Thursday, March 30

China begins live-fire drills around Taiwan after Pelosi visit

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China began its promised military drills in the airspace and waters around Taiwan on Thursday, as the Beijing-claimed island braces for the potential fallout of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

China’s People’s Liberation Army launched several ballistic missiles into waters off northeastern and southwestern Taiwan starting at 1:56 pm (1:56 am ET), Taiwan’s military news agency reported, citing the defense ministry. The ministry condemned what it called China’s “irrational actions,” saying they undermined regional peace.

About an hour earlier, the PLA began what are believed to be unprecedented live-fire drills in six zones that effectively encircle Taiwan’s main island, which is about 100 miles off the coast of China. The drills were announced shortly after Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late Tuesday night, and are set to last until Sunday.

Chinese state media reported that the exercises had “achieved the expected results.”

A Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan on Thursday. Hector Retamal / AFP – Getty Images

On Wednesday evening, Pelosi and her delegation of House Democratic lawmakers departed Taiwan for South Korea, the fourth stop on a tour of Asia that also includes Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.

Pelosi, a longtime critic of China’s ruling Communist Party, was the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Beijing, which claims the self-ruling democracy of 24 million people as its territory, viewed her visit as an infringement of its sovereignty.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described the speaker’s visit as “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational,” Reuters reported, citing Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

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Speaking in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Wang said China was taking necessary and timely defensive countermeasures to protect its sovereignty and security.

Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs slammed what it called China’s “provocative actions.”

“The practice of not allowing ships to enter specific sea and airspace will seriously affect international shipping and economic and trade exchanges,” spokesperson Joanne Ou said in a statement Thursday, adding that the Taiwanese government will “firmly defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. ”

Taiwan’s ministry of defense repeated its resolve to avoid escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwanese forces “are operating as usual and monitor our surroundings in response to irrational activities from PRC, aiming for changing the status quo & destabilizing the region’s security,” the ministry said on Twitter on Thursday, using an abbreviation for China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China. “We seek no escalation, but we don’t stand down when it comes to our security and sovereignty.”

China had already heightened its military activities around Taiwan before Pelosi arrived on the island. On Wednesday, while she was there, it sent 27 warplanes into Taiwan’s self-declared air-defense identification zone, which is wider than the island’s official airspace.

Two of the formations crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait, according to mapping provided by the ministry, a deviation from the usual flight path. China conducts such military sorties almost daily, but the number is usually in the single digits.

On Wednesday evening, after Pelosi left, Taiwan’s military shot warning flares at an unidentified aircraft over Kinmen, a Taiwanese island about 6 miles off the coast of China. The defense ministry said Thursday that it appeared to be an unmanned drone.

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Image: US House Speaker Pelosi Visits Taiwan
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Wednesday. Getty Images

The ministry stressed the move was in line with standard operating procedures, telling people to remain calm.

While Chinese President Xi Jinping sees Taiwan’s “reunification” with the mainland as a historic inevitability, recent public opinion polls show the majority of Taiwanese have no desire to become part of China, and instead want to maintain the status quo.

China repeatedly warned the US against the visit in the days leading up to Pelosi’s visit, vowing there would be “serious consequences.” The White House says the speaker’s visit was consistent with US policy on Taiwan and should not be used to precipitate a crisis.

The international community has expressed concern over the Taiwan Strait tensions, with ASEAN saying the situation “could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers.”

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations, including the United States, said China’s response risked destabilizing the region.

“There is no justification to use a visit as a pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry objected to the statement, canceling a meeting between Wang and the foreign minister of Japan, a G-7 member, that was scheduled to take place in Cambodia on the sidelines of the ASEAN event.

China is justified in the measures it has taken in response to Pelosi’s visit, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing on Thursday.

“The malicious provocation of the United States came first, and the legitimate defense of China came second,” she said.

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