Missiles flow over Taiwan, Chinese jets, warships cross ‘median line’

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Taipei: Chinese warplanes and warships allegedly crossed the strait median line on Friday, said the Taiwan defence ministry as missiles flew over the island nation during Beijing’s latest military drills, state media reported Friday, as the country pressed ahead with exercises encircling the island following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi was the highest-profile US official to head to Taiwan in years, defying stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory.

China launched a series of exercises in multiple zones around Taiwan in response, straddling some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Beijing is yet to formally confirm whether missiles overflew the islands during the drills, while Taipei has refused to confirm or deny the flight paths, citing intelligence concerns.

But Japan’s defence ministry said of the nine missiles it had detected, four were “believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”.

And on Friday, a hashtag shared by state media asking “what does it mean for the People’s Liberation Army’s conventional missiles to pass over Taiwan island?” attracted some 43.7 million views on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.

“Our exercises this time included live-firing tests, and it was the first time they crossed Taiwan island,” Meng Xiangqing, a professor at China’s military-affiliated National Defence University, told state broadcaster CCTV, lauding the accuracy of Beijing’s capabilities.

He added that they passed through an airspace where Patriot missiles — a highly mobile surface-to-air missile system that would be a crucial defence against Chinese warplanes — are densely deployed.

The latest drills also represented the PLA’s closest-ever exercises to the island, its first encirclement and the first time it set up a shooting range east of Taiwan, Meng said.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the military “flew more than 100 warplanes including fighters and bombers” during the exercises, as well as “over 10 destroyers and frigates.”

The latest drills are expected to continue until midday Sunday, and have sparked outrage from the United States, Japan and the European Union, as well as Taipei.

White House spokesman John Kirby called it an overreaction by China and a “pretext” to increase military activity around the Taiwan Strait.

China defends the drills as just countermeasures in the face of provocations by the United States and its allies in Taiwan.

Beijing called the war games a “necessary” response to a visit to the self-ruled, democratic island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but Washington countered that China’s leaders had “chosen to overreact”.

Pelosi defended her visit Friday, saying Washington will “not allow” China to isolate Taiwan.

“We have said from the start that our representation here is not about changing the status quo here in Asia, changing the status quo in Taiwan,” she told reporters in Tokyo on the final leg of an Asia tour.

Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang, meanwhile, called for allies to push for de-escalation.

“(We) didn’t expect that the evil neighbour next door will show off its power at our door and arbitrarily jeopardise the busiest waterways in the world with its military exercises,” he told reporters.

“We also call on countries in the world that recognise peace and freedom and democracy to work together,” he added.

Missiles over Taiwan: China’s drills involved a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan, the Chinese military said. Beijing has said the exercises will continue until midday Sunday.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said the Chinese army “flew more than 100 warplanes including fighters and bombers” during the exercises, as well as “over 10 destroyers and frigates”.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that Chinese missiles had flown directly over Taiwan.

Taiwan said the Chinese military fired 11 Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles “in several batches”, while Japan claimed of the nine missiles it had detected, four were “believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”.

Taipei’s military said it would not confirm missile flight paths in a bid to protect its intelligence capabilities and not allow China “to intimidate us”.

‘Temperature’s pretty high’: China’s ruling Communist Party views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day take it, by force if necessary.

But the scale and intensity of the drills have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.

“China has chosen to overreact and use the speaker’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” John Kirby, a White House spokesman, told reporters.

“The temperature’s pretty high,” but tensions “can come down very easily by just having the Chinese stop these very aggressive military drills,” he added.

Japan lodged a formal diplomatic complaint against Beijing, with five of the missiles believed to have landed in its exclusive economic zone.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called China’s exercises a “serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens” and called for an “immediate cancellation of the military drills.”

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the “flagrant provocation” by the United States had set an “egregious precedent.”

Trading places: The manoeuvers are taking place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, used to supply vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in East Asian factory hubs to global markets.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau has warned ships to avoid the areas being used for the Chinese drills.

“The shutting down of these transport routes — even temporarily — has consequences not only for Taiwan, but also trade flows tied to Japan and South Korea,” Nick Marro, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s lead analyst for global trade, wrote in a note.

Taiwan said the drills would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region while several international airlines told AFP they would divert flights.

But markets in Taipei appeared to shrug off the tensions, with the Taiwan Taiex Shipping and Transportation Index, which tracks major shipping and airline stocks, up 2.3 percent early Friday.

And analysts broadly agree that despite all its aggressive posturing, Beijing does not want an active military conflict against the United States and its allies over Taiwan — just yet.

“The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war ignited,” Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, told AFP.