Biden ‘concerned’ as China extends military drills around Taiwan
TAIPEI — China announced new military drills around Taiwan on Monday, eliciting concern from US President Joe Biden, a day after the scheduled end of Beijing’s largest exercises to protest last week’s visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations – confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would keep pressure on Taiwan’s defenses.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry condemned the move, saying China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own, was deliberately creating crises. It demanded Beijing stop its military actions and “pull back from the edge.”
“In the face of military intimidation created by China, Taiwan will not be afraid nor back down, and will more firmly defend its sovereignty, national security, and free and democratic way of life,” the ministry said in a statement.
Biden, in his first public comments on the issue since Pelosi’s visit, said he was not worried about Taiwan but was concerned about China’s actions in the region.
“I’m concerned they are moving as much as they are,” Biden told reporters in Delaware. “But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more than they are.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later condemned China’s drills.
“We’ve been condemning them since they started escalating,” Jean-Pierre said. “They are provocative, irresponsible, and raise the risk of miscalculation. And that’s what he — the president — was referring to.”
Visit angers China
Pelosi’s visit infuriated China, which responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as by ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington, including theatre military talks and on climate change.
Counter narcotics cooperation on illicit fentanyl trafficking was among the channels Beijing suspended, a move the head of US drug control policy Rahul Gupta on Monday called “unacceptable.”
The duration and precise location of the latest drills are not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had detected 39 Chinese air force planes and 13 navy ships in and around the Taiwan Strait on Monday. Twenty-one Chinese air force planes had entered Taiwan’s air defense zone, including fighter jets that crossed the median line in the northern part of the Taiwan Strait, the ministry said.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned of the potential for miscalculation over tensions in the Taiwan Strait, which he said were unlikely to ease soon amid deep suspicion and limited engagement between the United States and China.
“Around us, a storm is gathering. US-China relations are worsening, with intractable issues, deep suspicions, and limited engagement,” Lee said in a televised address on the eve of the city-state’s national day.
Shortly before the latest drills were announced, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, telling him she was moved by his determination to visit despite China’s military pressure.
“Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us,” Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.
The Caribbean country is one of only around a dozen nations to have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and not China.
It was unclear if Tsai had invited Gonsalves before or after Pelosi’s visit. “We don’t disclose internal planning or communications between governments,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said when asked by Reuters.
Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets, and drones maneuvered extensively around the island.
Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan maneuvered at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.
A Chinese state television commentator said late on Sunday that the Chinese military would now conduct “regular” drills on the Taiwan side of the line.
Military talks shelved
In Taipei, defense ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang told reporters that Taiwan’s armed forces had “calmly” handled the Chinese drills. Earlier, the ministry had said the drills had used warships, aircraft, and drones to simulate attacks on the island and its navy.
China’s designated no-fly zones, and crossings of the median line, have “compressed” Taiwan’s training space and will affect the normal operation of international flights and air routes in the future, the ministry said in a statement.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday that China was conducting normal military exercises “in our own waters” in an open, transparent, and professional way, adding that Taiwan was part of China.
China’s defense ministry meanwhile maintained its diplomatic pressure on the United States, defending its shelving of some military-to-military talks.
“The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the US side on its own initiative, and the US side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in an online post.
“The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity,” Wu said.
The White House has said the United States has done nothing to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, and that China is using Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to ramp up pressure on Taiwan.
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