PINGTAN, FUJIAN (AFP) – China was set to press ahead on Friday (Aug 5) with its largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan despite firm statements of condemnation by the United States, Japan and the European Union.
Beijing’s decision to fire ballistic missiles and deploy fighter jets around Taiwan saw Washington lambast what it said was a gross overreaction to a visit to the self-ruled, democratic island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Mrs Pelosi was the highest-profile US official to go to Taiwan in 25 years and defied stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as a breakaway province to be reunited, by force if necessary.
In retaliation, China on Thursday launched a series of military exercises in multiple zones around Taiwan, straddling some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and at some points coming just 20km from the island’s shores.
The drills involved a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said. Beijing has said they will continue until midday on Sunday.
Beijing’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the Chinese army “flew more than 100 warplanes including fighters and bombers” during the exercises, as well as “over 10 destroyers and frigates”.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that Chinese missiles had flown over Taiwan.
Taiwan said the Chinese military fired 11 Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles “in several batches”.
Japan said that of the nine missiles it had detected, five landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with four of them “believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”.
Taiwan has said it would not confirm missile flight paths, however.
“Considering the main goal of CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party’s) launch of missiles is to intimidate us and in order to protect the military’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, we will not release information such as its flight,” Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement.
China has defended the drills as just countermeasures in the face of provocations by the US and its allies in Taiwan.
But the drills have triggered outrage in the US and other democracies.
“China has chosen to overreact and use the speaker’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” Mr John Kirby, a White House spokesman, told reporters.