China, Taiwan play high-seas ‘cat and mouse’ as drills wrap up

China is set to conclude the unprecedented military exercises it launched in response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

Chinese and Taiwanese warships played high-seas “cat and mouse” on Sunday, according to a report, as Beijing wrapped up four days of unprecedented military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

The air and naval drills were launched in response to a visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and involved test launches of ballistic missiles over the island’s capital for the first time.

China, which considers self-ruled Taiwan a part of its territory, also cut off communication links with Washington.

The Reuters news agency, citing a person with knowledge of the matter, said some 10 warships each from China and Taiwan sailed at close quarters in the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, with some Chinese vessels crossing the median line, the unofficial buffer separating the two sides.

As Chinese forces “pressed” the line, the Taiwan side stayed close to monitor and, where possible, deny the Chinese the ability to cross, the person told Reuters.

“The two sides are showing restraint,” the person said, describing the manoeuvres as high seas “cat and mouse”. “One side tries to cross, and the other stands in the way and forces them to a more disadvantaged position and eventually return to the other side.”

The island’s defence ministry said in a statement that multiple Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones were simulating attacks on the island and its navy.

It said its forces scrambled jets to warn away 20 Chinese aircraft on Saturday, including 14 that crossed the median line. It also detected 14 Chinese ships conducting activity around the Taiwan Strait. It added that its shore-based anti-ship missiles and its Patriot surface-to-air missiles were on standby.

The Chinese exercises, centred on six locations around the island that China claims as its own, began on Thursday and are scheduled to last until midday on Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported last week. China’s military said on Saturday the exercises, north, southwest and east of Taiwan, had a focus on land-strike and sea-assault capabilities.

Map showing Taiwan, mainland China and locations where China is holding military exercises until Sunday
The six areas around Taiwan where China is holding live-fire military exercises until Sunday [Al Jazeera]

The United States called the exercises an escalation.

“These activities are a significant escalation in China’s efforts to change the status quo. They are provocative, irresponsible and raise the risk of miscalculation,” a White House spokesperson said.

“They are also at odds with our longstanding goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is what the world expects.”

China says its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter and it reserves the right to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary. Taiwan rejects China’s claims saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

China has also warned the US not to “act rashly” and create a greater crisis.

Referring to the response to Pelosi’s visit, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper said China had adopted “effective measures that fully demonstrates that China is fully determined and capable of safeguarding national unity and safeguarding … sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

As part of its response to Pelosi’s visit, China also halted communication through various channels with the US, including between military theatre commands and on climate change.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of taking “irresponsible” steps and moving away from prioritising peaceful resolution towards the use of force.

Speaking during a visit to the Philippines, Blinken said the US had been hearing concern from allies about what he called China’s dangerous and destabilising actions, but Washington sought to avoid escalating the situation.

He said China’s cessation of bilateral dialogue in eight key areas was a move that would punish the world.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday accused Blinken of spreading “misinformation”.