China hits Taiwan with trade curbs over Pelosi visit as Taiwan says it ‘will not back down’

China’s largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan started on Thursday, in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes after a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.Ms Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after a trip that defied a series of stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory.Ms Pelosi was the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and said her trip made it “unequivocally clear” that the United States would not abandon a democratic ally.It sparked a furious reaction from China, which vowed “punishment” and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan – some of the world’s busiest waterways.The exercises, which started around lunchtime on Thursday, involve “live-firing”, according to state media.”Six major areas around the island have been selected for this actual combat exercise and during this period, relevant ships and aircraft should not enter the relevant waters and airspaces,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.The exercises will take place in multiple zones around Taiwan – at some points within just 20 kilometres of the shore – and will finish at midday on Sunday.Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was closely watching the drills.US Speaker of the House Nancy Peloisi with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu in Taiwan on 2 August. Credit: Sipa USA/Sipa USA”The Ministry of National Defense stresses that it will uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war, and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and causing disputes,” it said in a statement.Beijing’s nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the exercises were “unprecedented” and that missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.”This is the first time the PLA will launch live long-range artillery across” the Taiwan Strait, the newspaper said, using the Chinese military’s formal name, the People’s Liberation Army.The Group of Seven industrialised nations has condemned the drills, saying in a statement there was “no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait”.’Preparation for actual combat’Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau issued warnings on Wednesday to ships to avoid the areas being used for the Chinese drills.The Taiwanese cabinet said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region (FIR).Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said it had ordered its aircraft to “avoid going through the designated airspace zones around the Taiwan region”.The manoeuvres will take place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to supply vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.China has defended the drills as “necessary and just”, pinning the blame for the escalation on the United States and its allies.”In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing Wednesday.A Chinese military source also told AFP the exercises would be staged “in preparation for actual combat”.”If the Taiwanese forces come into contact with the PLA on purpose and accidentally fire a gun, the PLA will take stern countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side,” the source said.China ‘cannot prevent world leaders’ from travelling to TaiwanMs Pelsoi said China cannot prevent world leaders from travelling to Taiwan, after concluding a visit to the self-ruled island.”Sadly, Taiwan has been prevented from participating in global meetings, most recently the World Health Organisation, because of objections by the Chinese Communist Party,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement.”While they may prevent Taiwan from sending its leaders to global forums, they cannot prevent world leaders or anyone from travelling to Taiwan to pay respect to its flourishing democracy, to highlight its many successes and to reaffirm our commitment to continued collaboration.”China demonstrated its outrage over the highest-level US visit to the island in 25 years with a burst of military activity in surrounding waters, summoning the US ambassador in Beijing and halting several agricultural imports from Taiwan.Some of China’s planned military exercises were to take place within Taiwan’s 12 nautical mile sea and air territory, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry, an unprecedented move that a senior defence official described to reporters as “amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan”.Repeated warningsTaiwan scrambled jets on Wednesday to warn away 27 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, the island’s defence ministry said, adding that 22 of them crossed the median line separating the island from China.Ms Pelosi arrived with a congressional delegation on her unannounced but closely watched visit late on Tuesday, defying China’s repeated warnings, on a trip that she said demonstrated unwavering US commitment to Taiwan’s democracy.”Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan,” Ms Pelosi told Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who Beijing suspects of pushing for formal independence – a red line for China.”Now, more than ever, America’s solidarity with Taiwan is crucial, and that’s the message we are bringing here today,” Ms Pelosi said during her roughly 19-hour visit.Analysts believe more trade disruptions are comingChina’s Customs Administration said Wednesday it would suspend some citrus fruit imports from Taiwan over alleged “repeated” detection of excessive pesticide residue and the import of fish owing to positive coronavirus tests on packages.In a separate notice, the Commerce Ministry added it would also “suspend the export of natural sand to Taiwan” from Wednesday, without providing details.Natural sand is generally used for producing concrete and asphalt, and most of Taiwan’s imported sand and gravel comes from China.The moves are part of a “common pattern for Beijing”, said Even Pay, an agriculture analyst at consultancy Trivium China.More disruptions in agricultural and food trade can be expected in the coming days, she added.”When diplomatic or trade tensions are running high, Chinese regulators typically take an extremely strict approach to compliance… looking for any issues that can be used to justify a trade ban,” she told AFP.China is Taiwan’s biggest trading partner and export market, with bilateral trade growing 26 per cent on year to $328 billion in 2021, official data shows.It is not the first time Beijing has taken aim at the island’s exports.China banned pineapple imports in March 2021, citing the discovery of pests, in a move that was widely seen as politically driven.’Taiwan will not back down’Taiwan’s president struck a defiant tone, saying there will be no “back down”.”Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not backdown. We will … continue to hold the line of defence for democracy,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said at an event with Ms Pelosi in Taipei.She also thanked Ms Pelosi for “taking concrete actions to show your staunch support for Taiwan at this critical moment”.”Today, our delegation … came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan,” she said at the event with Ms Tsai.Earlier, Ms Pelosi said her group had come “in friendship to Taiwan” and “in peace to the region”.China tries to keep Taiwan isolated on the world stage and opposes countries having official exchanges with Taipei.The administration of President Joe Biden said in the run-up to the visit that US policy towards Taiwan remained unchanged.This means support for its government while diplomatically recognising Beijing over Taipei, and opposing a formal independence declaration by Taiwan or a forceful takeover by China.While the White House is understood to be opposed to Ms Pelosi’s Taiwan stop, its National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said she was entitled to go where she pleased.Australia joins other nations urging de-escalationJapan, a key US ally in the region, said on Wednesday it had expressed concern to China over the exercises, while South Korea called for dialogue to maintain regional peace and stability.Both countries are on Ms Pelosi’s Asia itinerary, following stops in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said it is important any prospect of military conflict is avoided. “All parties should consider how they best contribute to de-escalating the current tensions, and we all want peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she told ABC Radio on Wednesday.”We do have a situation where we see rhetoric increasing and we see military hardware being deployed.”Ms Wong reiterated Australia’s support for a one-China policy, where Taiwan is not recognised as a country and that the government in Beijing is the only Chinese government.”Australia has a bipartisan one-China policy, and we have a bipartisan of that, discouraging unilateral changes to the status quo,” she said.”We should continue with others in the region to urge the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.”