China begins ‘unprecedented’ military drills around Taiwan

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

China has begun large-scale military sea and air exercises around Taiwan, following a controversial visit by US politician Nancy Pelosi.

The live fire drills began at 12:00 local time (04:00 GMT), with some taking place within 12 miles of the self-ruled island.

China’s military manoeuvres started Tuesday night following the arrival of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, which has enraged Beijing. 

Taiwan said China, which regards Taiwan as its own, was trying to revise the status quo in the region and had broken United Nations rules. 

Beijing later announced a raft of retaliatory economic measures on Tuesday in response to Pelosi’s visit, which has blocked some international trade with the island. 

Chinese military activity, involving firing long-range ammunition in congested shipping lanes in the Taiwan Strait, continued on Wednesday. 

Taiwan says the drills have invaded its territorial space and amounted to a blockade of its air and sea. 

Speaking to the BBC, Analyst Bonnie Lin said Taipei would react militarily, though there was a risk of confrontation between the pair. 

“For example, if China decides to fly planes over Taiwan’s airspace, there is a chance that Taiwan might try to intercept them. And we could see a mid-air collision, we could see a lot of different scenarios playing out,” she said.

Beijing has not ruled out using force to take control of the island in the past.

The United States (US) follows a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan and is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself. 

Washington said the drills were reckless and carried the risk of escalating the situation in the region. 

The Taiwanese government has scrambled jets to intercept Chinese combat planes in recent days, while several ministries have suffered cyber-attacks. 

On Thursday, the Global Times, a state-run, English-language Chinese newspaper, said the drills were a rehearsal for “reunification operation[s]”.

“In the event of a future military conflict, it is likely that the operational plans currently being rehearsed will be directly translated into combat operations,” Chinese mainland military expert Song Zhongping was quoted as saying.

Taiwan has warned shipping firms and airlines to avoid the six areas where Beijing has said exercises will take place. Some of these are directly in Taiwan’s territorial waters. 

G7 nations have expressed worries about China’s response to the US visit, calling for restraint and saying China’s moves could cause the regional situation to spiral out of control. 

“There is no justification to use a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait,” a statement from the group of rich nations read. “The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilising the region.”

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was the first by a major US politician in more than two decades. She made the trip as part of a wider Asian tour, and will visit South Korea on Thursday. 

Beijing said there would be “serious consequences” in the run-up to the visit and warned Pelosi not to travel there. 

The last big flare-up in the region between Taiwan, China and the US took place in 1996, before the re-election of Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. 

China has massively upgraded and expanded its military since then, building its very own aircraft carrier and hypersonic weaponry.