China’s largest military exercises surrounding Taiwan began on Thursday, in a show of force straddling vital international sea lanes following a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after a trip that defied a series of tough threats from Beijing, which considers the self-ruled island its territory.
Pelosi was the highest-profile US elected official to visit Taiwan in 25 years and said her trip made it “unequivocally clear” that the US would not abandon a democratic ally.
It prompted a furious reaction from Beijing, which vowed “punishment” and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan, some of the busiest waterways in the world.
The drills, which began at around 12pm (0400 GMT), involve “live firing”, according to state media.
“Six main areas around the island have been selected for this live combat exercise and during this period, relevant ships and aircraft should not enter the relevant waters and airspaces,” the state broadcaster reported CCTV
Chinese forces fired “multiple” ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan during military exercises on Thursday, Taipei’s defense ministry said, condemning what it called “irrational actions that undermine regional peace “.
“The Ministry of National Defense stated that the Chinese Communist Party fired multiple Dongfeng-series ballistic missiles into the waters surrounding northeastern and southwestern Taiwan starting at approximately 1:56 p.m. this afternoon” , the Ministry of Defense said in a brief statement.
China’s People’s Liberation Army also confirmed that they had fired missiles.
AFP reporters on the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles flying into the sky followed by plumes of white smoke and loud sounds.
The AFP was unable to identify the projectiles, which were fired from close proximity to nearby military installations, or their precise direction.
Taiwan’s military also did not confirm the precise location of where the missiles landed or whether they flew over the island.
The drills are taking place in various areas around Taiwan, at some points just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the coast, and will conclude at noon on Sunday.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said it was closely monitoring the exercises.
“The Ministry of National Defense emphasizes that it will maintain the principle of preparing for war without seeking war, and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and provoking disputes,” he said in a statement.
Beijing’s nationalist state tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the drills were “unprecedented” and that the missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.
“This is the first time the PLA will launch long-range artillery live across the Taiwan Strait,” the paper said, using the Chinese military’s formal name, the People’s Liberation Army.
The Group of Seven industrialized nations condemned the drills, saying in a statement that “there is no justification for using a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait.”
“Preparation for Real Combat”
Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau issued warnings to ships on Wednesday to prevent the areas from being used for Chinese drills.
The Taiwanese cabinet said the exercises would disrupt 18 international routes that pass through its Flight Information Region (FIR).
Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said it had ordered its planes to “avoid passing through designated airspace areas around the Taiwan region”.
The maneuvers will take place along some of the busiest sea routes on the planet, used to deliver semiconductors and vital electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.
Beijing has defended the drills as “necessary and fair”, blaming the escalation on the United States and its allies.
“In the current fight over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the United States is the provocateur, China is the victim,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Wednesday.
A Chinese military source also told AFP that the exercises would be conducted “in preparation for actual combat”.
“If Taiwanese forces come into contact with the PLA on purpose and accidentally fire a gun, the PLA will take severe countermeasures and all consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side,” the source said.
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive ruler in a generation.
The island is once again a sticking point between the United States and a Chinese leadership poised to project power ahead of a crucial meeting of the ruling party this fall in which Xi is expected to win an unprecedented third term.
On the mainland, at what is said to be China’s closest point to Taiwan, AFP saw a batch of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low altitude near a popular tourist spot.
“China’s announced military exercises represent a clear escalation from the existing baseline of Chinese military activities around Taiwan and from the last Taiwan Strait crisis in 1995-1996,” said analyst Amanda Hsiao senior China fellow at the International Crisis Group.
“Beijing is signaling that it rejects Taiwan’s sovereignty.”
However, analysts have told AFP that China does not intend to escalate the situation beyond its control, at least for now.
Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-Sen University, said: “The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)