Sea and air traffic detours to avoid Chinese military drills that Taiwan say amount to a 'blockade'

A blockade is an act of war in international law.

Tan Min-Wei | August 05, 2022, 12:50 AM

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China's military have begun a series of six military live-fire exercises in the seas just off the coast of Taiwan on Aug. 4.

Very loud and incredibly close

The BBC reports that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) are holding long-range live-fire exercises in six areas around the island from Aug. 4 to 7. Three of the planned exercises are to be held in the Taiwan Strait, and the other three are to be held on the far side of the island in the Philippine sea.

Three of the live-fire exercises areas overlap with Taiwanese territorial waters, and two come closer than 20km to the Taiwanese coast.

These unprecedented exercises that surround Taiwan are in response to an unannounced visit to the island by the U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as part of her multi-leg Asia trip. Pelosi is the head of the U.S.' legislative branch, and second in line of succession to U.S. President Joe Biden.

In addition to the live-fire exercises, the PLA Air Force has been flying military aircraft over the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which marks the mid point between Taiwan and China. Taiwan's military scrambled jets in order to warn them away.

Series of pressure tactics from China

China has also halted imports of hundreds of Taiwanese food products including some fruits and fish products. Exports of sand that's used in construction has also been banned.

In addition, websites belonging to the Taiwanese presidential office, foreign and defence ministries, were hit by what the government called an unprecedented amount of cyberattacks, Reuters reported. Screens at railway stations and some 7-11 convenience outlets were also affected, with the ones in 7-11 stores flashing the words, "Warmonger Pelosi, get out of Taiwan!"

However, Micheal Mazza, a non resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, pointed out that some version of these actions had been used long before Pelosi's trip. These are part of China's usual pressure tactics on Taiwan that are meant to force the island into submission.

Severe disruption to trade expected

According to Bloomberg, the exercises are expected to cause severe disruption to seven major seaports. Maritime commentators said that sea traffic was expected to take extended routes in order to avoid the live-fire zones.

Some journeys might take as much as three days longer as ships sail around the far eastern side of the island in order to avoid the Taiwan Strait.

Air traffic is also likely to be affected, with the Civilian Aviation Authority of Singapore saying that China has sent a notice warning airmen to avoid the demarcated areas.

All Singapore Airlines (SIA) flights, except for those bound for Taipei, are also not currently traversing through Taiwan's airspace. South Korean airlines, Korea Air and Asiana Airlines, have temporarily canceled flights heading to Taiwan for the next two days, according to Reuters.

Even Pelosi's flight out of Taiwan on Aug. 3 carefully navigated through the prospective live fire exercise zones.

Image via Flightradar24

Taiwan says military drills surrounding it are essentially a "blockade"

Taiwan's Ministry of Defense said the exercises are tantamount to an air and sea blockade of Taiwan.

An expert that The Guardian spoke to, Blake Herzinger, noted that a blockade is legally an act of war, and that Taiwan needs to be aware that this is "not the time to inflame things further".

China's own fiercely nationalistic site, the Global Times, has referred to the exercises as "joint blockade, sea assault, land attack and air combat drills", even as official government channels have yet to use the term.  

It compared the exercises to the military drills that China during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, noting that PLA's increased military capability had increased significantly since then, making a blockade of Taiwan a viable option.

Tsai Ing-wen: Live-fire drills are "unnecessary"

According to Reuters, the U.S. deployed four warships to waters east of Taiwan as Pelosi was heading to Taiwan. A U.S. defence official said on Aug. 2 that the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was in vicinity of Taiwan.

While characterising the carrier and its attached fleet as being on a "normal, routine deployment", he also said that they were able to respond to any eventuality.

The U.S., however, has yet to comment on the Chinese military drills so far.

The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, which held its own counter-invasion drills last week, pledged continued vigilance, and promised to protect its sovereignty.

Focus Taiwan reported Taiwan defence units using flares to ward off drones launched by China near the Kinmen Islands, off the coast of Xiamen. It also reported Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-Wen saying that China's live-fire exercises were "unnecessary" and that Taiwan was open to constructive dialogue to maintain peace in the region.

Pelosi, for her part, arrived in South Korea on Aug. 3, but will not be meeting South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, according to The Guardian. While Yoon has been accused of attempting to avoid Pelosi in order to accommodate China, his office denies this.

More retaliation from China

According to CNN, the PLA’s exercises run the risk of concerning more than just Taiwan and the U.S.

Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s Minister of Defense, said that Japan believed that five missiles launched by China landed within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Kishi said during a press conference that Japan strongly condemned the missiles’ firing, and that it was “a serious problem that concerns Japan’s security and the safety of its citizens”. He also said that Japan had lodged a complaint with the Chinese government.

One of the live-fire zones is close to two islands controlled by Japan: Yonaguni Island from the Okinawa prefecture, and the Senkaku Islands, which is also claimed by China and referred to as the Diaoyu Islands.


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Top image via Duan Dong/Twitter & ROC Ministry of National Defense/Twitter