Beijing 'masses tanks on beaches' opposite Taiwan ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taipei

2 August 2022, 14:05 | Updated: 2 August 2022, 15:58

By Megan Hinton

China has deployed tanks on beaches opposite Taiwan in a display of force that coincides with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the capital Taipei.

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Alarming footage captured by holidaymakers at a beach in Fujian province, the closest point in Chinese territory to Taiwan, shows a huge convoy of army tanks and armoured vehicles driving across the sand in front of shocked beach-goers.

China has been recently conducting military exercises in the same area after an order from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It comes as US house speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan, despite a Chinese threat of "serious consequences" if she visits the island.

Ms Pelosi is on an Asian tour this week that will defy China's warnings against visiting Taiwan.

Beijing claims the self-governing island is part of the territory of mainland China.

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China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, and has warned of repercussions, saying its military will "never sit idly by" if Ms Pelosi pushes ahead with the visit.

Chinese propaganda released yesterday warned: "We are fully prepared for any eventuality. Fight upon order, bury every intruder, and move toward joint and successful operations.

"We are PLA soldiers, we swear to defend the motherland to the death."

It is also reported that two Chinese warships have been spotted in the waters near Taiwan and that China is preparing to send its aircraft carriers to match US deployments in the region.

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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, which separates the two sides, that could upset global markets and supply chains.

On Monday the White House decried Beijing's rhetoric, saying the US has no interest in deepening tensions with China and "will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling".

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby underscored that the decision on whether to visit the self-ruled island was ultimately Ms Pelosi's. He noted that members of Congress have routinely visited Taiwan over the years.

Mr Kirby said administration officials are concerned that 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.

"Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait," Mr Kirby said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged China to "act responsibly" in the event that Pelosi proceeds with the visit.

"If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of a crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing," he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

"We are looking for them, in the event she decides to visit, to act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward."

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.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island's decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step US leaders say they do not support.

Ms Pelosi, head of one of three branches of the US government, would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.

Ms Pelosi kicked off her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday but her purported visit to Taiwan has sparked jitters in the region.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong "highlighted the importance of stable US-China relations for regional peace and security" during talks with Ms Pelosi, the city-state's foreign ministry said.

This was echoed by Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo, who said stable ties between the two rival powers "are extremely important for the international community as well".

The Philippines urged the US and China to be "responsible actors" in the region.

"It is important for the US and China to ensure continuing communication to avoid any miscalculation and further escalation of tensions," said foreign affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary. Picture: Video grab

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China has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China cut off all contact with Taiwan's government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation, with the Communist regime in Beijing being the sole legitimate government.

On Thursday, Ms Pelosi is to meet with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin Pyo in Seoul for talks on security in the Indo-Pacific region, economic cooperation and the climate crisis. Ms Pelosi is also due to visit Japan, but it is unclear when she heading there.

Asian shares were mostly lower on Tuesday amid concerns about regional stability.

"Risk sentiment took a hit following reports suggesting US House Speaker Pelosi is to go ahead with her visit to Taiwan," said Anderson Alves of ActivTrades.

"Investors are likely to be looking for defensive positions as the geopolitical situation could escalate over the next few days."