TAIPEI – Chinese and Taiwanese warships played high-seas “cat and mouse” on Sunday (Aug 7), hours before the scheduled end of four days of unprecedented Chinese military exercises launched in reaction to a visit to Taiwan by the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week.
Pelosi’s visit infuriated China, which responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over the self-rule island for the first time and the cutting of communication links with the United States.
China regards Taiwan as a renagade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy.
On Sunday, some 10 warships each from China and Taiwan sailed at close quarters in the Taiwan Strait, with some Chinese vessels crossing the median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
As Chinese forces “pressed” the line, as they did on Saturday, the Taiwan side stayed close to monitor and, where possible, deny the Chinese the ability to cross.
“The two sides are showing restraint, the person said, describing the manoeuvres as high seas “cat and mouse”.
“One side tries to cross, and the other stands in the way and forces them to a more disadvantaged position and eventually return to the other side.”
Taiwan said its shore-based anti-ship missiles and its Patriot surface -to-air-missiles were on stand-by. Its defence ministry said it had sent aircraft and ships to “appropriately” react to the drills around the island.
Multiple Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones continued to conduct joint drills near Taiwan on Sunday morning, simulating attacks on Taiwan and Taiwanese navy ships, the self-ruled island’s defence ministry said in a news release.
The Chinese exercises, centred on six locations around the island, began on Thursday and are scheduled to last until mid-day on Sunday.
China’s military said on Saturday it was conducting sea and air joint exercises north, south-west and east of Taiwan with a focus on testing land-strike and sea-assault capabilities.
The US called the exercises an escalation.
“These activities are a significant escalation in China’s efforts to change the status quo. They are provocative, irresponsible and raise the risk of miscalculation,” a White House spokesperson said.
“They are also at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is what the world expects.”
China halted communication through various channels with the United States as part of its response to Pelosi’s visit, including between military theatre commands and on climate change.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of taking “irresponsible” steps and moving away from prioritising peaceful resolution towards the use of force.
Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang said on Sunday that China had “arrogantly” used military actions to disrupt regional peace and stability.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Su called on Beijing to not flex its military muscles, and condemned “foreign enemies” he said were attempting to sap the morale of the Taiwanese people through cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.
Taiwan’s military on Saturday said the Chinese ships and planes taking part in the drills were conducting a simulated attack on the island that China claims as its territory.
Taiwan’s defence ministry later said its forces scrambled jets to warn away 20 Chinese aircraft, including 14 that crossed the median line. It also detected 14 Chinese ships conducting activity around the Taiwan Strait.
The ministry released a photograph showing Taiwanese sailors closely watching a nearby Chinese vessel.
Taiwan’s forces on Friday fired flares to warn away drones flying over its Kinmen islands and unidentified aircraft flying over its Matsu islands. Both island groups are close to China’s coast.
“China’s military drills have unilaterally changed the current situation in the region and seriously damaged the peace in the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said.
‘Don’t act rashly’
Pelosi, a long-time China critic and a political ally of US President Joe Biden, arrived in Taiwan late on Tuesday on the highest-level visit to the island by an American official in decades, despite Chinese warnings. She said her visit showed unwavering US commitment to supporting Taiwan’s democracy.
“The world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy,”she said. She also stressed that her trip was “not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region”.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang nationalists in a civil war, prompting their retreat to the island.
China says its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter and it reserves the right to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary. Taiwan rejects China’s claims saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
Speaking during a visit to the Philippines, Blinken said the United States had been hearing concern from allies about what he called China’s dangerous and destabilising actions but Washington sought to avoid escalating the situation.
He said China’s cessation of bilateral dialogue in eight key areas were moves that would punish the world.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a media briefing on Friday that Blinken was spreading “misinformation”, adding: “We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis.”
China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important in the case of an emergency.
Japan’s defence ministry said last seek that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone.