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China’s forces encircle Taiwan as they begin live-fire drills

The Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command said it conducted long-range, live-fire training in the Taiwan Straits on Thursday, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Earlier in the day, Chinese state media reported that exercises to simulate an air and sea “blockade” around Taiwan began on Wednesday, but offered little hard evidence to back up the claim.

The military stance was a deliberate show of force after Pelosi left the island on Wednesday night, bound for South Korea.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said its military remained in a “normal” but cautious stance and called the live-fire drills an “absurd act” that sought to “change the status quo.”

“We are closely monitoring hostile activities around the Taiwan Sea and that of the outlying islands and will act appropriately,” the ministry said in a statement.

Exercises that apply pressure

Well before Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, nearly 24 hours, China had warned that her presence was not welcome. The ruling Chinese Communist Party claims the self-governing island as its own territory, even though it has never controlled it.

China has released a map showing six zones around Taiwan that will be the site of drills in the coming days. But on Thursday, Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau said in a statement that China had added a seventh military exercise area for ships and aircraft to avoid “in the waters around eastern Taiwan.”

Chinese state media on Thursday described a wide range of objectives for the drills, including strikes on land and sea targets.

“The exercises focus on basic training sessions, including joint blockade, attack on sea targets, strikes on land targets and airspace control operation, and the joint combat capabilities of the troops were tested in the military operations,” said a statement by Xinhua News Agency attributed to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command, which has responsibility for the areas near Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Global Times tabloid reported that the drills involved some of China’s newest and most sophisticated weapons, including J-20 stealth fighters and DF-17 hypersonic missiles, and that some missiles may be fired over the island — a move that it would be extremely challenging.

“The drills are unprecedented as PLA conventional missiles are expected to fly over the island of Taiwan for the first time,” the Global Times reported, citing experts.

“THE PLA forces will enter areas within 12 nautical miles of the island and the so-called median line will cease to exist.”

Reports from Taiwan of the Chinese military movement included fighter jets crossing the median line and a report by Taiwan’s state-run News Agency, citing government sources, that two of China’s most powerful warships — Type 55 destroyers — were spotted Tuesday off the island’s central and southeastern coasts, with the closest being 37 miles (60 kilometers) from land.

However, there was little confirmation or hard evidence provided by China to support the kind of claims published in the Global Times.

China’s state television offered footage of fighter jets taking off, ships at sea and missiles in motion, but the dates this footage was taken could not be verified.

Some analysts were skeptical that Beijing could follow through on what it threatened, such as a blockade of Taiwan.

“The official announcement (of the blockade) refers to just a few days, which would make it difficult to call it a blockade in practical terms,” ​​said Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King’s College London.

“Blocks are difficult to execute and long-lasting. This exercise is not that,” he said.

Patalano said the biggest impact of the exercises will be psychological.

“During that time period, ships and aircraft will likely reroute to avoid the area, but that is a primary objective of the selected sites: to create disruption, discomfort and fear of worse to come,” he said.

Change of plane and ship itineraries

China’s retaliatory drills have already caused disruptions to flights and ships in Taiwan, although the island is trying to minimize their impact.

Taiwan’s transport minister said there had been agreements reached with Japan and the Philippines to reroute 18 international flights departing from the island — affecting about 300 flights in total — to avoid PLA live-fire exercises.

And on Wednesday, Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau issued three notices, asking ships to use alternative routes to seven ports across the island.

China’s planned live-fire drills were also causing concern in Japan.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the exercises posed a threat to his country’s security.

One of the six exercise areas set up by China was near Japan’s Yonaguni Island, part of Okinawa Prefecture and just 68 miles (110 kilometers) off the coast of Taiwan.

The same Chinese exercise zone is also close to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, a rocky uninhabited chain known as the Diaoyus in China over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

“Specifically, a training area has been established in the waters near Japan, and if China were to conduct live ammunition drills in such an area, it could affect the security of Japan and its people,” Matsuno said.

Meanwhile, the United States military remained silent on the Chinese drills and did not respond to CNN’s questions on Thursday.

In addition to closely monitoring Chinese military movements around the island, Taiwan has also said it will strengthen security against cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.

Taiwan’s cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng told a news conference on Wednesday that the government has strengthened security at key infrastructure points and raised the level of cyber security alertness in all government offices.

Taiwan expects increased “cognitive warfare,” referring to disinformation campaigns used to influence public opinion, Lo said.

CNN’s Wayne Chang and Eric Cheung contributed to this report.

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