The US has condemned China’s launch of ballistic missiles around Taiwan during major military exercises as an “overreaction”, as multiple Chinese ships and planes again crossed the median line on Friday.
The aggressive military displays by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began on Thursday in response to US house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and have raised tensions across east Asia.
Hundreds of PLA air force and navy craft are involved in the exercises across six zones surrounding Taiwan and encroaching into its territorial seas. At least 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles were fired near or over Taiwan on Thursday, while dozens of warplanes and ships have made crossings over the median line, an unofficial border in the Taiwan Strait which is one of the world’s busiest transport routes.
On Friday, Taiwan’s ministry of defence announced that multiple PLA ships and planes had crossed the median line during the morning. The ministry said it had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor the situation.
“Adhering to the principle of preparing for war and not seeking war, the national army will work together to firmly defend sovereignty and national security,” it said.
US White House spokesperson John Kirby earlier said China had used Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to increase its provocative military action and had “chosen to overreact”.
“The temperature’s pretty high,” but tensions “can come down very easily by just having the Chinese stop these very aggressive military drills,” he said.
In an interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Kirby said: “We’ve been watching this very, very closely.”
He also warned the risk of calculation of the drills, saying, “One of the things that’s troublesome about exercises like this or missile launches like this is the risk of calculation, the risk of a mistake that could actually lead to some sort of conflict.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an Asian meeting of top diplomats on Friday that China’s reaction was “flagrantly provocative”.
Blinken, speaking at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, said China had sought to intimidate not only Taiwan, but neighbours too, an official said.
Japan’s prime minister also called for an immediate halt to the exercises, after his government said at least five missiles landed within its exclusive economic zone.
Taiwan’s premier, Su Tseng-chang on Friday said China was arbitrarily sabotaging the world’s busiest waterway with its military exercises. Su said China was an “evil neighbour flexing its muscles on our doorstep”.
Taiwan has condemned the exercises as “irrational actions that undermine regional peace”. It confirmed some missile trajectories went over the main island of Taiwan but said they took an extra atmospheric path and did not pose a threat. Astronomer Jonathan McDowell estimated they were about 200km in the air while flying over the landmass.
The drills have been harshly criticised by foreign governments and multilateral bodies including the G7 and the EU, while Asean members have called for calm. Shortly after meeting with Pelosi on Friday, Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida said the drills were a “serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens”.
Pelosi said the US would “not allow” China to isolate Taiwan.
“They may try to keep Taiwan from visiting or participating in other places, but they will not isolate Taiwan by preventing us to travel there,” she told reporters in Tokyo.
She also defended her trip to Taiwan, amid some criticism that it contributed to the escalated tensions without a commensurate tangible benefit.
“This isn’t about me, this is about Taiwan,” she said. “This is about saying let us celebrate Taiwan.”
But Beijing has doubled down on its rhetoric. On Friday, China’s foreign ministry summoned the Japanese, European and EU envoys to lodge “solemn representations” over their statements. According to state media, Li accused them of having “distorted facts and reversed black and white”, with their “ wanton interference in China’s internal affairs”.
The statement repeated China’s claims that the one China principle – a domestic Chinese policy which outlines its geopolitical claim over Taiwan – was upheld by foreign governments. In reality, various governments have their own one China policy which affords some recognition of China’s policy but does not always recognise the Taiwan claim. The US for example, says Taiwan’s status is unresolved.
The PLA drills are scheduled to continue through the weekend. The six identified zones surround the island of Taiwan and in some places overlap with Taiwan’s territorial waters which extend 12 miles from its coastline. Non-PLA air and sea craft have been warned to stay out of the areas, some of which are near key shipping ports and flight paths.
Korean Air Lines Co Ltd and Singapore Airlines Ltd said they had cancelled flights to and from Taipei on Friday due to the exercises, with the Korean carrier also cancelling its Saturday flights and delaying Sunday flights.
Taiwan authorities estimate about 900 flights will be affected by the need to reroute, and have said the impeded access to ports effectively amounts to a blockade.
Military analysts on Thursday told Beijing’s state broadcaster CCTV that the goal was to practise a possible blockade of the island and contain its pro-independence forces.
“The purpose is to show that the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is capable of controlling all the exits of the Taiwan Island, which will be a great deterrent to ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces,” said Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at China’s Naval Research Institute.
Analysts said the Chinese leadership is 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, but that China is not aiming to escalate the situation beyond its control – at least for now.
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.”
With Agence France-Presse