Chinese army scrambles fighter jets across Taiwan Strait as US plane believed to carry Nancy Pelosi nears

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The Chinese army has dispatched an unknown number of Su-35 multi-role fighter jets across the Taiwan Strait as the plane believed to be carrying Nancy Pelosi approached Taiwan, mainland media reported.

A social media account affiliated with state broadcaster CCTV reported the deployment late on Tuesday.

This came after the US Air Force jet that flew House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Malaysia headed east towards Borneo on Tuesday before taking a detour around the Philippines, skirting the South China Sea en route to Taiwan.

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Flight SPAR19 left Kuala Lumpur at 3.42pm, according to tracking website Flightradar24.

Citing sources, American political analyst Josh Rogin said the route was "designed to minimise the security risks".

Flightradar24 showed the plane entering Taiwan's air identification zone from the southwestern side at around 10pm. The website indicates the flight is estimated to arrive in Taipei at 10.44pm.

It is not clear if Pelosi or her delegation are on the plane.

Meanwhile, SPAR19 updated its flight information, listing Taipei Songshan airport as its final destination. The plane did not show its destination after leaving Malaysia and only updated its flight information after passing Manila.

A screen cap of the Flightradar24 website showing the route of Flight SPAR19. Photo: Handout alt=A screen cap of the Flightradar24 website showing the route of Flight SPAR19. Photo: Handout>

It is widely expected Pelosi will visit Taiwan and meet President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, defying Beijing's repeated warnings.

Her plane is expected to land at Taipei's Songshan airport at around 10.20pm, according to Taiwanese media. It is unclear if the aircraft is accompanied by US military planes.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry said the US would "pay the price" if Pelosi went to Taiwan.

"The US side will bear the responsibility and pay the price for undermining China's sovereign security interests," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Beijing has vowed to take "strong measures" in response to the unannounced visit. Both mainland China and Taiwan on Tuesday stepped up military deployments across the Taiwan Strait.

Without confirming Pelosi's itinerary, Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang said the self-ruled island would warmly welcome visits by any foreign guests.

Taiwan "would make the most appropriate arrangements" for such guests and respect their plans, he told reporters early on Tuesday when asked about Pelosi's visit.

China regards Pelosi's trip as support for Tsai's pro-independence administration. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province under the one-China principle and to be reunited by force if necessary.

Most countries, including the US, do not recognise the self-governed island as a sovereign state. Washington acknowledges the one-China principle but is against any attempt to take the island by force.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait and between China and the US have run high since reports of Pelosi's possible trip to Taiwan emerged. Beijing has warned that its military "will not sit idly by" if Pelosi goes to Taiwan.

China has been conducting military exercises in the South China Sea and Bohai Sea this week. According to announcements by the China Maritime Safety Administration, military training will be conducted in some waters of the South China Sea between Tuesday and Saturday, and entry is prohibited.

Meanwhile, live-fire drills are being carried out in some waters of the northern Bohai Sea, where entry is also forbidden, from Monday to Thursday.

The drills have been seen as part of the People's Liberation Army's efforts to deter Pelosi from visiting Taiwan.

Four People's Liberation Army (PLA) J-16 fighters were spotted in Taiwan's southwestern air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday, according to the island's defence ministry.

And Japan's defence ministry said two Chinese warships - a type 052D destroyer and a 052A guided missile frigate - entered the waters east of Taiwan.

Taiwan's defence ministry said on Tuesday it had a full grasp of military activities near the island and would send forces in reaction to "enemy threats".

"We are meticulously preparing various plans and appropriate troops will be dispatched to respond in accordance with the regulations of emergency situation responses and the threat posed by the enemy," the ministry said in a statement.

Beijing's representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said on Monday Pelosi's visit was provocative.

"[If Pelosi] insists on making it, then China will take firm and strong measures to safeguard our national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Zhang said. "We allow no one to cross this red line."

But the US asked Beijing not to escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the trip would be entirely Pelosi's decision, and called on China to "act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward".

White House national security spokesman John Kirby also said on Monday: "There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing US policy into some sort of crisis."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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