Beijing held live-fire drills near the Taiwan Strait just as US lawmaker Nancy Pelosi began her controversial trip to Asia
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has launched military exercises off the coast of Fujian province, just across the strait between the mainland and Taiwan. Live-fire drills have been publicly announced amid growing tensions with Washington over the island’s self-governing status.
The drills were scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday near the Pingtan Islands off the coast of Fujian, the official Xinhua news agency said citing the PLA. Pingtan maritime officials had issued a warning ordering all ships to stay away from the area during the drills.
The announcement did not provide any details about the weapons or units that would be tested in the drills. Pingtan sits directly between the mainland and Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province and part of China’s sovereign territory.
Chinese officials issued repeated warnings this month that a planned trip by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to Taiwan would undermine America’s relationship with China and could spark a military response. Pelosi left for Asia on Friday, with plans to visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. A stopover in Taiwan was on his itinerary as “provisional,” according to NBC News.
Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit Taiwan since House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taipei in 1997. Unlike Pelosi, however, Gingrich did not represent the ruling party in the ‘era. Official US policy is to recognize, but not endorse, Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan. Tensions over the island republic have escalated in recent months, in part over trips to Taipei by US politicians.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Thursday that Beijing would not tolerate “external interference” in China’s relations with Taiwan. “Those who play with fire will perish by it” he told Biden. “We hope that the United States will be lucid about this.”
The PLA may have been referring to Saturday’s exercise when it posted a message on social media saying: “Preparing for war.” The post reportedly drew a strong public reaction in China, including hundreds of thousands of thumbs up on Sina Weibo. Xi and other Chinese officials have repeatedly said that China reserves the right to reunite with Taiwan by force.
“Preparing for War (备战）！” The official #Weibo account of the 80th army group of the #CCP‘ People’s Liberation Army #PLA posted this two-word Chinese post 15 hours ago and has gained 650,000 likes, 32,000 comments and 28,000 shares so far. pic.twitter.com/voEJ3BHFn6
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) July 29, 2022