President Joe Biden said in the run-up to the visit that US policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.
This means support for its government while diplomatically recognising Beijing over Taipei, and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.
While the White House is understood to have been opposed to Ms Pelosi’s Taiwan stop behind the scenes, its National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said she was entitled to go where she pleased.
Her visit “is extremely egregious in nature and the consequences are extremely serious”, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng told the US Ambassador, according to state news agency Xinhua.
“China will not sit idly by.”
The Chinese military said 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 kilometres 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,” defence ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said at a press conference Wednesday.
“This is an irrational move to challenge the international order.”
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 and stability.
— with The Sun and AFP