The Ministry of National Defense yesterday raised its combat alertness level until noon tomorrow in response to Chinese live-fire exercises ahead of a visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The alert is to be adjusted depending on the military threat from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a source familiar with the matter said.
However, the source added that combat readiness remains at “normal readiness” under the nation’s two-tier system and had not been raised to “emergency readiness.”
Before Pelosi’s arrival yesterday, several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait, another source told Reuters.
Together with warships that have been sailing in the area since Monday, the planes “squeezed” the median line, they said, calling it a “very provocative” move.
The Chinese aircraft repeatedly conducted tactical moves of briefly “touching” the median line of the Taiwan Strait and circling back to China, the source said, adding that Taiwanese aircraft were standing by in the area.
Two Chinese warships — a missile destroyer and a frigate — were also spotted in international waters off the coast of Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) early yesterday morning, a military source said.
The destroyer, escorted by the frigate, was seen 45 nautical miles (83km) southeast of Lanyu at about 4am, a military official told the Central News Agency (CNA) on condition of anonymity.
Over the past two days, PLA reconnaissance vessels, as well as missile destroyers and frigates, have been plying the waters southeast of Hualien County and Taitung County’s Lanyu, the official said.
Retired reserve navy captain Wang Jyh-perng (王志鵬), who is a commentator on military affairs, told CNA in a telephone interview that the Chinese vessels seen off Lanyu were likely a Type 055 stealth guided missile destroyer and a Type 054A guided missile frigate.
The Type 055 frigate has aerial and maritime surveillance capabilities, and its radar has a high-altitude operating range of 56km, Wang said.
“There has been quite a lot of activity east of Taitung County in the Pacific Ocean these past few days,” he said.
The ministry in a statement said that it has a full grasp of military activities near Taiwan and would appropriately dispatch forces in reaction to “enemy threats.”
It declined to comment on reports of an unusual number of air force Mirage 2000 fighter jets stationed at Chihhang Air Base in Taitung.
The Chinese Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The PLA has been holding live-fire military exercises near the Taiwan Strait, in the South China Sea, East China Sea, off the coast of China’s Fujian Province and in the Qiongzhou Strait near Hainan Province, international media reported.
In China’s Xiamen, which lies opposite Taiwan and is home to a large military presence, residents reported sightings of armored vehicles on the move yesterday and posted pictures online.
Chinese social media was abuzz with both trepidation about potential conflict and patriotic fervor, and the topic of Pelosi’s visit was the top-trending item on Sina Weibo.
Meanwhile, four US warships, including an aircraft carrier, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on “routine” deployments.
The USS Ronald Reagan carrier had transited the South China Sea and was in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan and the Philippines and south of Japan, a US Navy official told Reuters yesterday.
The Japan-based Ronald Reagan is operating with a guided missile cruiser, the USS Antietam, and a destroyer, the USS Higgins.
“While they are able to respond to any eventuality, these are normal, routine deployments,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official added that they were unable to comment on precise locations.
The US Navy official said the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli was also in the area as part of a deployment to the region that started in early May from its home port of San Diego, California.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that Beijing’s responses could include firing missiles near Taiwan, large-scale air or naval activities, or further “spurious legal claims,” such as China’s assertion that the Taiwan Strait is not an international waterway.
“We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling,” he said. “At the same time, we will not be intimidated.”
When asked about China’s aggressive rhetoric and military drills, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) yesterday said that her ministry could not confirm the reports of Pelosi’s visit and it was not worth commenting on Beijing’s intimidation.
Meanwhile, Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) confirmed that a distributed denial-of-service attack of foreign origin had occurred on the Presidential Office Web site, which was restored after 20 minutes.
The attack, which took place at 5:15pm, resulted in a 200-fold spike in traffic and a temporary shutdown of the site, he said.
Additional reporting by Chen Yun and CNA
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