Chinese missiles fired towards Taiwan have landed in Japanese waters, Tokyo says, as Beijing ignored warnings that a miscalculation could spark war to hold its largest-ever live-fire drills around the island.
Five out of nine ballistic missiles launched by China landed in Japan’s ‘exclusive economic zone’, the country’s defence minister said today, adding that he had lodged a protest with Beijing.
The island of Yonaguni, which belongs to Japan, sits around 70 miles off Taiwan’s eastern coast and Japan’s ‘economic zone’ – waters in which it has special rights – covers about half the distance between the two. China has fired ballistic missiles at its neighbour before, but this is the first time they have landed in the Japanese zone.
Taiwan says China fired a total of 11 ballistic missiles into waters off its south-western and north-eastern coasts today, in several salvos that began around 2pm local time and lasted until 4pm.
Beijing also scrambled fighter jets and sent some of its most up-to-date warships to surround the island, in what state media said is a rehearsal for an invasion. The drills are due to last until Sunday, and are due to including long-range bombers and hypersonic missiles. China’s two aircraft carriers are also holding position nearby.
American forces – including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier which is forward-deployed with the Pacific Fleet – are thought to be lurking nearby, while missile-tracking spy planes have been sent to watch over the drills.
Xi Jinping announced the exercises using US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the island – which took place from Tuesday and Wednesday – as an excuse. She is the most-senior politician to visit since Newt Gingrich in 1997, but her trip came shortly after a Senate delegation visit drew no response.
China fires short-range ballistic missiles into waters near Taiwan on Thursday, as four days of live-fire exercises kick off that will effectively blockade the island in the biggest threat to its independence in decades
Ballistic missiles are launched from bases in China’s Fujian province towards Taiwan during military drills that state media has said are a rehearsal for an invasion
Chinese missile batteries open fire from the coast near Pingtang Island across the Taiwan Strait as Beijing begins its biggest-ever war games around the self-governing island
Chinese beach-goers watch as missiles streak into the sky over Pingtan Island, close to Taiwan, on Thursday afternoon
The Chinese military has encircled the island, with some training exercises taking place within Taiwan’s territorial waters
A Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan Island, one of mainland China’s closes points to Taiwan. The Asian country has started ‘live-firing’ war games in the waters around Taiwan today
Chinese helicopters fly out over the Taiwan Strait on Thursday morning, as Beijing carries out the largest-ever live-fire military drills around the self-governing island
Chinese tourists look at smoke trails from missiles fired over the Taiwan Strait as huge war games got underway on Thursday, in the largest threat to the island’s independence in decades
Pelosi – a long-time critic of China’s human rights record and anti-democratic rulers – justified the visit by saying it showed America’s continuing support for its ally. Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, also welcomed the move.
But it came at a bad time for Xi, as he tries to project an image of strength ahead of Party Congress this autumn where he is expected to be given an historic third term in power which would mark the start of autocratic rule.
Xi has made the so-called ‘reunification’ of Taiwan with China his hoped-for legacy as he aims to become the country’s greatest leader since Mao, despite the fact that the Communists have never ruled the island.
Lu Shaye, China’s diplomat to France, today accused Taiwan of spreading ‘propaganda’ among people that has made people oppose ‘reunification’ – though the Communists have never actually ruled Taiwan – and said ominously that ‘re-education’ will be necessary after the territory is conquered.
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper meanwhile said the drill exclusion zones have been drawn up in such a way as to blockade all the island’s main ports, which would likely be the battle plan if Beijing were to invade.
Song Zhongping, a ‘military expert’ quoted by the Times, said the ‘comprehensive and highly targeted’ operations showed ‘the determination of resolving Taiwan question once and for all’.
‘In the event of a future military conflict, it is likely that the operational plans currently being rehearsed will be directly translated into combat operations,’ he added.
‘It means that our battle plan has been made clear to the US and the Taiwan authorities, and we are confident enough to inform them of the consequences of further provocation in this way.’
The war games threaten major disruption to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes which runs through the Taiwan strait, and have forced the island to divert huge amounts of air traffic that it relies upon to get crucial supplies – including food.
Nearly half the world’s ships passed through the narrow Taiwan Strait – which separates the island from the Chinese mainland – in the first seven months of this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The dramatic escalation in tensions was sparked by Pelosi’s visit earlier this week as she became the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
She said her presence made it ‘unequivocally clear’ that the United States would ‘not abandon’ a democratic ally like Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a ‘manic, irresponsible and highly irrational’ act, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The exercises, which began around 12pm (4am GMT), involve ‘live-firing’, according to state media.
‘Six major areas around the island have been selected for this actual combat exercise and during this period, relevant ships and aircraft should not enter the relevant waters and airspaces,’ state broadcaster CCTV reported.
China sent 22 fighter jets across the ‘median line’ running down the Taiwan Strait, Taipei’s defence ministry said. The Ministry of National Defense said ‘air defense missile systems’ were deployed to track the jets and radio warnings were broadcast, according to an update on its website.
Taiwanese troops also fired flares into the air to drive away four drones that flew over the outlying islands of Kinmen late on Thursday.
China’s military exercises will take place in multiple zones around Taiwan – at some points within just 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the island’s shore – and will conclude at midday on Sunday.
Taiwan accused China of ‘following the example of North Korea in wilfully test-firing missiles into waters near other countries’.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was closely watching the drills and that the island was prepared for conflict, but would not seek it.
‘The Ministry of National Defence stresses that it will uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war, and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and causing disputes,’ it said in a statement.
The ministry said the Chinese missiles flew high into the atmosphere and constituted no threat to Taiwan.
Nancy Pelosi speaks alongside Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei on Wednesday, during which she said America’s commitment to preserving democracy on the island is ‘ironclad’
A Xian H-6 Chinese bomber jet takes part in military drills in the skies near Taiwan yesterday, as Beijing puts on an unprecedented show of force after Nancy Pelosi visited the island
The view from the deck of a Chinese missile destroyer taking part in military drills in the Taiwan Strait yesterday, as Beijing menaces its democratic neighbour
Chinese anti-aircraft forces in its Eastern Theatre, which covers the Taiwan Strait, take part in live-firing exercises overnight
Video shows Chinese military forces firing live ammunition in drills near to the coast of Taiwan overnight as tensions continue to escalate
Pelosi stokes China’s fury as she slams country for ‘standing in the way of Taiwan’
Nancy Pelosi has accused China of ‘standing in the way’ of Taiwan’s participation in international affairs and cautioned that America’s commitment to preserving democracy ‘remains ironclad’.
Pelosi also met with Taiwan’s female president Tsai Ing-wen – telling her that the controversial visit shows the US ‘will not abandon its commitment’ to the island.
The Democrat specifically called out China, whose leaders warned the trip was pushing Taiwan into a ‘disastrous abyss,’ by telling reporters: ‘They didn’t say anything when the men came.’
Her remark referred to the surprise one-day visit made by bipartisan congressional delegation in April 2021. The group included Senators Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez, Richard Burr, Ben Sasse and Rob Portman, as well as Rep. Ronny Jackson.
Pelosi criticized Beijing for preventing Taiwan from ‘participating and going to certain meetings’ but noted the government would ‘not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.’
China furiously condemned the visit as Pelosi hailed self-ruled Taiwan as ‘one of the freest societies in the world’ in her speech to the parliament in Taipei.
Beijing’s nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the exercises were ‘unprecedented’ and that missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.
‘This is the first time the PLA will launch live long-range artillery across’ the Taiwan Strait, the newspaper said using the Chinese military’s formal name, the People’s Liberation Army.
Taiwan has described the exercises as ‘an irrational move to challenge the international order’.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen criticised the drills in a public video address, saying China ‘destroyed the status quo and violated our sovereignty’ with its ‘irresponsible actions.’ She urged China to be ‘reasonable and restrained.’
‘We are calm and not impulsive, we are reasonable and not provocative,’ she said. ‘But we will also be firm and not back down.’
Tsai said Taiwan is in communication with its allies to ensure that things do not escalate further.
The Group of Seven industrialised nations also condemned the drills, saying in a statement there was ‘no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait’.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said its forces are on alert and monitoring the situation, while seeking to avoid escalating tensions. Civil defense drills were held last week and notices were placed on designated air raid shelters months ago.
China’s ‘irrational behavior’ intends to alter the status quo and disrupt regional peace and stability, the ministry said.
‘The three service branches will combine efforts with all the people to jointly safeguard national security and territorial integrity’ while adapting to the situation as it develops, the statement said.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported the exercises were joint operations focused on ‘blockade, sea target assault, strike on ground targets, and airspace control.’
Ma Chen-kun, a professor at Taiwan’s National Defense University, said the drills were aimed at showing off the Chinese military’s ability to deploy precision weapons to cut off Taiwan’s links with the outside and facilitate the landing of troops.
The announced drills are ‘more complete’ than previous exercises, he said.
‘If the People’s Liberation Army actually invades Taiwan in an all-out invasion, the concrete actions it will take, it’s all in this particular exercise,’ Ma said.
‘The main thing is they will cut off Taiwan’s links to the outside world, from their sea, they would suppress the coastal defense firepower,’ he said.
Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau issued warnings on Wednesday to ships to avoid the areas being used for the Chinese drills.
Even a small disruption in global supply chains, already battered by the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could prove costly.
‘China’s planned live-fire exercises are occurring in an incredibly busy waterway,’ Nick Marro, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s lead analyst for global trade, wrote in a note.
‘The shutting down of these transport routes – even temporarily – has consequences not only for Taiwan, but also trade flows tied to Japan and South Korea.’
But several shipping companies contacted by AFP said they were waiting to see the impact of the drills before rerouting.
The ongoing typhoon season made it riskier to divert ships around the eastern coast of Taiwan through the Philippine Sea, some added.
Others said they would stick to their schedules.
‘We don’t see any impact during (this) period and we don’t have any plan on re-routing our vessels,’ said Bonnie Huang, a spokesman for Maersk China.
The drills have also hit air routes. Over the last two days, more than 400 flights were cancelled at major airports in Fujian, the Chinese province closest to Taiwan, signalling that the airspace could be used by the military.
The Taiwanese cabinet said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region (FIR).
Beijing has defended its military operations as ‘necessary and just’, pinning the blame for the escalation on the United States and its allies.
‘In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim,’ foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing Wednesday.
A Chinese military source also told AFP the exercises would be staged ‘in preparation for actual combat’.
‘If the Taiwanese forces come into contact with the PLA on purpose and accidentally fire a gun, the PLA will take stern countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Taiwanese side,’ the source said.
Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive ruler in a generation.
The increased tensions come after a visit by senior US politician Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this week. Here she is pictured with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press conference yesterday that ‘the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim’
China warns of ‘criminal punishment’ over Pelosi’s ‘brazen’ Taiwan visit
China has reacted with fury to US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial trip to Taiwan that has inflamed tensions between the two superpowers.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, branded the trip a ‘complete farce’ and repeated the much-used phrase by Chinese diplomacy that ‘those who play with fire will perish by it.’
Last week Chinese premier Xi Jinping had used the same expression in a phone call to US President Joe Biden.
Early on Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry slammed Pelosi for ‘brazenly’ going ahead with the trip that was still unconfirmed as late as Monday, claiming it ‘maliciously infringes on China’s sovereignty and blatantly engages in political provocations.’
‘It proves once again that some US politicians have become ‘troublemakers’ of China-US relations,’ the statement said.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office weighed in, threatening ‘criminal punishment measures’ targeted at ‘die hard’ Taiwanese supporters of independence.
And late Tuesday night, after Pelosi’s arrival, the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister summoned the US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, to protest the visit.
Just 130 km wide at its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is a major international shipping channel and all that lies between democratic Taiwan and its giant authoritarian neighbour.
It is now a flashpoint between the United States, Taiwan and a Chinese leadership keen to project strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this autumn at which Xi is expected to be given 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 analyst for China at the International Crisis Group.
‘Beijing is signalling that it rejects Taiwan’s sovereignty.’
Nevertheless, analysts have told AFP that China is not aiming to escalate the situation beyond its control – at least for now.
‘Clearly they recognise that there are some limits to what they are willing to do,’ Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, told AFP.
And Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, said: ‘The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war.’
Matthew Henderson, associate fellow at the Council on Geostrategy, told MailOnline: ‘Xi has made so-called ‘re-unification’ with Taiwan his chosen cause and hoped-for legacy as China’s greatest leader since Mao.
‘It would be as well to assume that in the run-up to the Party Congress, when he intends to secure permanent autocracy, Xi will be willing to take significantly greater risks than [Chinese governments of the past.]’
While the risk of immediate conflict around Taiwan is low, Mr Henderson added that ‘it would be an error to assume that the Xi regime is able to hold back from disastrous adventurism when it has painted itself into such a corner over the right to ‘reunite’ with Taiwan, whose people want nothing of the kind and which the liberal world must not allow.’
He continued: ‘Xi is already using the whole gamut of coercive state powers- including hostile military activity, to try to erode Taiwanese resolve and that of Taiwan’s supporters.
‘Xi could bring down the Taiwanese government by blockading the island which depends heavily on imported food and other staples. But confidence and resilience is growing, and Xi will not welcome this.
‘We should not rule out the possibility of sudden, devastating missile attacks on the central government that would bring a rapid collapse of resistance. Then the rest of the world could protest and sanction to no avail.
‘Xi could, if he felt compelled to do so by threats to his personal authority, authorise such an assault at very little notice indeed. He may be counting in this as an element in his current campaign of bluff and coercive pressures on a global front.
‘There is still time for the concerted energies of the free world to make it clear to Xi that his agenda to annexe Taiwan and impose unaccountable totalitarian rule on 23 million citizens of a vibrant democracy will never be allowed to succeed.’