Taiwan accused the Chinese army of faking an attack on its main island on Saturday as Beijing redoubled its retaliation for US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei after announcing a suspension of cooperation with Washington on key issues.
Relations between the two superpowers have deteriorated sharply since Ms. Pelosi’s trip to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, prompting UN calls for an urgent de-escalation of tensions.
And on Friday, the environment became another victim of geopolitical rivalry as Beijing said it would pull out of a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington, primarily on climate change and defense cooperation.
The world’s two biggest polluters have vowed to work together to accelerate climate change action this decade and vowed to meet regularly to navigate the crisis – a deal that looks shaky right now.
Beijing on Saturday continued one of its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan, analysts said, aimed at rehearsing a blockade and final invasion of the self-governing island.
Taipei said it saw “multiple” Chinese aircraft and ships operating in the Taiwan Strait, believing they were simulating an attack on the self-ruled democracy’s main island.
“Numerous groups of communist aircraft and ships are operating around the Taiwan Strait, some of which have crossed the median line,” the defense ministry said in a statement, referring to the demarcation line along the Taiwan Strait, which Beijing does not recognize.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong warned that China’s decision to launch powerful missiles into the waters around Taiwan’s coastline is a “serious issue for the region,” calling for “restraint and de-escalation.”
Beijing has started several days of military exercises since Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week.
The Chinese government has yet to officially confirm whether the missiles flew over the islands during the exercise, while Taipei declined to confirm or deny the flight paths, citing intelligence concerns.
But Japan’s Defense Ministry said that of the nine missiles found, four “allegedly flew over Taiwan’s main island.”
“This time, our exercise included live firing, and it was the first time they crossed the island of Taiwan,” said Meng Xiangqing, a professor at China National Defense Military University, state broadcaster CCTV, praising the accuracy of Beijing’s capabilities.
He added that they passed through airspace densely deployed with Patriot missiles, a highly mobile surface-to-air missile system that will be critical in defending against Chinese military aircraft.
Professor Meng said the latest exercise was also the PLA’s closest exercise to the island, its first encirclement and the first time it set up a shooting range east of Taiwan.
China’s official news agency Xinhua said the military “involved more than 100 combat aircraft, including fighters and bombers” and “more than 10 destroyers and frigates” during the exercise.
The latest exercise is expected to last until Sunday afternoon and has sparked outrage in Australia, the US, Japan and the European Union, as well as Taipei.
‘Australia deeply concerned’: Penny Wong
“Australia is deeply concerned about China’s launch of ballistic missiles into the waters around the coastline of Taiwan,” Wong said Friday.
“These exercises are disproportionate and destabilizing.”
Ms Wong’s statement also mentions Australia’s close strategic partner, Japan, and warns of the risk of accidental conflict in the region due to a “miscalculation”.
“This is a serious issue for the region, including for our close strategic partner, Japan,” the statement said.
Penny Wong at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Cambodia. Source: EPA / KIT SERIES/EPA
“Australia shares the region’s concern about the escalation of military activity, especially the risks of miscalculation. We call for restraint and de-escalation.”
Acting Prime Minister and Defense Secretary Richard Marles said China’s missile launch near Taiwan violated United Nations rules that require countries to maintain peace and security in international waters.
“The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a fully understood treaty and an accepted part of the rules-based global order architecture,” he said.
“How this applies to the Taiwan Strait is also clear. And that applies to the Taiwan Strait.”
White House spokesman John Kirby called it an overreaction by China and a “pretext” for increased military activity around the Taiwan Strait.
China calls the drills just a countermeasure in the face of provocations from the US and its allies in Taiwan.
A joint statement condemning China’s actions was also issued by the Japanese, US and Australian foreign ministers after meeting at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Phnom Penh on Friday.
The statement said the three leaders have common interests and values, including “a commitment to freedom, the rule of law, human rights, sovereignty and territorial integrity, the peaceful settlement of disputes without the use or threat of force, and freedom of navigation and overflight.”
Ms Wong said she expressed Australia’s concerns to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as well as other foreign ministers in the region while attending the ASEAN summit.
Foreign Ministry officials also confirmed Australia’s concerns about the Chinese government, she said.
China is a growing diplomatic concern for Australia following trade tensions and bans on Australian goods, as well as recent .
Ms Wong has made strengthening Australia’s influence in the Pacific one of her top priorities since Labor’s election victory in May.