China has deployed scores of planes and fired live missiles near Taiwan 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 more than 10 warships, 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 on Thursday 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,” a Chinese defence ministry spokesperson said.
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,” Ms Tsai 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 – for the first time since 1996.
Taiwan officials said the drills violated United Nations rules, invaded its space and threatened free air and sea navigation.
It has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.
The military activity followed Ms Pelosi’s unannounced visit of support to Taiwan in defiance of warnings from China.
To avoid escalating tensions with China any further, the US postponed a routine test launch of an Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing US officials.
One official said the delay might last 10 days, the report said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Ms Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan a “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational” act, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Mr Wang, speaking at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Cambodia, said China had tried to avert a crisis by diplomatic means but would never let its core interests be hurt.
Unusually, the drills in six areas around Taiwan were announced with a locator map circulated by China’s official Xinhua news agency – a factor that for some analysts illustrated playing to both domestic and foreign audiences.
In Beijing, security near the US embassy was unusually tight though there were no signs of significant protests.
“I think this (Pelosi’s visit) is a good thing,” said a man surnamed Zhao 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, praised its democracy and pledged US solidarity during her brief stopover.
Chinese anger could not stop world leaders from travelling there, she said.
“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan,” Ms Pelosi told Ms Tsai , whom China suspects of pushing for formal independence.
China summoned the US ambassador in Beijing in protest and halted several agricultural imports from Taiwan.