China to press on with drills around Taiwan as US relations nosedive

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) – China has doubled down on its retaliation for US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, announcing a suspension of cooperation with Washington on key issues as it was set on Saturday (Aug 6) to continue massive military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

Relations between the two superpowers have nosedived in the wake of Mrs Pelosi’s trip to China’s self-ruled neighbour – which it claims as its territory – prompting calls from the UN for an urgent de-escalation of tensions.

And Friday saw the environment become the latest victim of the geopolitical jousting, as Beijing said it would withdraw from a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington – most notably on climate change and defence cooperation.

The world’s two largest polluters had pledged to work together to accelerate climate action this decade and vowed to meet regularly to tackle the crisis – a deal that now looks shaky.

Beijing is due to press ahead on Saturday with some of its largest-ever military drills around Taiwan – exercises aimed at practising a blockade and ultimate invasion of the democratic island, analysts say.

“In the waters around Taiwan island, more than 10 destroyers and escorts of the Eastern Theatre Command navy approached from different directions to carry out containment operations,” the Chinese army’s Eastern Theater Command said in a statement on Friday’s drills.

And in a bid to show just how close China’s forces have been getting to Taiwan’s shores, Beijing’s military overnight released a video of an air force pilot filming the island’s coastline and mountains from his cockpit.

China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, has reported that Chinese missiles have flown directly over Taiwan during the exercises – a major escalation if confirmed.

But Taipei has remained defiant, insisting it would not be cowed by its “evil neighbour” as it reported on Friday that 68 Chinese warplanes and 13 warships had crossed the “median line” that runs down the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Saturday that it had fired flares late on Friday to warn away seven drones flying over its outlying Kinmen Islands and to warn unidentified aircraft flying over its outlying Matsu Islands.

The ministry said troops were on high alert in both areas, which lie just off the coast of mainland China.

‘Punishing the whole world’

The scale and intensity of China’s drills have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies, with the White House summoning China’s ambassador to Washington on Friday to rebuke him over Beijing’s actions.

And Beijing’s decision to withdraw from hard-won cooperation on climate change has now sparked wider fears about the future of the planet.

“It’s obviously worrying and raises concerns,” Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G, a climate-focused think tank, told AFP.