Wednesday, 5 October, 2022
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Chinese nationalists ask Beijing how come Pelosi plane to Taiwan wasn’t shot down

Experts say China had to react to Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan visit with military exercise because domestic sentiment demanded leaders match words with action.

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Chinese nationalists outrage over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Lines of crisis communication between the US and China shut. India and China hold a special round of talks over the PLA’s air violations. A lot of events unfolded in Taiwan Strait this past week, and Chinascope gives you a one-stop dive into everything that changed our world.

China over the week

The nationalist sentiments in China reached a new high as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen. Chinese social media mockingly described Pelosi as an “old lady” and blamed Taipei for allegedly lobbying to invite Pelosi.

Angry Chinese nationalists sought a response from the Beijing government as people commented on social media how Pelosi could land in Taiwan since the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would have just shot down her plane.

As soon as Pelosi departed from Taipei, the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command launched a military exercise around Taiwan, which appeared like a simulated attack. The hashtag “The Eastern Theater has started a series of joint military operations” was viewed 530 million times on Weibo.

Multiple Chinese political bodies and the military issued statements condemning Pelosi’s visit and ‘eroding the consensus of One-China policy’.

Military experts described the PLA exercise as power projection to demonstrate China’s capability to attack Taipei in the future. The PLA Rocket Force launched 11 ballistic missiles, including DF-15B missiles, which fell in areas north, northeast, south, southeast and the eastern flank of the Taiwanese Islands. Taiwanese public wondered why their military didn’t use the Patriot anti-ballistic missile system to shoot down DF-15B. But PLA Rocket Force’s 11 ballistic missiles didn’t travel over Taiwanese airspace to trigger a response by a Patriot battery.

Missiles continued to fly close to Taiwan’s airspace on Saturday. The PLA broadcast the entire military exercise through videos of jets flying close to Taiwanese territory, missiles flying into Taiwan Strait and the PLA Navy crossing the median line. The military propaganda is part of Beijing’s deterrence strategy vis-à-vis Taiwan and neighbouring countries.

Five ballistic missiles landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, raising concerns among Japanese defence officials about the potential impact of PLA’s war gaming on actual Taiwan contingency.

The PLA also demonstrated precision strike capability by launching long-range guided strikes with WS-03A multiple rocket launcher systems (MRLS) and the PHL-16 rocket system. The rockets were launched from Pingtan Island in Fujian and landed in the waters west of Taiwan.

Besides the power projection of sea and land, the air intrusions were ramped up by the PLA.

A total of over 207 PLA aircraft have entered Taiwan’s ADIZ since 2 August, crossing the ‘median line’ between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, considered the artificial defence barrier between the two.

A PLA expert described the purpose of the exercise as the ‘reunification’ of Taiwan with the mainland.

“In the final analysis, the exercise creates conditions for the early realisation of national reunification in the future,” said Meng Xiangqing, professor at the National Defense University, during a widely watched Chinese state television broadcast.

The rising nationalist sentiment over Pelosi’s visit to Taipei sent the social media trends off the charts on the mainland. The hashtag “PLA will launch a series of targeted military operations” was viewed 2.5 billion times on Weibo. Another hashtag, “Only One China” was viewed over 2 billion times in the past few days.

Besides the military exercise, Taiwan’s critical digital networks were hit by cyber attacks attributed to addresses originating in China and Russia.

Beijing took a series of actions to express its distaste over Pelosi’s visit. PRC’s General Administration of Customs suspended the import of 100 Taiwanese goods, including items such as tea leaves, dried fruits, honey, cocoa beans, vegetables and others. Imposing an economic cost on Taiwan is a playbook we have seen before in Beijing’s difficult relations with the US and Australia.

The Chinese foreign ministry has cancelled China-US Theatre Commanders Talk, China-US Defense Policy Coordination Talks and the China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings. The ministry has also announced the suspension of US-China cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants, cooperation on legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation against transnational crimes, counternarcotics cooperation, and talks on climate change.

There is concern about the possibility of further accidental escalation as phone lines between the two countries’ officials have gone cold. High-ranking Chinese military officials didn’t pick up US Secretary of Defence Llyod Austin’s phone calls on Friday.

The current state of strained US-China relations is likely to last months before both sides agree to a new status quo over Taiwan.

The situation looked far from settled on Sunday when the PLA exercises were due to end. Approximately ten warships from PRC and Taiwanese sides sailed in close quarters in the Taiwan Strait with some PRC vessels crossing the median line.

“The recent coercion from PRC’s drills around us aimed to change the status quo of Taiwan Strait, violated our sovereignty, and caused tension in the Indo-Pacific region. ROC Armed Forces seek no escalation, but we succumb to no challenges and respond with reason,” said Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence in a tweet.

President Tsai gave a special address to the Taiwanese people calling Beijing’s live fire drills ‘irresponsible’. “We strive to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, and always keep an open mind for constructive dialogues,” said Tsai.

Even Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang Party, which has sought to establish ties with Beijing, condemned the military exercise surrounding Taiwan.

Despite the flurry of commentary on Chinese social media and the rise in rhetoric on Chinese state television, the newspapers only gave brief coverage of the military exercises around Taiwan.

Experts are of the view that Beijing had to react to the Pelosi visit, with an extensive military exercise, because the domestic sentiment demanded leaders match actions with words. Some have started calling the current wave of tensions the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, but others aren’t so convinced.

Also read: Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan with a burden of course-correction — ‘US has lost China’

China in world news

India and China held a special round of talks on 2 August to discuss the recent airspace violations by the PLAAF at the Chushul-Moldo meeting point.

“During the military talks, the Indian side strongly raised objections over the Chinese flying activities near Eastern Ladakh sector for over a month now and asked them to avoid such provocative activities,” sources told news agency ANI.

The talks were held after the media reported a confrontation between the PLA and the Indian Air Force (IAF) on 25 June involving a PLAAF J-11 aircraft flying very close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at 4 am.

If the news of tensions at LAC weren’t enough, India and the US would hold an annual Yudh Abhyas exercise from 14 to 31 October in Auli, Uttarakhand. The 2021 edition of Yudh Abhyas was held in Alaska, US. Though the training programme has existed since 2004 as part of the UN peacekeeping scenario training, the current round of training in context of tensions with China elevates the role of the India-US partnership in the regional security architecture.

On 5 August 2019, the Narendra Modi government announced the abrogation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status under Article 370. China’s actions at the LAC since 2020 are often cited by some commentators as being linked to the abrogation move.

This past week, the Chinese foreign ministry commented on the anniversary of the abrogation. “On the issue of Kashmir, China’s position is clear and consistent. The Kashmir issue is an issue left over from history between India and Pakistan. This is also the shared view of the international community. We stated back then that parties concerned need to exercise restraint and prudence. In particular, parties should avoid taking actions that unilaterally change the status quo or escalate tensions. We call on India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation,” said Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

India and China have sparred over multiple issues in South Asia. India had recently objected to China’s research and survey vessel, Yuan Wang 5, from visiting Sri Lanka. The vessel is still on its way. But Sri Lanka seems to have agreed to ask Beijing to defer the ship’s visit.

As tensions were rising in Taiwan Strait, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries gathered in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Though the Chinese foreign minister participated in the proceedings in Phnom Penh, the event didn’t go smoothly. China cancelled a planned bilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

Must read this week

How Chinese is Taiwan? – Bill Hayton

Xi’s Great Leap Backward – Craig Singleton


“In the mid ’90s, the PLA was really kind of a Chihuahua,” said John Culver while comparing the current Taiwan Strait crisis with the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis. Culver is the former national intelligence officer for East Asia and CIA analyst focusing on China. He spoke to Kaiser Kuo of SupChina to discuss the trajectory of current Taiwan Strait tensions. Chinascope recommends listening to the conversation.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

This is a weekly round-up that Aadil Brar writes about what’s buzzing in China. This will soon be available as a subscribers’-only product.

(Edited by Prashant)

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