China announces three exercises in South China Sea as Taiwan issue sparks tensions

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In a regional showdown, China announced three near-simultaneous military exercises in the South China Sea between July 27 and 31, just as reports emerged that US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her Asia-Pacific mission on July 29. tour could begin.

The Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) has issued three navigation warnings: GD70/22, GD71/22, GD73/22 advising ships to enter three designated areas in the South China Sea during periods beginning July 27 and ending July 31.

A navigational warning is a public warning to mariners about changes to navigation aids and current maritime activities or hazards, including military exercises.

Coordinates provided by the Guangdong MSA show three areas close to mainland China, but one of them is only about 150 miles (240 km) from Pratas Island, claimed by both the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, but controlled by Taipei.

Prior to these exercises, the Chinese military held two consecutive exercises on July 16-20 and July 20-22, also in the South China Sea. One of them covered an area of ​​nearly 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles).

China often holds short-term military exercises as a form of protest in response to US naval activities and political developments Beijing deems “hostile.”

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The unusually high frequency of exercises this month shows that tensions between China and the US have increased over Pelosi’s reported visit to Taiwan and the presence of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea.

Six warnings

China has reacted strongly to the rumor tour that, if confirmed, would be the first visit by a US house speaker to Taiwan since 1997.

In his phone call with US President Joe Biden on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Washington against “playing with fire” over Taiwan.

“If you play with fire, you will only burn. I hope the US is clear on this,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying during the phone call.

Prior to the Xi-Biden meeting, several Chinese government agencies had already issued at least six official warnings against the visit, with the Department of Defense on Thursday threatening that “actions are the best answer.”

Countries in the region are closely monitoring these latest developments, said Shahriman Lockman, director of the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).

“The concern here is how China would retaliate if Pelosi visited Taiwan,” Lockman said.

“If that retaliation took place in the South China Sea, perhaps in the form of deploying fighter jets on the Spratlys, [a disputed island chain]for other countries, it would underline the growing risks of US-China rivalry,” he said.

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US media reported that Nancy Pelosi, the third-highest figure in the US political system, was set to leave on an Asia-Pacific tour on Friday.

Both Bloomberg and NBC quoted anonymous sources as saying the tour would take Pelosi to some US allies in the region, including Japan and Singapore, but whether she would make a stop in Taiwan remained “unclear”.

Some leading US China experts have called on the US House Speaker to postpone any visit to Taiwan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at the Capitol in Washington on July 21, 2022. US officials say they have little fear that China would attack Pelosi’s plane if she flies to Taiwan. CREDIT: TBEN

Avoid confrontation

Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the United States’ German Marshall Fund and Zack Cooper, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the New York Times that the event would be seen by Beijing as “a serious provocation”.

“Chinese leaders may be willing to risk an escalation, such as challenging Ms Pelosi’s plane or flying military aircraft directly over Taiwan for the first time,” they said.

“Leaders from all sides must wake up and find exits to avoid a dangerous confrontation that neither side wants,” the two analysts said, arguing that a crisis in the Taiwan Strait left the island in a very difficult situation. would bring.

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Shahriman Lockman of ISIS in Malaysia suggested that should Pelosi decide to skip Taiwan, the Americans “could try to present this as a demonstration of restraint and maturity.”

“I think there’s a good middle ground for Pelosi to call Tsai Ing-wen from Japan so that she doesn’t have to visit Taiwan, but at the same time can show her support,” Lockman said.

The US does not maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province, but is legally obliged to provide the island with defense capabilities.

During his talk with the Chinese leader on Thursday, Biden made it clear that Washington “strongly opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” according to a White House press release.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen’s office Friday thanked Biden for his continued support Central Press Agency reported.

“The Presidential Palace expresses its gratitude… and looks forward to China’s shared responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the report said.

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