Four US warships, including an aircraft carrier, have taken up positions in waters east of Taiwan in what the US Navy has called routine deployments amid growing Chinese anger over a planned visit to the island by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi is expected to arrive in Taipei later on Tuesday, people briefed on the matter said, as the US said it would not be intimidated by Chinese warnings against the top US official’s visit to the island since 1997.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier had transited through the South China Sea and is currently in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan, a US Navy official told Reuters on Tuesday. the Reuters news agency.
The Japan-based Reagan operates with a guided-missile cruiser, USS Antietam, and a destroyer, USS Higgins.
“Although they are capable of responding to any eventuality, these are normal and routine deployments,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official, who would not comment on the precise locations of the warships, said the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli was also in the area.
Divya Gopalan, international editor of TaiwanPlus, told Al Jazeera that although the Taipei government has not officially confirmed Pelosi’s visit, senior sources are briefing reporters on details of the trip, including a scheduled meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
The last visit by a senior US politician in 1997 came at a time when China occupied a very different position on the world stage, Gopalan said.
Pelosi’s planned visit also comes amid deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington, as well as strained relations between China and Taiwan, she said.
“Now Taiwan faces a much more powerful PLA [People’s Liberation Army], which the Chinese say is not sitting idly by as Pelosi comes here, and China has also said it will take strong action. What it is is unclear,” Gopalan told Al Jazeera.
“All About Beijing”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Beijing to “act responsibly” in case Pelosi continues his visit to Taiwan.
“If the speaker decides to surrender and China tries to create some kind of crisis or escalate tensions, it would be entirely on Beijing,” Blinken told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
Asked about Blinken’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States and Taiwan of creating “provocations”. Any countermeasures taken by China will be “justified and necessary” in the face of Washington’s “unscrupulous behavior”, she said.
Signs of military activity appeared on both sides of the Taiwan Strait ahead of Pelosi’s likely visit.
Chinese planes flew near the center line dividing the waterway on Tuesday morning and several Chinese warships have remained near the unofficial boundary line since Monday, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.
China’s defense and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The source said Chinese planes repeatedly made tactical moves of briefly “touching” the center line and returning across the strait while Taiwanese planes stood by nearby. China’s actions have been called provocative.
Aircraft of both sides do not normally cross the center line.
The source also said that three other Chinese warships conducted drills on Tuesday to simulate attacks on carrier-based aircraft in waters east of Taiwan.
The ships were tracked sailing through Japan’s southern islands over the weekend, the Japanese defense forces said.
Since last week, the Chinese PLA has conducted various drills, including live-fire drills, in the South China, Yellow and Bohai Seas.
Some regional military analysts say increased deployments in times of tension increase the risk of casualties, even though neither side wants a real conflict.