China said it fired missiles at the island of Taiwan for the first time on Thursday, heightening tensions in the region when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Japan, whose leaders protested to Beijing after five projectiles landed near Japanese islands.
Pelosi met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday morning, with their attention focused on the Taiwan Strait, where China is holding air and sea exercises to protest the US president’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week.
China has previously fired missiles into the waters surrounding Taiwan – a democratic island of 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party considers its territory, although it has never controlled it – notably during the straits crisis. of Taiwan in the 1990s.
But missiles flying over the island Mark a significant escalation, with US officials warning there may be more to come.
“We expected China to take steps like this – in fact, I described them to you in detail the other day,” John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters on Thursday. the United States. “We also expect these actions to continue and the Chinese to continue to respond in the coming days.”
A US aircraft carrier will remain in the area around Taiwan for several more days to “monitor the situation”, Kirby added.
China began military drills around the island on Thursday, firing several missiles toward waters near northeast and southwest Taiwan the day after Pelosi left.
A Chinese military expert confirmed on state broadcaster CCTV that the conventional missiles flew over Taiwan’s main island, including airspace covered by Taiwanese defense missiles.
“We hit the targets under the observation of the US Aegis combat system, which means the Chinese military has solved the difficulties of hitting long-range targets on the waters,” Maj. Gen. Meng Xiangqing said. , professor of strategy at the National Defense University. In Beijing.
In a statement late Thursday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said the missiles traveled above the atmosphere and therefore posed no risk to the island.
Authorities did not issue an air raid alert because they predicted the missiles would land in waters east of Taiwan, the ministry said. The ministry added that it would not release any further information on the trajectory of the missiles to protect its intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Five ballistic missiles are believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, including the four that would have flown over Taiwan, Japan’s Defense Ministry said Thursday.
“This is a serious issue that concerns Japan’s security and the safety of its citizens. We strongly condemn it,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters at a press conference.
China also sent 22 fighter jets to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Thursday – all of which crossed the median line that marks the halfway point between the island and mainland China in the over the Taiwan Strait.
It follows similar Chinese incursions a day earlier across the median line which was previously an informal but widely respected checkpoint between Beijing and Taipei.
Thursday’s incursions were carried out by 12 SU-30 fighter jets, eight J-11 fighter jets and two J-16 fighter jets, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Later Thursday, the ministry said it detected four drones flying over “restricted waters” around the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Islands near mainland China. The ministry said the Taiwanese military fired flares to warn the drones, but did not specify the type or origin of the devices.
In a speech on Thursday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called the Chinese military exercises “irresponsible”, saying they marked a “deliberate and continuous escalation of military threats”.
“I must emphasize that we do not seek to aggravate conflicts or provoke disputes, but we will firmly defend our sovereignty and national security, as well as the safeguard of democracy and freedom,” she added.
She also thanked the Group of Seven, made up of the world’s largest economies, which issued a statement on Wednesday expressing concern over China’s live-fire drills and urging Beijing not to change the status quo in the region.
The drills have also disrupted flight and ship schedules, with some international flights canceled and ships told to use alternative routes for several ports around the island.
On Tuesday, China’s Defense Ministry said it would hold its drills in six areas around Taiwan, warning ships and planes to stay out of those areas during drills.
The Taiwan Strait is a key trade route for ships carrying goods between major Northeast Asian economies such as China, Japan and South Korea, and the rest of the world.