TAIPEI (Reuters) – The threat of force from China has not decreased but Taiwan will not escalate conflict or provoke disputes, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Thursday, as a source told Reuters the number of warships in the Taiwan Strait was “greatly reduced.”
Furious about a visit to self-ruled Taiwan last week by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China had earlier extended its largest-ever exercises around the island it claims as its own beyond the four days originally scheduled.
China’s military said on Wednesday it had “completed various tasks” around Taiwan but would conduct regular patrols, signaling a possible end to the days of war games but also that Beijing would maintain pressure on the island.
Last week’s Chinese exercises included launches of ballistic missiles, some of which flew over the island’s capital of Taipei, and simulated sea and air attacks in surrounding skies and waters.
Taiwan has also been conducting relatively small-scale, annual exercises, scheduled before the surge in tension and aimed at preparing its forces to repel an invasion. Tsai visited Air Force headquarters on Thursday to speak to officers.
“At present, the threat of Chinese military force has not decreased,” Tsai told the officers, according to a statement from her office.
Tsai again stressed that Taiwan would neither escalate conflicts nor provoke disputes, her office added. “We will firmly defend our sovereignty and national security, and adhere to the line of defense of democracy and freedom.”
No more than 10 Chinese and Taiwan Navy ships stayed close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait as of Thursday afternoon, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters, adding the number was “greatly reduced” from previous days.
Several Chinese Navy ships were conducting missions off Taiwan’s east coast and near Japan’s Yonaguni island, the source familiar with the security planning in the areas near Taiwan said.
Yonaguni is the Japanese island closest to Taiwan, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) off Taiwan.
Several Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the unofficial buffer separating China and Taiwan in the strait earlier on Thursday, the person added.
Tsai acknowledged the pressure Taiwan’s military was under. “In the face of China’s recent military provocations, the nation’s armed forces are right on the front lines, and its duties will only be more onerous and the pressure will be even greater,” she said.
China’s military did not make any new comment on its military activity around Taiwan on Thursday.
However, the two sides continued their war of words, with Taiwan reiterating a rejection of China’s proposed “one country, two systems” model for bringing the island under Beijing’s control.
Only Taiwan’s people could decide its future, the spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, Joanne Ou, told a news conference in Taipei. China was using Pelosi’s visit to Taipei as an “excuse to create a new normality to intimidate Taiwan’s people,” Ou added.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that “achieving the complete reunification of the motherland” was an unstoppable historical trend. “We are willing to create a wide space for peaceful reunification, but we will never leave any room for all forms of secessionist activities for Taiwan independence.”
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 has lived under the threat of Chinese invasion since 1949, when the defeated Republic of China nationalist government fled to the island after Mao Zedong’s Communist Party won a civil war.