China has increased military activity around Taiwan as tensions run high ahead of a potential visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to arrive in the capital Taipei today.
China has repeatedly warned against Ms Pelosi going to Taiwan, which it claims as its own, warning of repercussions and saying that its military will “never sit idly by” if she pushes ahead with the visit.
Several Chinese planes and warships flew and sailed close to the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday morning, a source told Reuters, saying they “squeezed” the unofficial division in a move described as “very provocative”.
On Monday, the US had said it would not be intimidated by Chinese “sabre-rattling” over the visit.
Ms Pelosi arrived in Malaysia on Tuesday for the second leg of her Asian tour, where she is expected to meet with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
While there have been no official announcements, local media in Taiwan reported that Ms Pelosi will arrive in Taipei on Tuesday night, becoming the highest-ranking elected US official to visit in more than 25 years.
China’s threats of retaliation have driven concerns of a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after the Communists won a civil war on the mainland. The US maintains informal relations and defence ties with Taiwan even as it recognises Beijing as the government of China.
China cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016 after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse Bejing’s claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation.
A source told Reuters that most of Ms Pelosi’s planned meetings, including with Ms Tsai, were scheduled for Wednesday, and that it was possible that her delegation would arrive in Taiwan early on Wednesday.
“Everything is uncertain,” the source said.
John Kirby, spokesperson of the White House National Security Council, said on Monday that Ms Pelosi “has the right to visit Taiwan” as part of a tour of the Indo-Pacific.
Mr Kirby said Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or flying sorties into the island’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.
Taiwan’s defence ministry had “reinforced” its combat alertness level from Tuesday morning to noon on Thursday, the island’s official Central News Agency reported.
Four US warships, including aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, are positioned in waters east of the island on “routine” deployments.
The carrier had transited the South China Sea and is currently in the Philippines Sea, a US Navy official confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday.
The Reagan is operating with a guided missile cruiser, USS Antietam, and a destroyer, USS Higgins. “While they are able to respond to any eventuality, these are normal, routine deployments,” the official said.
The official said the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli was also in the area as part of a deployment to the region that started in May.
Ms Pelosi and her delegation began their Indo-Pacific tour in Singapore on Monday, where they met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, discussing issues including cross-strait relations, the war in Ukraine and climate change, Singapore’s foreign ministry said.
Ms Pelosi is also expected to visit South Korea and Japan.