Singapore (AFP) – China’s recent decision to fire missiles at Taiwan is a “gorilla in the room” that must be challenged, a top US military commander said on Tuesday.
Beijing this month carried out massive air and sea exercises around Taiwan in a furious response to visits by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation.
These exercises included the firing of several ballistic missiles into the waters off Taiwan – some of the busiest shipping routes in the world – and it was the first time China had taken such a step since the mid-1990s.
“It’s very important that we challenge this stuff. I know the gorilla in the room is launching missiles over Taiwan,” Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet, told reporters in Singapore. .
“If we just allow it to happen, and don’t challenge it, that will be the next normal,” he added.
“It is irresponsible to launch missiles over Taiwan in international waters, where shipping lanes, where free shipping operates.”
The Seventh Fleet is based in Japan and is an integral part of Washington’s naval presence in the Pacific.
During drills this month, Chinese state media reported that some of the ballistic missiles fired by the People’s Liberation Army were following a trajectory directly over the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, a further escalation that Beijing did not confirm.
Thomas likened the threats to Taiwan to the South China Sea where Beijing has spent years building military bases and installations on a series of disputed atolls, while denying it was doing exactly that.
“If you don’t challenge it…all of a sudden it can become like the islands in the South China Sea (which) have now become military outposts,” he said.
“They are now fully functional military outposts that have missiles on them, large runways, hangers, radars, listening posts.”
The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, but it considers the island its territory and has vowed to take it one day, by force if necessary.
The saber rattling towards Taiwan has become more pronounced under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The United States and its Western allies have increased the “freedom of navigation” of warships in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to reinforce the concept that these seas are international waterways, angering Beijing. .
China said it conducted new military drills on Monday as a delegation of US lawmakers visited Taipei.
State media released images and footage of Taiwan’s Penghu Islands allegedly taken by Chinese jets flying a short distance from the archipelago.
But Taiwan denied that Chinese jets approached Penghu.
“The CCP used cognitive warfare and other tricks to exaggerate and show that (its plane) was close to Penghu. It’s not true,” a senior military official told reporters on Tuesday. of the air, Tung Pei-Lun.
The Penghu Islands lie between mainland China and Taiwan.
They host a major Taiwanese air base and would be at the forefront of any attempted invasion of Beijing.
As China continues its drills, the Taiwanese military said it would hold an armed F-16 drill on Wednesday night in the coastal city of Hualien, in a rare display of its advanced military capabilities.
In another move aimed at increasing economic pressure on Taiwan, Beijing on Tuesday sanctioned seven senior Taiwanese officials for being “hardcore ‘independence’ separatists”, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The sanctions, mostly against senior figures from President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, were imposed because their activities “became all the more egregious” during Pelosi’s visit, Xinhua said.
Those sanctioned are banned from entering China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and are prevented from doing business with mainland entities.
Taipei said China was “trying to cause a chilling effect” through the sanctions, which included the island’s de facto envoy to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim.
A public opinion poll released on Tuesday showed that most Taiwanese public remain intimidated by the exercises.
According to the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation, 45% of respondents said they were not afraid at all, and 33% said they were not very afraid of the exercises. Five percent said they were very scared.
© 2022 AFP