The Chinese announce four days of air and naval exercises near the “rogue” island. Three exclusion zones encroach on Taiwan’s territorial waters. Pelosi’s decision has put Xi Jinping in an awkward position: the Chinese president must appease the wrath of Chinese nationalists. Escalation risk.
Rome () – Four days of naval and missile exercises in six maritime areas near Taiwan, where the passage of unauthorized ships and aircraft is prohibited. Communist China’s “strong” and “determined” response to the visit to Taipei by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is a technical test of a military blockade: one of the options that China handles in a possible scenario of invasion of the island, which Beijing considers a “rebellious” province that must be reconquered even by force.
The military exercises should begin tomorrow, when Pelosi has left Taiwan. The arrival yesterday in Taipei of the Democratic leader – number three in the hierarchy of power in Washington – provoked the inevitable reaction of the Chinese, who speak of interference in their sovereign affairs. Xi Jinping’s threat in his recent virtual meeting with Joe Biden (“he who plays with fire ends up getting burned”) does not seem to have materialized, at least for the moment.
As several analysts have pointed out, by announcing the upcoming exercises, China has made the most provocative move in more than 20 years, since it fired missiles near Taiwan in 1996 to coincide with the first local presidential elections. Nathan Ruser, of the Australian Institute of Strategic Policy, points out that, according to the canons of the United Nations, the Chinese operations of the next few days can fall under the definition of “state of aggression”. Three of the six interdiction zones reported by the Chinese press invade the territorial waters of Taiwan (see photo 2).
However, Beijing has so far avoided taking more threatening actions, such as intercepting the plane carrying Pelosi, which would have created an instant crisis with the US.
In these situations, the greatest risk is always that of an accident due to a miscalculation by one of the parties involved. One of the designated areas for the Chinese exercises is less than 20 kilometers from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city. Not far from the area, sailing through the Philippine Sea, is the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan with its battle group; in northern Taiwan, near Okinawa, Washington has also deployed the USS Tripoli amphibious ship.
The Chinese could increase the pressure on Taipei in the coming weeks. In addition to military maneuvers, Beijing has imposed sanctions on the Taiwanese agri-food sector. Other prohibitions on imports from the island are not ruled out, but the main fear of the Taiwanese is that the Chinese Armed Forces begin to systematically violate the “median line” that informally divides the Taiwan Strait, in an attempt by China to make it a reality. its claim that those waters are under its national sovereignty and not “international”.
Washington and Beijing have placed themselves in a position where the current state of high tension is inevitable. Biden had said that he did not agree with Pelosi’s trip (or at least pretended to be), but in the face of Chinese threats, Washington could not take a step back: it would have risked appearing weak in the face of its allies and partners in the region.
For his part, Xi must always respond to the nationalist fringe of the regime and the population: Pelosi’s decision has placed him in an uncomfortable position and the order to carry out military exercises is the least that could be expected. However, introducing Chinese ships and aircraft into Taiwan’s territorial waters and airspace would constitute a dangerous escalation.
(Photo 2, Focus Taiwan and Xinhua)