China has launched its biggest-ever military drills around Taiwan, firing ballistic missiles and deploying dozens of fighter jets and warships, in response to a visit to the self-ruled island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Beijing called Pelosi’s trip to the territory, which it views as a breakaway province, a “dangerous, reckless and irresponsible provocation” by the United States against China. It said the ongoing military drills, which began on Thursday and will last until Sunday, are aimed at demonstrating its resolve to uphold its “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
The exercises have ratcheted up tensions in the region, with Japan saying several missiles fired by Chinese forces landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) warned the situation risked “miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers”.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, meanwhile, issued a statement late on Thursday calling on the international community to help end China’s “unilateral and irrational military actions”. She also said Taiwan would not provoke conflicts, but would firmly defend its sovereignty and national security.
As frictions escalate, here are answers to three key questions:
How worrying are China’s military drills?
Chinese state media say the live-fire sea and air exercises are taking place in six zones around Taiwan, which lies 180km (112 miles) off the mainland. They involve more than 100 planes, including fighter jets and bombers and 10 warships, according to CCTV.
Taiwan has decried the exercises, saying some infringe on Taiwan’s territorial waters and amount to a sea and air blockade of the island.
On the first day of the drills, Chinese rocket forces fired several ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan, a first since 1996. Taiwan’s defence ministry said 11 missiles had been fired and identified them as Dongfeng ballistic weapons.
Japan said at least five missiles landed in its EEZ, a zone that stretches 200 nautical miles (370km or 230 miles) from the outer limits of its territorial seas, and has lodged strong diplomatic protests over the move.
Authorities in Taiwan also urged ships and planes travelling in the area to find alternative routes, and on Thursday cancelled dozens of flights at the Taoyuan Airport in the capital, Taipei. South Korea’s Korean Air and Asiana Airlines also halted service to Taiwan for one or two days because of the exercises, according to local media.