Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday that China’s military exercises targeting Taiwan represent a “serious problem” that threatens regional peace and security after five ballistic missiles fired as part of the exercises landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Kishida, speaking after breakfast with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her congressional delegation, said the missile launches must “stop immediately”.
China, which claims Taiwan and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary, called Pelosi’s visit earlier this week to the self-ruled island a provocation and on Thursday began military exercises, including missile attack training, on six zones around Taiwan, could be the largest since the mid-1990s.
In Taipei on Wednesday, Pelosi said the American commitment to democracy in Taiwan and elsewhere “remains ironclad.” She became the first speaker of Parliament to visit the island in 25 years.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said five missiles landed Thursday in Japan’s exclusive economic zone off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan’s main islands. He said Japan had protested to China, saying the missiles “threatened Japan’s national security and the lives of the Japanese people, which we strongly condemn.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, attending a regional meeting in Cambodia, said China’s actions “seriously affect peace and stability in the region and the international community, and we demand the immediate suspension of military exercises.”
Japan has in recent years boosted its defense capability and troop presence in southwestern Japan and on outlying islands, including Okinawa, which lies about 700 kilometers (420 miles) northeast of Taiwan. Many residents say they worry their island will quickly become embroiled in any conflict with Taiwan. Okinawa hosts the majority of the roughly 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral security pact.
At the breakfast earlier Friday, Pelosi and her congressional delegation also discussed their shared security concerns regarding China, North Korea and Russia and pledged to work for peace and stability in Taiwan, Kishida said. . Pelosi was also scheduled to hold talks with her Japanese counterpart, House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda.
Japan and its key ally America are pushing for new security and economic frameworks with other democracies in the Indo-Pacific region and Europe as a counter to China’s growing influence amid rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei.
Days before Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, a group of senior Japanese lawmakers, including former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, visited the island and discussed regional security with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. Ishiba said Japan, while working with the United States to prevent conflict in the Indo-Pacific, wants a defense deal with Taiwan.
On Thursday, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations issued a statement saying “there is no justification for using a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait.” It said China’s “escalating response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region.”
China cited its displeasure at the announcement of the cancellation of last-minute talks between the foreign ministers of China and Japan on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Cambodia on Thursday.
Pelosi held talks Thursday in South Korea, also a key US ally, which has stayed away from the Taiwan issue, apparently to avoid upsetting China, focusing instead on North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
In recent years, South Korea has struggled to find a balance between the United States and China as their rivalry deepens.
The Chinese military exercises that began on Thursday involve the navy, air force and other departments and will last until Sunday. They include missile attacks on targets in seas north and south of the island in the wake of the last major Chinese military exercises in 1996-1995 aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s leaders and voters.
Taiwan has put its military on alert and organized civil defense exercises, while the US has numerous naval bases in the region.
China also flew warplanes into Taiwan and blocked imports of its citrus fruits and fish.
China views the island as a breakaway province and considers visits by foreign officials to Taiwan recognition of its sovereignty.
The Biden administration and Pelosi have said the United States remains committed to the so-called one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing as China’s government but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. The administration discouraged but did not prevent Pelosi from visiting.
Pelosi has long been an advocate for human rights in China. She, along with other lawmakers, visited Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1991 to support democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters in the square.
As House leader, Pelosi’s trip has raised US-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress. The last speaker of the House to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.
China and Taiwan, separated in 1949 after a civil war, have no official relations but multibillion-dollar business ties.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea and Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.