China said on Saturday that it was conducting military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, after Beijing warned Washington of severe consequences if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were to visit Taiwan during her upcoming tour of Asia.
The ruling Communist Party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army, was conducting "live-fire exercises" near the Pingtan islands off Fujian province from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., the official Xinhua News Agency said. The Maritime Safety Administration warned ships to avoid the area.
The announcement didn't reveal any information about whether the drills would involve just artillery or also missiles, fighter planes and other weapons.
Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has pledged to "unify" it with the mainland — by force if necessary.
Last week, Pelosi said it was "important for us to show support for Taiwan," during a speech in the US Congress.
Washington has so far neither confirmed nor denied reports about Pelosi's visit. If she travels to Taiwan, she would be the highest-ranking US elected official to visit the self-governing democratic island since 1997.
Tensions between US and China
The US does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but maintains close unofficial relations with Taipei.
Washington continues to sell military gear to Taiwan for self-defense, even though Beijing has repeatedly warned not to do so. US Navy warships also regularly sail through the Taiwan Strait to project American military power in the region.
The US says its goal is to ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. To this end, it wants to maintain the status quo.
President Joe Biden has said the US would come to Taiwan's defense if China attacked.
In a phone call on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Biden that "those who play with fire will eventually get burned," referring to US support for Taipei.
Such rhetoric "is a warning for the Americans, but it should also be a warning for the Chinese government," Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, told DW.
"By increasing that kind of rhetoric, they are putting themselves in a situation that when Pelosi visits Taiwan, the Chinese military may have to take some actions which will require the Americans to respond, and that puts it on an escalatory path that nobody wants. It's not in anyone's interests," he said.
Tsang stressed a trip by Pelosi to Taiwan under the current circumstances would not be the best of ideas.
"I think she should not have planned for this visit to begin with because it doesn't really add that much to Taiwan or US-Taiwan relations," Tsang said, adding: "But now that she has said that she was going to go or indicate that she would go and the Chinese government has come out blackmailing the United States, it becomes very difficult for the United States government to back off under Chinese pressure, because doing so will create a moral hazard. So she may well end up having to go."
In recent months, China has been increasingly sending its fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft near Taiwan, while also dispatching warships through the Taiwan Strait in a show of force.
China and Taiwan have been separated since 1949, when the Chinese civil war ended with the victory of the Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong.
The governments in Beijing and Taipei say they are one country but disagree over which is entitled to national leadership.
tg/sri (AFP, Reuters)