China uses warships, fires ballistic missiles

PINGTAN: China fired ballistic missiles and deployed warplanes and warships Thursday as it held its biggest-ever military drills around Taiwan, a show of force sparked by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island. Pelosi was the highest-profile US official to visit Taiwan in years, defying a string of strong threats from Beijing, which regards the self-governing island as its territory.

In retaliation, China launched a series of drills in multiple zones around Taiwan, spanning some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and at some points as little as 20 kilometers from the island’s coast. The drills began around 12 p.m. and included a “conventional missile strike” in waters east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said.

The aim was to test the missiles’ precision and their ability to deny an enemy access to or control of an area, Senior Colonel Shi Yi, spokesman for the Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement. Taiwan said the Chinese military fired 11 Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles “in multiple batches” and condemned the drills as “irrational actions that undermine peace in the region.”

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Taipei did not say where the rockets landed or if they flew over the island. AFP journalists on the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles fly into the sky, followed by plumes of white smoke and loud booming noises. On the mainland, at what is said to be China’s closest point to Taiwan, AFP saw a group of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low altitude near a popular tourist spot. Beijing said the exercises would last until Sunday noon.

“Unprecedented Closeness”

Beijing has defended the exercises as “necessary and just” and blamed the US and its allies for the escalation. “In the face of this blatant provocation, we must take legitimate and necessary countermeasures to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Thursday. Military analysts told Beijing state broadcaster CCTV the aim is to practice a possible blockade of the island and contain its pro-independence forces.

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“The purpose is to show that the PLA is capable of controlling all exits from the island of Taiwan, which will be a great deterrent to the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces,” said Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the China Naval Research Institute . “The operations will be carried out in unprecedented proximity to the island of Taiwan,” stressed Meng Xiangqing, a military expert. “The operations will leave a deterrent effect stronger than ever.”

The maneuvers are taking place along some of the world’s busiest shipping routes, which serve to ship vital semiconductors and electronic equipment, manufactured in East Asian factory centers, to global markets. Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has warned ships to avoid the areas used for Chinese drills. And Taiwan’s cabinet said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes that pass through its flight information region (FIR).

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“Some Limits”

Taiwan’s 23 million residents have long lived with the possibility of invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most confident ruler in a generation. Analysts said the Chinese leadership is eager to project strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this fall, where Xi is expected to win an unprecedented third term. “China’s announced military drills represent a clear escalation from the existing baseline of Chinese military activities around Taiwan and from the last cross-strait crisis in 1995-1996,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“Beijing is signaling that it rejects Taiwan’s sovereignty.” Still, analysts have told AFP that China is not aiming to escalate the situation beyond its control — at least for now. Titus Chen, associate professor of political science at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, said: “The last thing Xi wants is a random war.” – AFP