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Taiwan put on alert as China fires test missiles and deploys jets


Missiles fired by Chinese off Taiwan. Photo: Handout via Reuters

Missiles fired by Chinese off Taiwan. Photo: Handout via Reuters

Missiles fired by Chinese off Taiwan. Photo: Handout via Reuters

China deployed scores of planes and fired live missiles near Taiwan yesterday in its biggest drills in the Taiwan Strait, a day after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a solidarity trip to the self-ruled island.

China’s military confirmed multiple firings of conventional missiles in waters off Taiwan as part of planned exercises in six zones, set to run until noon on Sunday.

It activated more than 100 planes, including fighter jets and bombers, and over 10 warships, the state broadcaster CCTV said.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said it scrambled jets to warn away 22 Chinese fighter aircraft that crossed the Taiwan Strait median line into its air defence zone, and said troops fired flares late yesterday to drive away four drones that flew above the area of its Kinmen Islands, off the south-eastern coast of China.

It said missiles fired by China flew high into the atmosphere and constituted no threat to it, responding to public concern about whether they passed over the main island of Taiwan. Japan protested that five missiles appeared to land in its economic zone.

“The US-Taiwan collusion and provocation will only push Taiwan towards the abyss of disaster, bringing catastrophe to Taiwan compatriots,” said a Chinese defence ministry spokesperson.

Responding to the Chinese drills, president Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not provoke conflicts but would firmly defend its sovereignty and national security.

“Taiwan will never be knocked down by challenges,” she said in a recorded video message to the people of Taiwan. “We are calm and not impetuous, we are rational and not provocative, but we will also be firm and not shirk.”

Taiwan said 11 Chinese Dongfeng ballistic missiles had been fired in nearby waters – the first time since 1996. Taiwan officials said the drills violated United Nations rules.  

The military activity followed Ms Pelosi’s unannounced visit of support to Taiwan in defiance of warnings from China.

To avoid escalating tensions with Beijing any further, the US postponed a routine test launch of an Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, it was reported. .

Before the drills officially began, Chinese navy ships and military aircraft briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line several times yesterday, a Taiwanese source said.

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“They flew in and then flew out, again and again. They continue to harass us,” they said.

China, which has long said it reserves the right to take Taiwan by force, says its differences with the island are an internal affair. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called Ms Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational” act.

Mr Wang said China had tried to avert a crisis by diplomatic means but would never let its core interests be hurt.

In Beijing, security near the US Embassy was unusually tight though there were no signs of significant protests.

“I think this (Ms Pelosi’s visit) is a good thing,” said one man in Beijing. “It gives us an opportunity to surround Taiwan, then to use this opportunity to take Taiwan by force. I think we should thank Comrade Pelosi.”

Ms Pelosi, the highest-level US visitor to Taiwan in 25 years, pledged US solidarity during her brief stopover. 

“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan,” Ms Pelosi said.

China summoned the US ambassador in Beijing and halted several agricultural imports from Taiwan. The US and the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations warned China against using Ms Pelosi’s visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.

“We’re watching this closely. We continue to urge the Chinese not to overreact here. There’s no reason to react the way that they have or to escalate the tensions,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said. 

The US has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is bound by US law to provide it with the means to defend itself. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims.

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