Chinese and Taiwanese warships have shadowed each other in the hours before the scheduled end of four days of unprecedented Chinese military exercises launched in response to a visit by the US House of Representatives speaker to Taiwan.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governing island last week enraged China, which responded by launching ballistic missile tests over the capital Taipei and cutting some ties with the United States.
About 10 each warships from China and Taiwan sailed at close range in the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, with some Chinese ships crossing the center line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
As Chinese forces “harassed” the line as they did on Saturday, the Taiwanese side stayed close to patrol the line and, where possible, deny the Chinese the ability to cross it.
“Both sides are showing restraint,” the person said, describing the maneuvers as “cat and mouse.”
“One side tries to cross and the other gets in the way, forcing them into a more disadvantaged position and eventually returning to the other side.”
Taiwan said its land-based anti-ship missiles and Patriot surface-to-air missiles are on standby.
The Chinese drills, centered on six zones around the island, began on Thursday and were scheduled to last until Sunday noon. China’s military said Saturday it was conducting joint sea and air exercises north, southwest and east of Taiwan, with a focus on testing land attack and sea attack 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 increase the risk of misjudgment,” said a White House spokesman.
“They also run counter to our longstanding goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which the world awaits.”
China halted communications through various channels with the United States as part of its response to Pelosi’s visit, including between military theater commands and on climate change.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of taking “irresponsible” steps, shifting from prioritizing a peaceful solution to the use of force.
Taiwan’s military said Saturday the Chinese ships and planes taking part in the drills were conducting a simulated attack on the island, which China claims as its territory.
Taiwan’s defense ministry later said its forces scrambled jets to fend off 20 Chinese planes, including 14 that crossed the center line. It also spotted 14 Chinese ships conducting cross-strait activities.
The ministry released a photo showing Taiwanese sailors closely watching a nearby Chinese ship.
Taiwan’s forces on Friday fired flares to repel drones flying over the Kinmen Islands and unidentified planes flying over the Matsu Islands. Both groups of islands lie near the coast of China.
“China’s military exercises have unilaterally changed the current situation in the region and seriously damaged the peace in the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said.
Pelosi, a long-time China critic and political ally of President Joe Biden, arrived late Tuesday, despite Chinese warnings, for the high-level visit of an American official to the island for decades. She said her visit demonstrated the US’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s democracy.
“The world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy,” she said. She also emphasized that her trip “was not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region.”
Taiwan has been self-governing since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists seized power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang nationalists in a civil war, prompting their withdrawal to the island.
China says its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter and it reserves the right to seize control of the island by force if necessary. Taiwan dismisses China’s claims, saying only Taiwan’s people can decide its future.
Visiting the Philippines, Blinken said the United States had heard concerns from allies about China’s dangerous and destabilizing actions, but Washington had tried to avoid escalating the situation.
He said China’s suspension of bilateral dialogue on eight key areas would punish the world.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Blinken was spreading “misinformation,” adding, “We want to warn the United States: don’t act hastily, don’t create a bigger crisis.”
China has not mentioned a pause in military talks at the highest levels, including with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. Although these talks were infrequent, officials said they are important in an emergency.