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China puts on show of naval force ahead of Nancy Pelosi's possible Taiwan visit

·4 min read

The Chinese military is mounting a show of force ahead of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Asian tour, which could include a visit to Taiwan.

As China hardened its posture, despite growing concern that a miscalculation could increase the risk of conflict, it said it was holding live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait and released footage of a similar exercise in the South China Sea.

The maritime administration in Fujian province said the exercise off the waters of Pingtan would be carried out between 8am and 9pm, adding that all vessels were banned from entering the area.

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Pingtan is about 125km (75 miles) from Taiwan's coast and about 185km from Taipei, its capital.

The exercise was announced on Thursday afternoon - hours before a phone conversation between Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden aimed at reducing tensions - but not widely reported by Chinese media until Friday night.

During the call, their fifth since Biden took the office, Xi told Biden that the US should avoid "playing with fire" over Taiwan.

On Saturday, state broadcaster CCTV released a rare video footage of live-fire training by the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Yanan in the South China Sea.

Li Jinwei, its captain, told CCTV that the training "focused on the practical application of new equipment to effectively enhance collaborative command and ... accelerate the formation of a new combat capacity".

Pelosi and her team have not confirmed that she will visit Taiwan, but if she goes ahead, this will be the first visit by a sitting US House speaker since Republican Newt Ginrich met president Lee Teng-hui 25 years ago.

Nancy Pelosi would be the most senior US politician to visit Taiwan since 1997. Photo: Bloomberg alt=Nancy Pelosi would be the most senior US politician to visit Taiwan since 1997. Photo: Bloomberg>

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be brought under its control - by force if necessary. Any visit by a foreign government official to Taiwan is seen by Beijing as a breach of its sovereignty.

Both China and the US have been building up their military strength around the Taiwan Strait over the past weeks after reports emerged that Pelosi may visit the island along with Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

This week, the US 7th Fleet said it was deploying the USS Ronald Reagan from a port call in Singapore toward the South China Sea, a move the Pentagon said was part of a scheduled operation.

As part of additional security measures, the Pentagon often moves its military assets near the areas where US leaders and senior officials are visiting.

Meanwhile, a major multinational naval exercise led by the US Navy is continuing in and around Hawaii and southern California.

The biennial Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercises, which began in late June, involve more than 25,000 personnel from 26 countries and will last until Monday.

The Chinese navy, which took part for the first time in 2014, was disinvited in 2018 over what the Pentagon called a rapid military build-up in disputed islands in the South China Sea.

The US Navy said the exercises are not designed to counter or threaten China, but US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Samuel Paparo told military portal Defense News that the exercises would focus on skills and technologies that are "most salient for potential conflict in the years ahead."

When asked at a press conference if the threat of an attack on Taiwan had shaped the exercise he said it was designed to hone skills, such as amphibious operations and long-range strikes, that would be applicable in such a situation, adding the aim was to create a "more distributed, more survivable, more lethal force that's harder to target".

Pelosi's Asia tour also coincides with Monday's anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army - a day when usually uses to underscore the military's role in safeguarding national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

On Friday, the PLA's 80th Group Army, posted a short message "Preparing for war!" on its Weibo account, which had gained over 1.58milion likes, by Saturday night.

The unit is based in Shandong and falls under Northern Theatre Command, which is not responsible for operations relating to Taiwan.

It later posted in the replies to its post: "As the holiday belonging to the military is approaching, we must remember our fundamental duty to prepare for war and fight, and charge forward on the march to strengthen the army!"

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.