China likely fired missiles over Taiwan in drills, Japan says

China likely fired missiles over Taiwan during military drills on Thursday, Japan said, part of Beijing’s biggest cross-strait exercises in decades after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-ruled island.

The Ministry of Defense in Tokyo estimated that five ballistic missiles landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and four of those likely flew over Taiwan. If confirmed, it would mark a major escalation as it would be the first time China has flown missiles over Taiwan itself.

Officials in Taiwan have not commented on the specific flight path of the projectiles. Pentagon spokesman John Supple said the Defense Department isn’t commenting on the missile activity.

The People’s Liberation Army in China fired 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles into waters north, east and south of Taiwan between 1:56 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time Thursday, the island’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Sun Li-fang, a ministry spokesman, earlier said missiles had been fired from land, without providing more details.

China also sent long-range rockets near the northwestern outlying islands of Matsu and Dongyin, and Wuqiu in the west, Taiwan confirmed. Its defense ministry said it had strengthened its guard around the islands, which are located closer to China’s coastline than Taiwan.

Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi condemned Beijing for its actions, saying it marked the first time a ballistic missile belonging to the Chinese military had landed within the waters of its exclusive economic zone, according to Kyodo News.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US had engaged Chinese counterparts in recent days at “every level of government” to convey a message of restraint after Pelosi’s trip, which Beijing has called “an infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We, and countries around the world, believe that escalation serves no one and could have unintended consequences that serve no one’s interests,” Blinken said Thursday, on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office issued a statement late Thursday saying President Tsai Ing-wen was staying on top of the situation and “solemnly” demanding China act in a rational matter. Taipei is working with like-minded countries in the region on an appropriate response, her office said in the statement.

Earlier in the day, China said an unspecified number of its missiles had accurately hit targets in seas east of Taiwan. The Eastern Military Command of the People’s Liberation Army said in a statement it had completed live-fire training, and lifted relevant air and sea controls. 

The statement didn’t clarify whether that meant all military exercises had ended in six exclusion zones surrounding the island, which began at noon on Thursday and were set to last for 72 hours. At a regular briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she didn’t have information on whether all the drills had ended, and referred reporters back to the original Aug. 4-7 timeframe.

People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said on its official Twitter account that sea and airspace controls off the eastern coast of Taiwan had been lifted.

China earlier this week warned airlines to avoid “danger zones” around Taiwan after it announced its most provocative drills in decades in response to Pelosi’s visit, including missile tests and live-fire exercises. The No. 3 American official vowed Wednesday during a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei that the US wouldn’t abandon Taiwan.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said earlier it continues to be on high alert in response to the exercises, which the agency criticized as an attempt to undermine regional stability. Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai said flights could use alternative air routes via Japan and the Philippines until the drills ended Sunday, while ships would be able to avoid the six exclusion zones.

“Shipping is different from air traffic as there is no fixed route — it’s freer,” Wang told reporters at a briefing late Wednesday. “So what’s done in the past is to avoid the areas where drills will take place.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is under pressure to give a strong response to the trip, particularly after some local nationalists were disappointed that Beijing wasn’t able to deter Pelosi from visiting. She left Taiwan on Wednesday and held meetings in South Korea on Thursday before heading next to Japan. 

Separately, Southeast Asian foreign ministers urged “maximum restraint” in a statement released during an annual meeting Thursday in Cambodia. Association of Southeast Asian Nations envoys expressed concern that developments “could destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers,” without naming China, Taiwan or the US. 

On Wednesday, 27 Chinese military aircraft were detected in the skies around Taiwan’s airspace, with 22 crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait — the most since the island began making the maneuvers public in 2020. Separately, Taiwan said it warned off Chinese military drones flying near its Kinmen and Beiding islands — both of which sit close to the coastal Chinese city of Xiamen — Wednesday night. 

China’s national security agency separately detained a Taiwanese man for long-time advocacy of Taiwan independence and founding a Taiwan Nationalist Party, state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday. Beijing has also announced some trade restrictions on Taiwan. –BLOOMBERG

Dayang Norazhar

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