Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-ruled island. - China is due on August 4 to kick off its largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan, in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes following a visit to the self-ruled island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

China has started its announced military maneuvers near Taiwan, according to Chinese state television. “The exercises are beginning,” the broadcaster CCTV said Thursday on the online network Weibo. Taiwan’s defense ministry said it was closely monitoring the situation. The island nation’s armed forces would act on the principle of “preparing for war without wanting war”. There is also no “escalation of the conflict” sought.

According to the Defense Ministry, Taiwan had previously used flares to drive off unidentified Chinese missiles over the Kinmen Islands. Two Chinese aircraft, likely drones, entered the area twice on Wednesday night, around 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., Maj. Gen. Chang Zone-sung of the Kinmen Defense Command told Reuters on Thursday.

“We immediately set off flares to warn and drive them away. After that they turned back. They came into our security zone, so we expelled them.” He assumes that the drones were used to gather information about Taiwan’s security measures. The heavily fortified Kinmen Islands are politically part of Taiwan, but lie off the southeastern coast of China near the city of Xiamen.

According to state media, the ongoing Chinese maneuvers around Taiwan are aimed at a naval and air blockade of the democratic island republic. A possible military conquest of Taiwan is also being practiced with it. The maneuvers, which will include missile tests and target practice, were ordered by the People’s Liberation Army in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The visit of the US top politician, who continued her Asia trip to South Korea on Thursday, had fueled tensions around Taiwan. It was the highest-ranking visit from the United States in a quarter of a century. Beijing reacted with outrage because it claims the island for itself. The communist leadership sees Taiwan only as part of the People’s Republic. Beijing strictly rejects official contacts from other countries to Taipei and had vehemently warned against the visit. Taiwan, on the other hand, has long considered itself independent.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) called for de-escalation during her visit to Canada. Visits such as Pelosi’s to Taiwan “must not be used as an excuse for military threatening gestures.” A change in the status quo in Taiwan “can only take place peacefully and with the mutual consent of all parties involved.”

China’s artillery also plans to hold long-range target practice in the Taiwan Strait strait that separates the mainland from Taiwan. Also, the center line drawn by Taiwan in the sea route is crossed, “which ceases to exist,” according to state media. Eastern Command Vice Chief of Staff Gu Zhong said there should be practice blockade of the island, sea attacks, landings and airspace control.

The maneuvers are larger than in the “missile crisis” of 1995 and 1996, when China also sent missiles north and south across Taiwan’s territorial waters to intimidate, Chinese military experts said. Even then, Beijing wanted to scare off the pro-independence forces in Taiwan by heating up tensions. At that time, the United States had sent two aircraft carriers.

According to Chinese information, the early announcement on Tuesday evening – immediately after Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan – should give civilian ships and airlines enough time to leave the maneuvering areas or change flight routes. The maneuvers, which started on Tuesday evening, should be fully resumed this Thursday.

A dispute could draw the USA militarily into the conflict. In the current situation, experts warned of dangerous incidents caused by miscalculations by the armed forces on both sides. The United States has committed itself to Taiwan’s defense capability, which has so far mostly meant the delivery of weapons. However, US President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the US has an obligation to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.