On Tuesday, as US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expected to reach Taiwan, Reuters, citing an unnamed US official, reported that a number of Chinese warplanes were spotted flying dangerously close to the median line which divides the Taiwan Strait.
In addition, China is also positioning warships in and around the Strait, Reuters reported.
It is feared that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or flying sorties into the island’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.
The source told Reuters that both Chinese warships and aircraft “squeezed” the median line on Tuesday morning, an unusual move the person described as “very provocative.”
The person said the Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly “touching” the median line and circling back to the other side of the strait on Tuesday morning, while Taiwanese aircraft were on standby nearby.
While Beijing has, over the past two years, steadily increased the number of military aircraft that conduct sorties in the vicinity of Taiwan, neither side’s aircraft normally cross the median line.
US forces position themselves
Meanwhile, the US military is also making moves in the region; positioning its available forces for a possible showdown, in what is shaping up to be the most serious cross-strait crisis since 1996.
A US Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, along with the cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins left Singapore after a port visit and moved north to their homeport in Japan. The carrier has an array of aircraft, including F/A-18 fighter jets and helicopters, on board as well as sophisticated radar systems and other weapons.
Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step US leaders say they don’t support.
Pelosi, head of one of three branches of the US government, would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Tensions ratchet up
Pelosi kicked off her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday, but her purported visit to Taiwan has sparked jitters in the region.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “highlighted the importance of stable US-China relations for regional peace and security” during talks with Pelosi, the city-state’s foreign ministry said.
This was echoed by Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo, who said stable ties between the two rival powers “are extremely important for the international community as well.”
The Philippines urged the US and China to be “responsible actors” in the region.
“It is important for the US and China to ensure continuing communication to avoid any miscalculation and further escalation of tensions,” said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza.
China has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation, with the Communist regime in Beijing being the sole legitimate government.