China conducts ‘live-fire’ exercises near Taiwan as Pelosi visits Asia

As tensions continue to rise between Washington and Beijing amid a possible visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Chinese military initiated live-fire military exercises in the area on Saturday, according to the Daily Mail, as the world watches and waits to see whether recent threats of an attack on the lawmaker come to fruition in any appreciable way.

The official Chinese Xinhua News Agency reported that the People’s Liberation Army was in the process of conducting the provocative maneuvers around the Pingtan islands near Fujian province, with the Maritime Safety Administration cautioning ships to steer clear of the region.

Pelosi’s plans spark hostility

The aforementioned military exercises are the latest escalation of tensions that flared ahead of a scheduled tour by Pelosi of a number of Asian countries, reported to include Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore, and which was also thought to potentially encompass a stop in Taiwan for the purposes of showing American solidarity with the self-governing land in the face of Chinese aggression.

Pelosi did not confirm before departing for Asia whether she would indeed head to Taiwan, saying on Friday, “I don’t ever talk about my travel because as some of you know, it’s a security issue,” but also adding, “I’m very excited if – should we go – to the countries that we, you’ll be hearing about along the way,” as the New York Post noted.

Spurred by even the possibility that the House speaker would venture to Taiwan, however, Hu Xijin, formerly of Chinese state-controlled outlet Global Times tweeted last week, “If U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi’s plane into Taiwan, it is [an] invasion. The [People’s Liberation Army] has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane and the U.S. fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction,” adding, “[i]f ineffective, then shoot them down.”

Hu’s rhetoric ratched up even further on Saturday, with the retired journalist and frequent government mouthpiece writing, “If Pelosi really visits Taiwan as planned, the Tsai Ing-wen authorities are accomplice. The mainland will definitely carry out severe punishment actions on Taiwan at the same time. The unbearable consequences will fall on Tsai authorities,” the Washington Examiner reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was also not shy about expressing his disdain for the notion that Pelosi would head to Taiwan, posting to his country’s foreign ministry website after a Thursday phone call with President Joe Biden in which the topic was said to have been raised, “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this,” as the Financial Times noted.

The extent of the exercises is unclear

According to the Daily Mail, the type of military exercises announced by China tend to involve artillery, though it remained uncertain whether those occurring this weekend would also encompass the use of fighter planes, missiles, or other forms of weaponry.

Fox News reported, that the naval exercises in the Taiwan strait were set to take place over a period of 13 hours, and were happening at the same time U.S. military officials continued to conduct operations in the South China Sea.

U.S. Navy spokesperson Lt. Mark Langford provided confirmation that the USS Ronald Reagan was in the waters near Taiwan, also saying, “[a]s a matter of policy, we do not discuss future ship movements; however I will add that Reagan is continuing normal, scheduled operations as part of her routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

World on edge

Though Biden has said that American military leaders believe that a Pelosi visit to Taiwan was “not a good idea now,” others, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have publicly disagreed, saying that for the congresswoman to back out now would provide China “a victory of sorts,” further opining that the U.S. “cannot allow the Chinese communist dictatorship to think that it can bully an American speaker of the House.”

While it may seem exceedingly unlikely to most that an American politician would actually face an attack of the sort described by Hu, China expert Gordon Chang recently warned that “[t]his very well may not be bluster,” given his assessment that “China is lashing out,” and whether the world truly is on the cusp of a dangerous standoff over Pelosi’s rumored itinerary, only time will tell.

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