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(Bloomberg) -- Taiwan said China’s military drills on Saturday appeared to be simulating an attack on its main island, as Chinese warplanes and warships crossed the strait’s median line in a continued show of force.
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China is engaging in increasingly destabilizing action, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters, saying he has communicated this to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. Blinken said tensions between the US and China need to be de-escalated and he told Wang that lines of communications between the two sides must be kept open.
The People’s Liberation Army said it conducted live-fire drills in the sea and airspace of northern, southwestern, and eastern Taiwan as planned on Saturday. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it detected 20 PLA warplanes and 14 warships around the Taiwan Strait as of 5 p.m. local time.
Taiwan said its army monitored the situation with the Patriot missile system, and sent air patrols and naval ships. Chinese drills are unilaterally changing the regional status quo and sabotaging peace in the Taiwan Strait, it said.
China is carrying out its most provocative military drills in decades in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan this week. It has also likely fired missiles over the island of 23 million people, sent warships across the Taiwan Strait’s median line and waves of warplanes across the US-defined boundary.
The US, Japan and Australia in a joint statement condemned China’s missile launches, urged an immediate stop to its military drills and backed “the region’s desire for diplomacy to avoid the risks of miscalculation.” Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa met earlier in Phnom Penh in a sign of support for a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to the statement.
Beijing has denounced the visit by Pelosi as a violation of the US pledge 50 years ago not to formally recognize the government of Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. It announced on Friday a set of measures including cutting off defense talks with the US, further deteriorating relations between the world’s biggest economies.
“Maintaining dialogue is arguably even more important when we’re in period of heightened tensions,” Blinken said in a briefing in Manila. China’s actions against the US on Friday are “another irresponsible step,” he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also announced unspecified sanctions against Pelosi and her immediate family over what it said was her “egregious provocation.” Although largely symbolic, the move makes the House speaker the highest-ranking American official sanctioned by Beijing. The action was announced shortly after Pelosi left Japan after wrapping up her dramatic week-long trip.
Blinken said Friday that China is choosing to “overreact” to Pelosi’s visit, adding there was “no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response.” He reiterated those views in the press briefing on Saturday.
“The differences between Taiwan and the mainland need to be resolved peacefully,” said Blinken, who earlier stopped in Phnom Penh for a regional meeting of foreign ministers. “Countries throughout the region and around the world are very concerned about that.”
Taiwan’s military warned off drones flying over restricted waters surrounding its outer islands late Friday, the third consecutive day such incidents occurred. Earlier this week, it said Chinese army drones were flying near some of the islands.
China’s military exercises are making ships think twice about heading into one of Taiwan’s most important ports, creating potential delays for shipments of electronic goods. Ship owners, worried about the possibility of missile strikes, are choosing to idle vessels and burn extra fuel until the drills pass.
Ships are dropping anchor at sea to avoid a drill zone located just outside Kaohsiung port in the south of Taiwan, said Jayendu Krishna, deputy head of consultancy Drewry Maritime Advisors. The zone, one of the largest areas where China is carrying out exercises, is 15 nautical miles away from the entrance of the port.
The Taiwan Strait is a key route for supply chains, with almost half of the global container fleet passing through the waterway this year. While vessels are continuing to travel through the strait during the military exercises, they are navigating around the drill zones. The Taiwanese Maritime & Port Bureau on Thursday told ships to avoid designated areas around the island until Aug. 8 in waters to the east of the island.
China will practice live weapon firing in the southern part of the Yellow Sea, according to the Maritime Safety Administration in the eastern Chinese city of Lianyungang in Jiangsu province. The drills will last for ten days from Aug. 6-15, it said.
Alongside military exercises, China has imposed trade restrictions on Taiwan. It suspended some fish and fruit imports, citing excessive pesticide residue detected on products since last year and some frozen fish packages that tested positive for coronavirus in June. Exports of natural sand, used in construction, were also banned.
China is moving to tighten the enforcement of existing rules on imports from Taiwan, according to people familiar with the matter. Products labeled as originated from the R.O.C., or the “Republic of China,” won’t be allowed entry to the mainland China market, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing sensitive matters. Beijing objects to Taiwan’s use of “Republic of China” as its official designation because it considers the self-governing democracy part of its territory.
China Tightening Label Rules on Goods From Taiwan, Sources Say
One of the people said China’s labeling rules for Taiwanese imports were first announced in 2015 but had not been strictly enforced until this week. That risk is that products are confiscated unless companies change their labeling to comply with the regulations, the person said, although they expected the overall impact to be modest for now as firms were likely to adjust their packaging quickly.
China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade rising 26% on year to $328.3 billion in 2021. Taiwan held a sizable surplus against China, with exports from the island exceeding imports by $172 billion, according to Chinese customs data. While Beijing could leverage that advantage by sanctioning exporters, China also relies on Taiwan for semiconductor supplies.
(Updates with joint statement by US, Australia and Japan in sixth paragraph.)
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