In the midst of military exercises in retaliation for the visit of Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, China this Friday (5th) promoted the largest air mobilization in its history in the strait that separates the mainland from the island that it promises to integrate into its territory.
According to the Taipei Defense Ministry, 68 Chinese fighter jets were in the air in the region, and “some of them” crossed the so-called Median Line, an unofficial border of airspace that divides the Taiwan Strait. The previous record was 52 aircraft last October, but on that occasion they all invaded the area that the island patrols.
Taiwanese fighter jets were deployed to intercept the invaders, as they do almost weekly. On Wednesday (3), before the start of the exercises, at least 22 planes had crossed the air border.
At the same time, the Chinese military carried out naval maneuvers using live ammunition to the north, southwest and east of the island, effectively blocking maritime traffic. In the strait, 13 vessels sailed close to the Median Line.
Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, made a controversial trip to Taipei on Tuesday (2) and Wednesday (3). She met with island officials and reiterated American support for local democracy, the first such visit in 25 years.
Beijing had warned that it considered Pelosi’s departure a violation of its sovereignty, noting that despite supporting Taiwan militarily, Washington recognizes Chinese rights over the island as it has maintained diplomatic relations with the communist dictatorship since 1979.
Such ambiguity is put to the test, with Beijing announcing sanctions on Pelosi and cutting some items from the bilateral cooperation agenda. It is the most acute crisis between the two largest economic powers in the world since the so-called Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, which occurred in the wake of the then-president of the island’s trip to the US in 1995.
The point is that China now has previously unheard-of political, economic and military muscle, and has been experiencing Cold War 2.0 since 2017 in various fields with the US. Pelosi’s visit gave Beijing ideal justification for flexing them, even if the US says there is no reason to.
The exercises around Taiwan are a sort of dress rehearsal of a naval air blockade that could be done without the human cost of a territorial invasion, subjugating Taipei. It is one of the hypotheses on the table in Beijing, which has the incorporation of the island as a national priority.
For leader Xi Jinping, the crisis serves as a ladder to assert power as he prepares to be reappointed for a new term in November. Since 1982, re-election by the Politburo of the Communist Party was only allowed once, but Xi changed the rule in 2018, making it possible to perpetuate himself in power and even enthroning his name in the country’s Constitution.
Xi faces a serious economic crisis, so the international show of force also has diversionary properties. The military exercises are scheduled to end at 12 pm on Sunday (1 am in Brasília). The Taiwan crisis runs parallel to the Ukraine War, in which China politically backs its ally Vladimir Putin against Kiev and the West.
Taiwan is on high military alert, and the US maintains ships, including an aircraft carrier, in the region, and has deployed B-2 stealth bombers to Australia.