China announced on Friday it was halting dialogue with the United States in a number of areas, including between theater-level military commanders and on climate talks, in an escalating furore over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry said it was also suspending cooperation with Washington on the prevention of cross-border crime and drug trafficking, an area along with climate change where U.S. officials see opportunity for cooperation.
Enraged after Pelosi became the highest-level U.S. visitor in 25 years to the self-governed island that Beijing regards as its sovereign territory, China launched military drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan on Thursday. The live-fire drills, the largest ever conducted by China in the Taiwan Strait, are scheduled to continue until noon on Sunday.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island’s air defence zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides.
The ministry said a total of 68 Chinese military aircraft and 13 navy ships had conducted missions in the strait.
China’s Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement that its military conducted air and sea drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan on Friday “to test the troops’ joint combat capabilities”.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has repeatedly made clear to Beijing it does not seek a crisis over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which took place on Wednesday during a congressional tour of Asia.
“There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of ASEAN regional meetings in Cambodia, adding, “now, they’ve taken dangerous acts to a new level”.
Blinken emphasised that the United States would not take actions to provoke a crisis, but it would continue to support regional allies and conduct standard air and maritime transit through the Taiwan Strait.
“We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told a media briefing after the ASEAN meetings: “I heard that U.S. Secretary of State Blinken held his news conference and spread some misinformation and was not speaking truthfully.”
“We wish to issue a warning to the United States: do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis,” Wang said.
Jing Quan, a senior Chinese Embassy official in Washington, echoed that, telling a briefing with reporters: “The only way out of this crisis is that the U.S. side must take measures immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit.”
He said Washington should “avoid pushing China-U.S. relations down the dangerous track of conflict and confrontation”.
The White House summoned Chinese ambassador Qin Gang on Thursday to condemn Beijing’s actions. That followed Beijing’s summoning of U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns early this week over Pelosi’s Taiwan visit.
Representatives for the State Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment on China’s halting of talks and cooperation on several fronts.
The Chinese comments did not mention a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important to have in the case of an emergency or accident.
Beijing separately announced that it would personally impose sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family in response to her “vicious” and “provocative” actions.
Speaking in Japan before she set off to return to Washington, Pelosi said her trip to Asia was never about changing the regional status quo.
“We have said from the start that our representation here is not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region,” she told a news conference after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Friday the island’s military had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor ships and aircraft that briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line.
On Thursday, China fired multiple missiles into waters surrounding Taiwan.
Japan’s defence ministry, which is tracking the exercises, first reported that as many as four of the missiles flew over Taiwan’s capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), also a first, prompting a diplomatic protest by Tokyo.
Later, Taiwan’s defence ministry said the missiles were high in the atmosphere and constituted no threat. It gave no details of their flight paths, citing intelligence concerns.
Some Taipei residents, including Mayor Ko Wen-je, criticised the government for not putting out a missile alert, but one security expert said that could have been done to avoid stoking panic and playing into China’s hands.
“It counteracted the effect of the Chinese Communist Party’s psychological warfare,” said Mei Fu-shin, a U.S.-based analyst. “The shock and fear were not as great as they could have been.”
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen urged residents to keep calm, saying in a Facebook post on Friday that “the government has prepared a complete response and the military is doing its best to respond, which will definitely ensure people’s safety. Please rest assured, stay calm and live as normal.”
Responding to the Chinese drills, the president has said Taiwan will not provoke conflicts but will firmly defend its sovereignty and national security.
“In my view, the larger threat is that China is doing a rehearsal for a blockade, demonstrating it can block Taiwan’s ports and airports, and prevent shipping,” said Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.
Beijing has said its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter. It says it reserves the right to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, by force if necessary.