China starts biggest-ever military drills around Taiwan in wake of Pelosi’s visit

China fired ballistic missiles and deployed fighter jets and warships on Thursday as it began its biggest-ever military exercise around Taiwan, a show of force. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits the island,

Pelosi was the highest-profile US official to visit Taiwan in years, defying several serious threats from Beijing, which views the self-governing island as its territory.

In retaliation, China launched a series of exercises in several areas around Taiwan, which spans some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and at some points just 12 miles off the island’s coast.

The Chinese military said the exercise involved a “conventional missile firepower attack” in waters east of Taiwan.

“The aim was to test the accuracy of the missiles and their ability to deny enemy access or control in an area,” Eastern Theater Command spokesman Senior Colonel Shi Yi said in a statement.

Taiwan said the Chinese military fired several Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles, and denounced the exercise as “irrational actions that undermine regional peace”.

Taipei did not say where the missiles landed or whether they took off over the island.

On the border island of Pington, reporters from Agence France-Presse saw several small projectiles flying into the sky, followed by plumes of white smoke and loud noises.

On the mainland, which is said to be China’s closest point to Taiwan, AFP saw a batch of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low altitude near a popular tourist destination.

The exercise will end on Sunday afternoon, Beijing has said.

China’s nationalist state-run Global Times, citing military analysts, said the exercise was “unprecedented” and that the missile would fly over Taiwan for the first time.

Beijing has defended the practice as “necessary and justified”, placing the blame for the escalation on the United States and its allies.

“In the current conflict of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the United States is the provocateur, China is the victim,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Wednesday.

A Chinese military source also told AFP that the exercise would be conducted “in preparation for the actual war”.

“If the Taiwanese military deliberately comes into contact with the PLA and accidentally fires a gun, the PLA will take strong retaliatory measures and the Taiwanese side will bear all the consequences,” the source said.

The maneuvers are taking place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to supply critical semiconductor and electronic components produced in East Asian factory centers to global markets.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has issued a warning for ships to avoid areas being used for Chinese exercises.

Taiwan’s cabinet said the exercise would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its Flight Information Area (FIR).

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the prospect of invasion, but the threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most outspoken ruler in a generation.

Analysts said the Chinese leadership is eager to show strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this autumn, at which Xi is expected to be given an unprecedented third term.

“China’s declared military exercises represent a clear escalation from the current baseline of Chinese military activity around Taiwan and the previous Taiwan Straits crisis in 1995-1996,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group.

“Beijing is indicating that it rejects Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

Still, analysts have told AFP that China is not aiming to escalate a situation beyond its control – at least for now.

Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, said: “The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war.”

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