Demonstrators gather in support of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit, in Taipei, Taiwan August 2, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang

China is holding military drills ahead of an expected trip to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. Several Chinese warplanes were spotted near the border line in the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

In addition, several Chinese warships have been patrolling near the unofficial buffer zone in the strait since Monday. Both the Chinese warships and the planes touched the center line of the waterway. The maneuver is unusual and “very provocative”. Taiwan has dispatched planes to monitor the situation.

In addition, China has gathered large amounts of military material in the coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian province, as photos and videos from Tuesday morning show. Xiamen is only about 100 kilometers away from Taiwan. Videos show numerous tanks patrolling the beach amid bathers.

The US Air Force plane taking Pelosi to Taiwan took off from Malaysia around noon. Flight data indicate the Taiwanese capital Taipei as the destination. An arrival in Taiwan would be around 4 p.m. According to local media, she will meet the President, the Minister of Defense and the person responsible for national security.

Meanwhile, China said it was in contact with the United States about the Pelosi case. This was announced by the Foreign Ministry in Beijing on Tuesday, but without giving any details. The status of Taiwan is one of the main points of contention between the US and the People’s Republic.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry in Taipei earlier said that if tensions rose, appropriate forces would be deployed in response to “enemy threats”. Taiwan has a full view of military activity around it.

China’s communist government regards free Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens “unification”, if necessary militarily. When Russia launched its war of aggression against Ukraine in February, fears were raised that China might attempt to annex the island’s democratic republic by force.

The Defense Ministry in Taipei said it has the “determination, capability and confidence” to ensure Taiwan’s national security. Various unspecified plans for an emergency have already been drawn up.

Meanwhile, unknown hackers have taken down Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s website. The President’s Office in the capital Taipei confirmed a failure for around 20 minutes on Tuesday afternoon. Countermeasures have been taken so that the website is now working normally again.

Earlier, senior Taiwanese and US officials said Pelosi was planning to visit Taiwan as part of her Asia tour. A Taiwanese MP told the German Press Agency in Taipei that Pelosi may arrive in Taipei on Tuesday evening local time from Malaysia.

There could be a meeting with Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday. According to US media reports, however, the travel plan is flexible, while the Pentagon is monitoring all steps taken by the Chinese side and is working “around the clock” to ensure the security of the number three in the USA – after the president and his vice president – ​​as it was said .

Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang evaded a clear answer Monday about whether Pelosi would come to Taiwan on Thursday. “We always welcome visits of highly decorated foreign guests to our country,” he told reporters in the capital, Taipei.

Pelosi did not mention that she would make a stop on the island on Sunday when she officially confirmed her trip to the Indo-Pacific region.

On Sunday, Pelosi only named Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Singapore as destinations, where Pelosi arrived on Monday. The focus is on “common security, economic partnership and democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said

The Chinese leadership reacted very nervously to reports of an upcoming visit – and did not rule out military answers: A visit to Taiwan by Pelosi would be “blatant interference in China’s internal affairs,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference in Beijing on Monday.

He spoke of a “very serious situation and consequences” for the United States. The Chinese side is fully prepared for all eventualities. “The People’s Liberation Army will not stand by, and the Chinese side will surely take vigorous and decisive measures to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Lijian said.

China’s state media have been discussing military responses for days, ranging from China’s air force escorting Pelosi’s plane and maneuvers to even establishing a no-fly zone around Taiwan and missile tests. Relations between China and the United States “are almost on the razor’s edge,” wrote the party-affiliated newspaper “Global Times” on Twitter.

“The countermeasures that the high command is planning to deal with Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan must be far more rigorous and comprehensive than can be imagined. China’s warning to the US is not idle talk,” it said.

The White House, however, warned Beijing of an escalation. “There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit, consistent with longstanding US policy, into a crisis or conflict,” National Security Council communications director John Kirby said at the White House on Monday.

The US would not engage in “saber rattling,” he said. “At the same time, we won’t let ourselves be intimidated either.” According to Kirby, the visit will change “nothing” about the United States’ one-China policy. The US does not maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but regards Beijing as China’s legitimate representative.

Pelosi would be the highest-ranking American political visitor to get Taiwan in 25 years. Newt Gingrich, also Speaker of the House of Representatives, last visited the island in 1997.

Pelosi originally wanted to travel in April, but she had to cancel the trip because of her corona disease. What would be unusual about the speaker’s trip to Taiwan is that she hadn’t announced it beforehand.

The New York Times anonymously quotes US officials as saying they do not believe Pelosi would actually travel to Taiwan in light of the announcement. However, she could still change her mind, although it seems unlikely, it said.

US President Joe Biden’s staff also anonymously told the paper that he had decided against asking Pelosi to cancel her planned trip to Taiwan. This would have to do with his respect for the independence of the US Congress.

In addition, he does not want to give in to threats from the Chinese leadership. Threats, such as those from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is said to have told Biden during a phone call: “Those who play with fire will die.”

US officials reportedly said in light of the Chinese comments that they felt it was more geopolitically risky to prevent Pelosi’s visit than to let her do it. Still, Pelosi put Biden in an awkward position. “I think the military thinks that’s not a good idea right now,” he commented on Pelosi’s travel plans.

Meanwhile, EU diplomats are also alarmed about the situation. In view of China’s threats, MEPs Michael Gahler (CDU) and Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens), who specialize in Taiwan and China, are calling for solidarity with Taiwan and want to visit the island this year.

In the EU, too, “the parliament is the driving force in Taiwan policy”. The executive is acting more cautiously, Bütikofer, who heads the European Parliament’s (EP) delegation for relations with China, says of the disagreement between Pelosi and Biden over whether their visit plan is a good idea or an unnecessary provocation.

Gahler sees no acute danger of war. “China is not prepared for war. It watches whether the West backs down on Russia in Ukraine or stops aggression.” He is the EPP’s foreign policy spokesman in the EP and chairman of the “Formosa Club”, the friendship groups of democratic parliaments with Taiwan.

Gahler and Bütikofer are calling for an EU investment agreement with Taiwan. An investment agreement would give European companies better market access in Taiwan, and the construction of a Taiwanese semiconductor factory in the EU would become more likely. In December they want to talk about it with the trade committee of the EP in Taiwan. The EU has negotiated a trade agreement with China. It is on hold due to political differences.

Gahler and Bütikofer warn against moving away from the “One China” policy. The status quo must be defended. Diplomatic recognition of Taiwan is out of the question. “But Europe must not retreat when Beijing moves the red lines,” says Bütikofer.

“A pragmatic partnership with Taiwan makes sense for us.” The “scaremongering” about Pelosi’s visit reflects “Xi Jinping’s increasingly nationalistic focus.” China wants to dictate Taiwan policy to the US, Japan and Europe. “Giving in would be a mistake.”