Taiwan accuses China of simulating invasion

Amber Wang and Beiyi Sow, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 06 2022 04:58 PM

A Mirage 2000 fighter jet takes off at an airbase in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on August 6, 2022. Ritchie B. Tongo, EPA-EFE
A Mirage 2000 fighter jet takes off at an airbase in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on August 6, 2022. Ritchie B. Tongo, EPA-EFE

Taiwan accused the Chinese army of simulating an attack on its main island Saturday, as Beijing doubled down on its retaliation for US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei after announcing a suspension of cooperation with Washington on key issues.

Relations between the two superpowers have nosedived in the wake of Pelosi's trip to China's self-ruled neighbor -- which it claims as its territory -- prompting calls from the UN for an urgent de-escalation of tensions.

And Friday saw the environment become the latest victim of the geopolitical jousting, as Beijing said it would withdraw from a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington -- most notably on climate change and defense cooperation. 

The world's two largest polluters had pledged to work together to accelerate climate action this decade and vowed to meet regularly to tackle the crisis -- a deal that now looks shaky.

Beijing on Saturday continued some of its largest-ever military drills around Taiwan -- exercises aimed at practising a blockade and ultimate invasion of the island, analysts say. 

Taipei said it observed several units of Chinese planes and ships operating in the Taiwan Strait, believing them to be simulating an attack on the self-ruled democracy's main island.

Its forces detected "multiple batches of Communist planes and ships conducting activities around the Taiwan Strait, some of which crossed the median line", its defense ministry said in a statement. 

The median line refers to a demarcation line that runs down the Taiwan Strait which Beijing does not recognize.

In a bid to show just how close China's forces have been getting to Taiwan's shores, Beijing's military overnight released a video of an air force pilot filming the island's coastline and mountains from his cockpit.

And the Eastern Command of the Chinese army shared a photo it said was taken of a warship patrolling in seas near Taiwan, the island's shoreline clearly visible in the background.

Beijing also said they would hold a live-fire drill in a southern part of the Yellow Sea -- located between China and the Korean peninsula -- from Saturday until August 15.

China's state broadcaster, CCTV, has reported that Chinese missiles have flown directly over Taiwan during the exercises -- a major escalation if confirmed.

But Taipei has remained defiant, insisting it will not be cowed by its "evil neighbor".

- Peace 'vital' -

The scale and intensity of China's drills have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies, with the White House summoning China's ambassador to Washington to rebuke him over Beijing's actions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with his Philippine counterpart in Manila on Saturday, said Washington was "determined to act responsibly" to avoid a crisis.

"Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is vital not only for Taiwan but for the Philippines and many other countries," Blinken told reporters after he met with Enrique Manalo.

A day earlier, Blinken and the foreign ministers of Japan and Australia issued a joint statement calling on China to halt the exercises after meeting on the sidelines of an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia.

And Beijing's decision to withdraw from hard-won cooperation on climate change has now sparked wider fears about the future of the planet.

It's "impossible to address the climate emergency if the world's number one and number two economies and number one and number two emitters are not taking action", Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G, a climate-focused think tank, told AFP.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington the decision was "fundamentally irresponsible".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the two superpowers must continue to work together -- for the world's sake.

"For the secretary-general, there is no way to solve the most pressing problems of all the world without an effective dialogue and cooperation between the two countries," his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

- 'The new normal' - 

But with tensions over Taiwan having risen to their highest level in nearly 30 years with an elevated risk of military conflict, experts told AFP the latest downturn in relations between the two superpowers could be deep and long-lasting.

"The relationship is in a very bad place right now," said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund.

The suspension Friday of bilateral military and maritime dialogue while China continues its military exercises was "particularly worrisome", she said. 

"We don't know what else they will do," she said. "We just don't know if this is just a temporary thing."

John Culver, a former CIA Asia analyst, said in a discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that Beijing's main purpose with its military exercises was to change that status quo.

"I think that this is the new normal," Culver said. 

"The Chinese want to show... that a line has been crossed by the speaker's visit."