September 24, 2022


China launched ballistic missiles and deployed fighter jets and warships on Thursday as it began its biggest military exercises in Taiwan, a show of force sparked by Visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island.

Pelosi was the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in years, defying a series of sharp threats from Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its territory.

In retaliation, China launched a series of drills in multiple zones around Taiwan, covering some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and in some places just 12 miles off the island’s coast.

The drills included a “conventional missile firepower attack” in waters east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said.

The goal was to test the accuracy of the missiles and their ability to deny the enemy access or control over an area, said Eastern Theater Command spokesman Senior Col. Shi Yi.

Taiwan said the Chinese military had fired several Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles and condemned the drills as “senseless actions that undermine regional peace.”

A television screen shows China's People's Liberation Army has begun military exercises, including live firing in the waters and airspace surrounding the island of Taiwan, in Hong Kong
A television screen shows China’s military starting drills, including live firing in the waters and airspace surrounding Taiwan, as reported by Chinese state television, in Hong Kong, China on Aug. 4, 2022.

TYRONE SIU/REUTERS


Taipei did not say where the missiles landed or if they flew over the island.

Agence France-Presse reporters on the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles fly into the sky followed by white smoke and loud sounds.

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 relatively low altitude near a popular tourist spot.

Chinese navy ships and military aircraft briefly crossed the median line separating the Taiwan Strait several times, Reuters news agency reported, citing a Taiwanese source briefed on the drills.

Taiwan sent jets and deployed missile systems to track several Chinese aircraft that crossed the line.

Reuters quoted its source as saying: “They flew in and then flew out, again and again. They keep harassing us.”

The drills will end at noon on Sunday, Beijing said.

China’s nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times had said, citing military analysts, that the drills were “unprecedented” and that missiles would be flown over Taiwan for the first time.

Beijing has defended the drills as “necessary and just”, blaming the escalation on the United States and its allies.

“In the current battle surrounding Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the United States is the provocateur, China is the victim,” State Department spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Wednesday.

A Chinese military source also told AFP that the drills would be held “in preparation for actual combat”.

“If Taiwanese forces come into contact with the PLA on purpose and accidentally fire a weapon, the PLA will take strict countermeasures and all consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side,” the source said.

The maneuvers take place along some of the busiest shipping lanes on the planet, used to deliver vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has issued warnings to ships to avoid areas used for Chinese exercises.

Taiwan’s cabinet said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes passing through the Flight Information Area (FIR).

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in a generation.

Analysts said the Chinese leadership is eager to project strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this fall, in which Xi is expected to receive an unprecedented third term.

“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 Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at International Crisis Group.

“Beijing signals rejection of Taiwan sovereignty”.

But analysts told AFP that China does not aim to escalate the situation beyond its control — at least for now.

Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, said: “The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war.”



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