Taiwan has condemned its “evil neighbour” after China fired multiple missiles into its surrounding waters – including up to four that flew directly over the island’s capital Taipei in an unprecedented escalation.
China launched its largest live-fire military drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan on Thursday, a day after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi enraged Beijing with her solidarity trip to the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.
Japan’s defence ministry, which is tracking the exercises, first reported that as many as four of the missiles flew over Taiwan’s capital. Japan also said five of nine missiles landed in its own exclusive economic zone, also a first, prompting Tokyo to launch a diplomatic protest.
Ms Pelosi was in Japan on Friday, as reports of the missiles emerged. The action was a significant escalation of tensions about her visit to the disputed island, with US officials warning there might be more to come.
“We anticipated that China might take steps like this – in fact, I described them for you in quite some detail just the other day,” John Kirby, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council, said at the White House.
“We also expect that these actions will continue and that the Chinese will continue to react in the coming days.”
He said a US aircraft carrier would stay in the area around Taiwan for several more days to “monitor the situation”.
Later, Taiwan’s defence ministry said the missiles were high in the atmosphere and constituted no threat. It gave no details of the flight paths, citing intelligence concerns.
In Taipai in Friday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang accused China of arbitrarily destroying the world’s most frequently used waterway with its military exercises, and referred to Beijing as the “evil neighbour”.
China’s actions are being condemned by neighbouring countries and the world, Mr Su said.
“That’s unprecedented,” Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the US, said of statements that four ballistic missiles had been fired over Taiwan.
“In my view, the larger threat is that China is doing a rehearsal for a blockade, demonstrating it can block Taiwan’s ports and airports, and prevent shipping,” she said.
The drills are scheduled to continue until Sunday.
China has said its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter.
“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, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said the island would not provoke conflicts but would firmly defend its sovereignty and national security.
Taiwan 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.
Beijing says it reserves the right to bring Taiwan under China’s control, by force if necessary.
In Japan, Ms Pelosi said China could not isolate Taiwan by preventing Western officials from travelling there.
“This visit isn’t about me, it’s about Taiwan,” she said.
She also addressed the diplomatic storm caused by the congressional visit to Asia, and most specifically Taiwan.
“We have said from the start that our representation here is not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region,” she said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The US congressional delegation led by Ms Pelosi visited Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, as well as Taiwan, this week before arriving in Japan for the last leg of the tour.
Ms Pelosi met Mr Kishida at his official residence, where the Japanese prime minister said the two allies would work together to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, a key shipping route.
Japan, whose southernmost islands are closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, has warned that Chinese intimidation of Taiwan is an escalating national security threat.
“I have informed speaker Pelosi that the fact China’s ballistic missiles had landed near Japanese water including EEZ threaten our national safety and security and that Japan had strongly condemned such actions,” Mr Kishida said.
– with AAP