China conducted “precision missile strikes” Thursday in waters off Taiwan’s coasts as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China earlier announced that military exercises by its navy, air force and other departments were underway in six zones surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
Five of the missiles fired by China landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan’s main islands, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said. He said Japan protested the missile landings to China as “serious threats to Japan’s national security and the safety of the Japanese people.”
Japan’s Defense Ministry also speculated that four missiles flew over Taipei, the capital city, crossing the mainland, according to a statement its embassy in D.C. posted on Twitter. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry did not deny the claim, saying that the flight path was “outside the atmosphere and is not harmful to the vast area on the ground it flies over.”
The drills were prompted by a visit to Taiwan this week by Pelosi and are intended to advertise China’s threat to attack the self-governing island republic. Along with its moves to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, China has long threatened military retaliation over moves by the island to solidify its de facto independence with the support of key allies including the U.S.
China fired long-range explosive projectiles, the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army, the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, said in a statement. It also said it carried out multiple conventional missile launches in three different areas in the eastern waters off Taiwan. An accompanying graphic on state broadcaster CCTV showed those occurred in the north, east, and south.
“All missiles hit the target accurately,” the Eastern Theater said in its announcement. No further details were given.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it tracked the firing of Chinese Dongfeng series missiles beginning around 1:56 p.m. Thursday. It said in a statement it used various early warning surveillance systems to track the missile launches. It later said it counted 11 Dongfeng missiles in the waters in the north, east and south.
The ministry also said it tracked long-distance rockets and ammunition firing in outlying islands in Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen criticized 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.
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.