Taiwan says China making simulated attack on main island

White House says China’s actions around Taiwan are ‘provocative, irresponsible’ following US House speaker’s Nancy Pelosi’s trip earlier this week

China’s military has pressed ahead with its largest military drills, targeting Taiwan with what the island’s Government called a simulated attack, including further incursions over the median line and drone flights over Taiwan’s outlying islands.

Western pushback on China’s live-fire drills, launched in response to a visit to Taiwan by the US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, earlier in the week, also continued, with condemnation from senior US officials and foreign ministers from Australia and Japan.

Meanwhile, the White House said on Saturday that China’s actions in and around the Taiwan Strait were provocative and irresponsible after Taiwan officials said Chinese aircraft and warships rehearsed an attack on the island.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

Beijing vociferously objected to Ms Pelosi’s visit, which it said violated its “one-China principle”, a domestic policy outlining the government’s territorial claim over the democratic and self-ruled Taiwan. Beijing sees Taiwan as a part of China and has vowed to “take it back” one day, and by force if necessary.

Over the weekend, Chinese diplomats continued their campaign to lay the blame on the US and accused Washington of causing chaos in the region.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s ministry of defence said it had observed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) planes and ships operating in the Taiwan strait, believing them to be simulating an attack on its main island.

“Multiple batches of Chinese communist planes and ships conducting activities around the Taiwan strait, some of which crossed the median line,” it said, referring to the unofficial border in the waters between China and Taiwan.

On Saturday, Taiwan also scrambled jets to warn away 20 Chinese aircraft, including 14 that crossed the Taiwan strait median line, said Reuters, citing Taiwan’s defence ministry.

Chinese warships and drones simulated attacks on US and Japanese warships, off Taiwan’s east coast and close to Japanese islands, Reuters reported, citing sources.

Taiwan also said it had fired flares on multiple nights to ward off PLA drones flying over the Kinmen islands, and unidentified aircraft flying over the Matsu islands. The island groups sit a few kilometres from China’s mainland coast.

News about the drills came as Taiwan’s official media outlet, CNA, reported that Ou Yang Li-hsing, the vice-president of the Taiwan defence ministry’s research and development unit, had been found dead in a hotel room after a heart attack. It said there were no signs of intrusion to the 57-year-old’s room and that his family said he had a history of cardiac problems.

The live-fire drills began on Thursday, shortly after Ms Pelosi departed Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, and targeted six large areas of sea surrounding the island, including inside its territorial waters. They also included 11 ballistic missiles fired towards or over the main island of Taiwan, landing in its surrounding seas and in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

In recent days, PLA officials have lauded their drills, claiming they are a demonstration of blockade tactics, which could be imposed on Taiwan for real one day.

Taiwan’s foreign minister on Friday defended Ms Pelosi’s visit as “significant” in raising the profile of Taiwan as a democracy. Joseph Wu told the BBC that Beijing was trying to change the status quo, which Taiwan wanted to maintain.

“Taiwan has no jurisdiction over mainland China and the People’s Republic of China has no jurisdiction over Taiwan. That is the reality,” Mr Wu said, suggesting it was Taipei that invited Pelosi for the visit.

Beijing’s week of retaliation has also targeted the US, with sanctions imposed on Mr Pelosi and her family, and key agreements or cooperations suspended or cancelled, including climate crisis talks and efforts to ensure bilateral military communications.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Saturday that China should not hold talks “hostage” on important global matters such as the climate crisis, adding to comments from the US special envoy for climate, John Kerry, that it did not punish the US but “it punishes the world”.

Relations between China and the US and its allies have plummeted further over the drills. Analysts worry that the deteriorating relations could further wreak havoc on the dwindling global economy.

In a joint statement after meeting on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers’ gathering, Mr Blinken and the foreign ministers of Australia and Japan, Penny Wong and Yoshimasa Hayashi, urged China to immediately cease the exercises and condemned the use of ballistic missiles.

The senior officials “expressed their concern about the People’s Republic of China’s recent actions that gravely affect international peace and stability, including the use of large-scale military exercises”.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, walked out of a plenary session in Cambodia just as Hayashi spoke on Friday. Mr Wang also called a rare news conference late on Friday, where he accused Blinken of spreading misinformation.

The drills around Taiwan are scheduled to mostly finish on Sunday, but further exercises in the Yellow Sea have been announced beginning next week.

Taiwan also reported that it had been hit by cyberattacks this week, including the websites of the president’s office and the ministries of foreign affairs and defence, as well as display screens in 7-Eleven stores and some train stations.

Wu Min-hsuan, the head of the Taiwan-based cybermonitoring group Doublethink Labs, said there used to be serious concerns over Chinese Government cyberwarfare but that this week’s attacks were mild and highlighted weak digital links that Taiwan needed to address.

“They want to create an image that says your security is weak and we are powerful,” he said.

Like the world’s media, people in Taiwan are following the events closely. But Li Ya Chen, a 35-year-old journalist who spent two years in Shanghai between 2017 and 2019, said despite Beijing’s antagonistic response, people in Taiwan were “not overly worried”.

“Pelosi’s visit last week showed that ultimately Taiwan wants good relations with the US, and her trip could help elevate Taiwan’s international support. We are already used to Beijing’s fury, and we are well aware of the danger,” she said.

“The world thinks Taiwan is now the most dangerous place on Earth, but for most of us here, life goes on.” — Guardian

The Biden administration and Ms Pelosi have said the US remains committed to a “one-China” policy, which recognises Beijing as the Government of China but allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.

The administration discouraged but did not prevent Ms Pelosi from visiting.

China has also cut off defence talks to the US and imposed sanctions on Ms Pelosi in retaliation for the visit.

Ms Pelosi has been a long-time advocate of human rights in China.

She, along with other legislators, visited Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1991 to support democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square.

Meanwhile, cyberattacks aimed at bringing down the website of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had doubled between Thursday and Friday, compared with similar attacks before Ms Pelosi’s visit, said Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

The ministry did not specify the origin of the attacks.

Other ministries and Government agencies, such as the Ministry of Interior, also faced similar attacks on their websites, said the report.

A distributed-denial-of-service attack is aimed at overloading a website with requests for information that eventually crashes it, making it inaccessible to other users.

Also on Saturday, the Central News Agency reported that the deputy head of the Taiwan Defence Ministry’s research and development unit, Ou Yang Li-hsing, was found dead in his hotel room after suffering a heart attack.

He was 57 and had supervised several missile production projects.

The report said his hotel room in the southern county of Pingtung, where he was on a business trip, showed no signs of intrusion.

Taiwanese overwhelmingly favour maintaining the status quo of the island’s de facto independence and reject China’s demands that the island unify with the mainland under communist control.

Globally, most countries subscribe to the “one-China” policy, which is a requirement to maintain diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Any company that fails to recognise Taiwan as part of China often faces swift backlash, often with Chinese consumers pledging to boycott its products.

On Friday, Mars Wrigley, the manufacturer of the Snickers chocolate bar, apologised after it released a video and materials featuring South Korean boy band BTS that had referred to Taiwan as a country, drawing swift criticism from Chinese users.

In a statement on its Weibo account, the company expressed “deep apologies”.

“Mars Wrigley respects China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and conducts business operations in strict compliance with local Chinese laws and regulations,” the statement said.

In a separate post, the firm said that there is “only one China” and said that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory”. — Guardian/AP