Taipei has warned that China could use military drills around the island to establish control over the entire Taiwan Strait, impeding international shipping and air traffic and strengthening Beijing’s efforts to deny the US military access to the area.
The warning from foreign minister Joseph Wu came as the People’s Liberation Army said it was extending joint air and naval exercises around Taiwan on Tuesday for a second day. The live-fire drills, which were called in retaliation to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei last week, were originally scheduled to last for four days ending Sunday.
“China has openly declared its ownership over the Taiwan Strait,” Wu said. “It aims to influence the international community’s freedom of navigation in the waters and airspace of the Taiwan Strait by denying the status quo that it is an international waterway.”
China’s military response to Pelosi’s two-day Taiwan visit, which was part of a wider trip to Asia last week, has prompted concerns over the long-term security of global logistics and supply chains in the region, one of the most important trade routes in the world.
Beijing and Washington have accused each other of trying to change the status quo over Taiwan. Under its “one China” policy, the US recognises Beijing as the sole government of China but only acknowledges Beijing’s view that Taiwan is part of China.
“Although China seems to be targeting Taiwan now, its activities around the world have shown that its motivation is far beyond Taiwan,” foreign minister Wu said.
“China is now determined to link the East and South China Seas through the Taiwan Strait so that this entire area becomes its internal waters,” he said. “And its intentions are not likely to stop there.
He said the PLA had crossed the “first island chain” — the archipelagos around east Asia that include Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines — to conduct military exercises multiple times in recent years,
In the South China Sea, China often tries to enforce its claim to contested waters and islands against its neighbours by using militarised artificial islands that it has built over the past decade.
In the East China Sea, Beijing regularly challenges Japan’s control over the contested Senkaku Islands by sailing coast guard ships into their territorial waters.
Wu suggested that Beijing’s activity in the Taiwan Strait could only be stopped if neighbouring nations teamed up with the US to assert freedom of navigation rights by sailing warships through the area.
His alarm followed statements from Chinese military commentators that the drills had succeeded in “obliterating” the median line in the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial buffer zone the PLA respected in the past but has sent fighters and warships across dozens of times in the past few days.
The commentators added that the PLA would establish regular operations on Taiwan’s side of the line. The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday called the exercise area “waters around China’s own territory”.
Chinese military officials have told their US counterparts in recent months that the Taiwan Strait was not international waters.
US president Joe Biden said on Monday: “I’m concerned they are moving as much as they are. But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more.”
Colin Kahl, under-secretary of defence for policy, told reporters that the US would “not take the bait” of Chinese attempts to coerce the international community.
“Our forces in the region will continue to operate, to fly, to sail wherever international waters allow. That includes the Taiwan Strait,” he said, adding that the US military could be expected to sail through the Taiwan Strait as usual in the coming weeks.
Taiwan began a routine shooting drill in Pingtung, the island’s southernmost county, on Tuesday. Soldiers fired howitzers towards the waters of the Taiwan Strait, practising fighting back against a Chinese invasion.