South China Sea: Chinese maneuvers off Taiwan coast in response to possible Pelosi visit to Taipei

"Exercises with sharp fire".

South China Sea: Chinese maneuvers off Taiwan coast in response to possible Pelosi visit to Taipei

"Exercises with sharp fire". This is what the Chinese government is calling what it is holding this weekend at the Formosa Strait (Taiwan Strait), the strait between the South and East China Seas (see map below). What exactly the Chinese army is planning to do off the Pingtan Islands is unclear. Are artillery used, fighter planes or rockets? Beijing is silent on this – as are Western secret services.

But one thing is clear: the announced "live fire" should primarily be a warning shot - at Taiwan and also in the direction of Washington.

The background is once again Taiwan's controversial status: Beijing sees the democratically governed island as an "inseparable part of Chinese territory," while the Taiwan government has interpreted it as a sovereign state since the Chinese state was founded in 1949. Around the world, just over a dozen countries maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, including none in North America, Asia and, with the exception of the Holy See, in Europe. De facto, however, Taiwan is considered independent of mainland China.

China has a long tradition of threatening gestures towards Taiwan and they are always aimed at the United States, which sees itself as Taiwan's protecting power. In October, President Joe Biden assured the country of 23 million people military support in the event of a Chinese attack, and the US naval presence in the region was recently increased again. In addition, the United States is supplying armaments to Taiwan. Russia recently made it clear that it is on China's side in the conflict. The region threatens to become another arena of the old East-West confrontation after Ukraine.

The Chinese leadership feels provoked by the US role. The current maneuver is further evidence of this. It is apparently intended to prevent Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, from traveling to the Taiwanese capital, Taipei. There has been speculation for days about such a visit as part of a trip to Asia by the politician. As Chair of the House of Representatives, Democrat Pelosi holds the third-highest office in the United States and is likely to travel to Taiwan in a military plane. This would be seen as an affront by Beijing, Chinese head of state and party leader Xi Jinping recently made clear in a more than two-hour phone call to US President Joe Biden: "Those who play with fire will perish. I hope that the US side understands this correctly," Xi said in the statement, according to the Foreign Ministry. According to the AFP news agency, Beijing threatened "significant consequences" if Pelosi traveled to Taiwan. Against this background, the military maneuver can hardly be read as anything other than a warning.

Will the US be impressed by this? Of course not officially. But is Pelosi actually making a flying visit to Taiwan? This Sunday, her office gave the first information about the Asia trip. The seven-strong delegation will travel to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Taiwan was expressly not mentioned. The office did not provide any information on Taiwan. President Biden had previously said of a possible visit to Taiwan by Pelosi: "I think the military doesn't think it's a good idea at the moment."

Despite the tentative signals of relaxation from Washington, muscle flexing in the region continues. The Chinese Air Force flew patrols near Taiwan. Spokesman Shen Jinke underscored that the Air Force "has the firm will, full confidence and sufficient capabilities to defend China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity," as quoted by the People's Daily party organ, according to the DPA news agency. And in the South China Sea, the aircraft carrier "USS Ronald Reagan" is cruising. The US military spoke of a long-planned trip and "routine patrol".

In Taiwan itself, however, people are certain of the permanent threat - regardless of the signals coming from Beijing or Washington. There it is routine for the military to prepare for a possible landing of Chinese troops. Most recently, the army launched a five-day exercise by the navy, army and air force to ward off simulated attacks from China.

Because one big question looms over everything: Is China willing, in already turbulent times, to risk a conflict on its own doorstep? It may also depend on the strength and diplomatic skills of the US.

Sources: "Politico", message Nancy Pelosi, news agencies DPA and AFP

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