China launched a series of ballistic missiles into waters near Taiwan’s ports and held other military drills on Thursday in an attempt to punish the country for hosting a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said China fired 11 Dongfeng missiles between 1:56 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. into waters north, northeast, south and east of Taiwan, in an “irrational action that destroys regional peace “.
Dongfeng ballistic missiles are some of the People’s Liberation Army’s most powerful weapons. They include the DF-21 intermediate-range anti-ship, which is seen as a tool to deter the US Navy and its carrier strike groups from operating in strategically important areas near China.
Taipei also said four drones had flown over islets off Kinmen, the Taiwanese-controlled island near the Chinese coastal city of Xiamen, the second overflight of such islands off Taiwan’s coast during ongoing Chinese exercises and the third time last week. .
In the afternoon, the booming sound of apparent artillery fire could be heard in northern Taiwan as China began the three-day drills, which are unprecedented in scale and are strategically located in six coastal areas of the island
Five ballistic missiles fired by China also landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone for the first time, prompting harsh criticism from Tokyo.
“This is a serious problem that relates to the safety and public safety of our country. We strongly condemn it,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
According to a Japanese defense ministry chart, a missile flew over Taipei. Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the think tank CSIS, said firing a missile over the Taiwanese capital was a “major escalation”.
The Pentagon declined to comment on Chinese military activity, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment. Before Pelosi landed in Taiwan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China “not to engage in any escalation.”
Pelosi this week became the first female speaker of the US House of Representatives to visit Taiwan in 25 years as part of a trip to Asia during which she pledged “ironclad” support for the country’s democratically elected government .
Apart from the missile tests, the PLA also sent warplanes to Taiwan. Taiwan’s defense ministry said 22 fighter jets crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, an unofficial dividing line the two sides have respected in the past to avoid conflict.
After the drills, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called for help from the international community to “jointly stop unilateral and irrational military actions.”
“We are committed to maintaining the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai added in a speech. “We are calm and non-aggressive, we are rational and non-provocative, but we will also be firm and not back down.”
In an effort to reassure the public, he said his national security team was doing everything possible to maintain the safety of flight routes and sea lanes and ensure the normal operation of ports and airports.
“We are also working to ensure normal operations and stability in the economy and financial markets,” he said.
China, which has accused Pelosi of violating its claimed sovereignty over Taiwan, expected her to leave the island on Wednesday before beginning the drills.
Analysts said the delay helped avoid immediate confrontation with the US, but the exercises were expected to significantly exceed the scale and intensity of those conducted during the last crisis in the strait 26 years ago.
They said the maneuvers risked undermining a fragile, decades-old peace between China and Taiwan, which has enjoyed de facto independence since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, and could trigger a conflict between Beijing and the USA
Speaking to CSIS, John Culver, a former CIA China analyst, said the Chinese missile launch along with other military activity suggested that US-China relations had entered a “new era” .
“I think this is the new normal. The Chinese want to demonstrate, as they have done in previous Taiwan Street crises, that the president’s visit has crossed a line,” Culver said.
Separately, Pelosi’s visit to the island continued to make diplomatic waves. China canceled a bilateral foreign minister-level meeting with Japan that was scheduled to take place in Cambodia on Thursday in apparent protest against a statement released by the Group of Seven and the EU criticizing PLA exercises .
“Japan is not in a position to comment on issues related to Taiwan,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry.
In South Korea, President Yoon Suk-yeol refused to meet with Pelosi during the Seoul leg of her Asian tour in what critics said was a move to appease Beijing.
The US reaction to the exercises has been muted. “USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are underway in the Philippine Sea continuing normal and scheduled operations as part of their routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. say the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
The USS Tripoli, a large amphibious assault ship that carries fighter jets, has also been operating in the region.
The Chinese exercises have disrupted air traffic, with South Korea’s flagship carrier Korean Air canceling all flights between Seoul and Taipei on Friday and Saturday and rival Asiana Airlines following suit. Asiana could not be reached for comment.
The disruption to commercial shipping is unclear at this time. According to the ship-tracking website MarineTraffic, traffic in the areas the PLA declared off-limits was lower than usual, although some fishing and cargo vessels were passing through.
Beijing denounced Pelosi’s visit in a barrage of propaganda as a provocation and singled out some politicians from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party as targets for future “punishment.”
Additional reporting by Maiqi Ding in Beijing, Christian Davies and Song Jung-a in Seoul and Kana Inagaki in Tokyo