Chinese warplanes take to the skies, US warships move to Taiwan earlier than Pelosi expected

  • Chinese fighter jets buzz the line dividing the Taiwan Strait
  • The expected visit of the US House Speaker has angered Beijing
  • Beijing insists that autonomous Taiwan is part of China

TAIPEI, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Chinese fighter jets buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, ahead of a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that has pushed friction between Washington and Beijing to a new level.

The Chinese leadership has repeatedly warned against Pelosi, a longtime critic of Beijing, traveling to Taiwan, an autonomous region that China claims as its own.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday that US politicians “playing with fire” on the Taiwan issue “will not end well”.

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The US said on Monday it was not afraid of China’s so-called “sabre rattling”.

Most of Pelosi’s scheduled meetings, including with President Tsai Ing-wen, are scheduled for Wednesday, a person familiar with her itinerary said.

Four sources said he was scheduled to meet a group of activists Wednesday afternoon who have been outspoken about China’s human rights record.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it had no comment on reports of Pelosi’s travel plans, while her office remained silent.

On Tuesday night, Taiwan’s tallest building, Taipei 101, lit up with messages including “Welcome to Taiwan,” “Speaker Pelosi,” and “Taiwan (Heart) America.”

With tensions already high, several Chinese warplanes flew close to the demarcation line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning, a source told Reuters.

A number of Chinese warships have been sailing close to the unofficial demarcation line since Monday, the source said.

Both Chinese warships and aircraft “pressed” the line of demarcation, an unusual move that the person described as “very provocative”.

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While the Taiwanese aircraft were on alert nearby, the Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical maneuvers, briefly “touching” the median line and returning to the other side of the strait, the person said.

Chinese planes left the area in the afternoon, but the ships remained.

Bilateral flights generally do not cross the median line.

Meanwhile, four U.S. warships, including an aircraft carrier, are stationed in waters east of Taiwan in what the U.S. Navy calls conventional deployments.

A US Navy official told Reuters that the carrier USS Ronald Reagan had crossed the South China Sea and was now in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan.

It operated alongside a guided-missile carrier, the USS Antietam, and the destroyer USS Higgins. The amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli was also in the area.

Since last week, China’s People’s Liberation Army has been conducting various exercises, including live-fire exercises, in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea to showcase Chinese military strength.

Mystery plane

China sees visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending a reassuring signal to the pro-independence camp on the island.

Washington does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but is bound by US law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

Russia — embroiled in a conflict with the West over its aggression in Ukraine — also faced Pelosi’s expected visit.

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The Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry spokesman called the move a “provocation” aimed at putting pressure on Beijing and reiterated Russian support for Beijing’s one-China policy.

Earlier on Tuesday, Pelosi visited Malaysia and began her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday. His office said he would also visit South Korea and Japan, but made no mention of a trip to Taiwan.

The US Air Force plane that flew Pelosi to Malaysia headed towards Borneo before turning north to the Philippines on Tuesday, tracking website Flightradar24 showed on Tuesday. Reuters could not establish whether Pelosi was on board the SPAR19 flight.

‘Enemy Threats’

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it was fully aware of military operations near Taiwan and would deploy forces appropriately in response to “enemy threats.”

China’s defense and foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

In Xiamen, a southeastern Chinese city across the street from Taiwan that has a heavy military presence, residents reported seeing armored vehicles.

Chinese social media sparked fears of both potential conflict and patriotic fervor.

“In the face of the US’s reckless disregard for China’s persistent and aggressive representations, any countermeasures taken by the Chinese side would be reasonable and necessary, which is the right of any independent and sovereign country,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily briefing in Beijing. .

During a phone call last Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned US President Joe Biden that Washington must adhere to the One China policy and that “those who play with fire will perish”.

Biden told Xi that US policy on Taiwan has not changed and that Washington strongly opposes unilateral efforts to undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait or change the status quo.

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White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that Beijing’s responses would include firing missiles near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval operations, or “vicious legal claims” such as China’s claim that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.

“We’re not going to take bait or engage in a saber attack. At the same time, we’re not going to be intimidated,” Kirby said.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never given up using force to bring the island under its control. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide the island’s future.

People in Taiwan, caught in the middle of Sino-US tensions, expressed mixed feelings about Pelosi’s visit.

“As for China’s statements or hateful comments, it’s really always like that. So, we look at it with peace of mind and don’t panic too much,” said Yang Ching-ruel, a 22-year-old university student.

He expressed hope that the visit would strengthen ties between Taiwan and the United States.

On Tuesday, the website of Taiwan’s presidential office received a foreign cyber attack and was down at one point, a source told Reuters. The website was brought back online shortly after, the source said.

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Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Additional reporting by Fabian Hamacher in Taipei and Yu Lun Tian in Beijing; By Tony Munro; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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