CHINESE and US warships have been scrambled to the South China Sea as tensions soar over a forecast visit to the island of Taiwan by a top US official.
It comes as Taiwanese forces fired flares to ward off a Chinese drone allegedly inspecting the country’s defences.
US Navy warships have stepped up their activities in the South China Sea, with a guided missile destroyer entering waters claimed by China three times in a week, according to Beijing-based sources.
The USS Benfold went through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, after travelling close to the disputed Spratley Island and Paracel Islands earlier this month.
Officials in the US have described the manoeuvres as “freedom of navigation operations”.
Temperatures in the region have ratcheted in recent weeks amid a planned visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China has reacted with fury to the news of the visit by a senior US politician to the island, which Beijing regards as a breakaway province.
The country’s ruling communist party claims the island must be “reunited” with the mainland – by force if necessary.
Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, a Chinese defence ministry spokesman, even threatened military action in response to the provocation.
“If the US insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will definitely take strong actions to thwart any external force’s interference,” he said.
Pelosi was originally scheduled to travel to Taipei in April but pulled out at the last minute after testing positive for coronavirus.
She is forecast to attend the trip – the first by a major US politician to Taiwan for 25 years – next month, the Financial Times reported.
The 82-year-old refused to confirm whether she would be making the controversial visit, telling reporters on Wednesday: “I don’t ever discuss my travel plans. It’s a matter of security.”
Pelosi speculated that the US military had fears that her plane would be shot down.
Chinese nationalist and former editor of the state-backed newspaper the Global Times claimed that China’s People’s Liberation Army could send jets over Taiwan for the first time since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Fears are growing of a spiralling escalation in tensions between the US and China, making it harder and harder for either side to back down.
If the US insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by
Senior Colonel Tan Kefei
In Taiwan, many have expressed support for Pelosi’s planned visit, as the country holds large-scale defence exercises including air-raid drills in major cities that saw millions hide in shelters.
On Tuesday, the country’s president Tsai Ing-wen inspected live-fire military exercises on the coast.
Speaking during the exercises, Taiwanese defence ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang said the country was monitoring the movements of Chinese warships and aircraft around the island, some of which were detected near Taiwan’s southeast.
These drills take place annually and are unrelated to the current tensions over Pelosi’s visit.
On Thursday, the USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group arrived in the South China Sea, in a move China’s foreign ministry described as the US “flexing its muscles”.
In a statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday: “It is clear from this for everyone to see who is the biggest threat to the South China Sea and the Asian region’s peace and stability.”
It follows leaked recordings last month showing China’s secret invasion plans involving 140,000 soldiers.
The audio and a secretly taken photograph were published by a Chinese exile based in the United States, who says the recording was leaked to them by senior members of the military.
They were concerned that China’s mounting aggression over Taiwan was a threat to peace and risked their lives to make public the recording.
The recording purports to be of a meeting of Military-Civilian Joint Command that discusses mobilisation plans to invade Taiwan in the southern city of Guangzhou.
“We won’t hesitate to start a war, crush Taiwan’s independence and strong enemies’ plots, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” says one speaker.
Meanwhile, Britain’s top security chief has warned that the world is edging ever closer to a catastrophic nuclear war amid multiple threats.
National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove sounded the chilling alarm as fears grow China and Russia are upgrading their weapons of mass destruction.
Speaking in Washington DC at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, he said nuclear war was averted during the Cold War only because the Soviet Union and Nato were able to speak to each other with a mutual understanding which he said does not exist today.
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