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As tensions jump up around the self-ruled island of Taiwan following the stopover in Taipei of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi last Thursday, we should think about how Filipino migrant workers would be evacuated in the event the tensions lead to more than just words and launched missiles.
China’s largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan, where more than 23 million people live and dream, kicked off last week in a show of force straddling important international shipping lanes following the 82-year-old Pelosi’s visit.
This early, we think of the nearly 160,000 Filipinos who may have to be evacuated in the event the tensions get worse – although we know the government is on top of the situation.
Last weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met up with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to bolster the countries’ “strong” alliance, as China conducts military drills around nearby Taiwan.
The Filipino leader has told Blinken that the Taiwan-China conflict “demonstrates how volatile the international diplomatic scene is not only in the region” and that “The PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution, I’d like to think of it.”
Blinken himself said the United States is determined to deescalate tensions over the Taiwan Strait to keep the region, including the Philippines, safe and ensure unimpeded access to the major waterway, where a huge bulk of trading ships pass through.
But he vowed that the American government would help the country secure its maritime domain amid tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
During a press briefing in Manila, Blinken warned China that any attack on Filipino assets and armed forces in the South China Sea would trigger their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Meanwhile, Taiwan accused the Chinese army of simulating an attack on its main island last weekend, as Beijing doubled down on its retaliation for Pelosi’s visit to Taipei after announcing a suspension of cooperation with Washington on key issues.
Observers have said Beijing’s largest-ever exercises around Taiwan have offered key clues into its plans for a grueling blockade in the event of a war to take the self-ruled island and revealed an increasingly emboldened Chinese military.
Taipei’s military has said 68 Chinese fighter jets and 13 warships crossed the “median line” that runs down the Taiwan Strait during Friday’s military drills by Beijing’s forces,” with the defense ministry saying in a statement “(We) condemn the communist military for deliberately crossing the median line of the strait and harassing the sea and air around Taiwan.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry is closely watching the drills – with missiles launched from the mainland and some flying across Taiwan air space to one target (there are at least five identified targets round the island) on the waters southeast of the island.
The defense ministry said in a statement that “it will uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war, and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and causing disputes.”
Beijing’s nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the exercises were “unprecedented” and that missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.
“This is the first time the PLA will launch live long-range artillery across” the Taiwan Strait, the newspaper said using the Chinese military’s formal name, the People’s Liberation Army.
The Group of Seven of industrialized nations has condemned the drills, saying in a statement there was “no justification to use a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait.”
The Chinese drills have disrupted 18 international routes passing through its flight information region, with the exercises taking place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to supply vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.
We heard Beijing defending the drills as “necessary and just,” pinning the blame for the escalation on the United States and its allies.
Against all this, three major political events are up: Taiwan’s election in November where President Tsai’s term expires; the mid-term elections in the United States where, as things stand, the balance of congressional power tilts against Biden and Pelosi’s Democratic Party; and China’s Communist Party Congress where Xi expects to get an unprecedented third term.
We hope, the drills notwithstanding, things will turn out right and tensions quickly defused.