Planes, ships and missile tests: how Beijing might react to Pelosi’s Taiwan trip

China is conducting military exercises in the South China Sea and Bohai Sea ahead of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan on Tuesday.

According to announcements from the China Maritime Safety Administration, military training will be conducted in some waters of the South China Sea from Tuesday to Saturday, and entry is prohibited.

Meanwhile, live-fire drills will be carried out in the northern Bohai Sea, where entry is also forbidden, from Monday to Thursday.

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Why is a visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi controversial?

The drills have been seen as part of the People’s Liberation Army’s efforts to deter Pelosi from visiting self-ruled Taiwan. Beijing said on Monday that it would take “firm and strong measures”, and the PLA’s theatre command overseeing the island has warned “we stand ready to fight”.

With tensions rising on the eve of Pelosi’s anticipated arrival in Taipei, White House national security spokesman John Kirby warned Beijing on Monday not to turn the trip into a crisis or conflict.

Here are some of Beijing’s possible military responses to Pelosi’s visit.

1. Send more warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone

Four PLA J-16 fighters were spotted in Taiwan’s southwestern air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday, according to the Taiwanese defence ministry.

On Tuesday, China’s Xiamen Airlines issued a notice on its website that it had adjusted some flights because of traffic control issues in Fujian, the southeastern province overlooking the Taiwan Strait.

For the past year, Beijing has sent warplanes into Taiwan’s ADIZ on a near-daily basis, with a record 56 planes deployed on October 4.

The PLA might send more warplanes into the ADIZ in the coming days as Pelosi is expected to land on the island as early as Tuesday night and meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the United States is deploying military planes and ships closer to Taiwan ahead of the possible visit, Japanese news agency Nikkei Asia reported.

Taiwanese President Tsai observes live-fire drill from warship

2. Fly across the median line – or even over the island

It is also possible that PLA warplanes could be sent across the Taiwan Strait’s median line, a buffer zone the US established in 1954 to prevent a conflict between mainland China and Taiwan. But Beijing denied the existence of that line this year after Taiwan spotted PLA planes crossing it.

Several PLA warplanes flew close to the median line on Tuesday morning, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.

It would be unprecedented for PLA warplanes to fly over Taiwan.

Hu Xijin, former editor of the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, said Beijing’s warplanes should “accompany” the Pelosi delegation’s planes on any attempted flight to Taiwan and fly over the airport where they would land.

“It will be [Pelosi] who creates the opportunity for PLA fighter jets to fly over the island of Taiwan and opens up a new space for PLA fighter jets to exercise sovereignty over the island of Taiwan,” Hu said.

3. Deploy large warships in waters near the island

Two PLA warships – a type 052D destroyer and a 052A guided missile frigate – have entered the waters east of Taiwan, according to Japan’s defence ministry.

Chinese, US warships keep watch amid tensions over a Pelosi Taiwan visit

Meanwhile, US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and amphibious ship USS Tripoli, carrying F-35B Lighting II joint strike fighters, are operating in the vicinity of Taiwan, the US Naval Institute’s USNI News reported on Monday.

4. Conduct missile tests in nearby waters, including the Taiwan Strait

As Pelosi’s plane headed to Singapore, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV broadcast an 81-second video clip showing the PLA’s advanced weapons, such as rocket launch systems and howitzers carrying out high-altitude tests, and fighter jets carrying out training, mid-air refuelling and precision strike drills.

During the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis, Beijing conducted missile tests that landed near the island in a warning to Taipei’s first democratically elected president, Lee Teng-hui, after he visited the US.

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