Taiwan crisis: Why is it happening and why is China upset?

4 August 2022, 13:01 | Updated: 5 August 2022, 07:28

China is holding military exercises around Taiwan
China is holding military exercises around Taiwan. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

Tensions have reached the worst levels in the Taiwanese strait for years as China flexes its military might.

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The show of force has seen it declare exercises off the island and start live-fire drills.

It's come after US speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited the island, which China views as part of its territory despite the communists having never ruled it.

Here is what's happening and why it's come to this.

What's happening in Taiwan?

China has launched military drills in six zones around the island to its south west, and some of those come in to Taiwanese territorial waters.

The training includes live fire exercises and will last until Sunday. Five out of nine missiles launched by China landed near the island of Yonaguri, which is part of Japan's 'exclusive economic zone', the country's defence minister said, adding that he had lodged a protest with Beijing.

It is undoubtedly a show of force designed as retaliation for the visit of Nancy Pelosi, a senior US politician and steadfast supporter of Taiwan.

Nancy Pelosi's visit has stoked controversy
Nancy Pelosi's visit during her Asia tour has stoked controversy. Picture: Getty
China has begun military drills of Taiwan
China has begun military drills of Taiwan. Picture: Getty

The exercises have stoked invasion fears, something that would likely be a bloody affair for both China and Taiwan – and Joe Biden has promised to defend Taiwan should it ever get invaded.

The aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan and four other warships were sent east of Taiwan in what the US called a routine deployment.

Read more: China launches biggest ever war games exercise around Taiwan as Liz Truss urges de-escalation

Why is China upset?

Taiwan is an island that it dwarfed by its communist neighbour.

The Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 after the communists seized power, ousting the Republic of China – Taiwan's official name – to the island.

The communists, who established the People's Republic of China, never managed to capture the island but views reunification as inevitable.

Taiwanese troops train for an invasion
Taiwanese troops train for an invasion. Picture: Getty

Taiwan lost its recognition as China in places like the UN but many countries keep up informal diplomatic and economic ties. The US is among its closest friends.

Taiwan is a democracy with a strong economy, playing a key role in areas like semiconductor production.

But China views it instead as a rogue province and has threatened invasion should it ever formally declare itself independent.

Nancy Pelosi's visit happened as scheduled despite China's repeated warnings for her to avoid visiting.

The bellicose rhetoric, which saw senior Chinese figures including leader Xi Jinping warn the US of getting burned if it played with fire, did not stop the trip.

Taiwan is on alert for Chinese exercises around it
Taiwan is on alert for Chinese exercises around it. Picture: Google Maps

This is a blow for a country that wants to see itself as an equal to the US, if not overtake it too.

Could this result in war?

The exercises are serious sabre-rattling as opposed to a prelude to a war, but observers wonder if it does set the scene for how an attack would go.

The exercises see the People's Liberation Army engulf Taiwan with the exercises.

Taiwan has described its actions, which come close to shipping lanes and ports, as tantamount to a blockade.

Who is Nancy Pelosi?

Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the US Congress. The speaker has a political role in comparison to the lower house of Parliament, the House of Commons, where it serves as a neutral figure.

Ms Pelosi has been a staunch backer of Taiwan.

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