China’s missiles hit seas near Taiwan following Pelosi visit
At least 11 Chinese missiles struck seas north, south and east of Taiwan on Thursday, less than 24 hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated the island as a bulwark of democracy next to autocratic China. The People’s Liberation Army declared that its missiles “all precisely hit their targets,” even as Japan said five landed in its waters.
The Chinese military called the exercises a prelude to a bigger show of force intended to punish the island for a visit by Pelosi that challenged Beijing’s claims to Taiwan. The drills, jostling ever closer to Taiwan and expected to run 72 hours, will also give Chinese forces valuable practice should they one day be ordered to encircle and attack the island.
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has said he hopes to eventually unify Taiwan and China through peaceful steps, as part of his vision for a “rejuvenated” and powerful nation. But like his predecessors, he has not ruled out force, and China’s military buildup has reached a point where some commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario.
Even if imminent conflict is unlikely, the exercises are putting the region on edge. And tensions could dangerously escalate, especially if something goes wrong.
The Japanese government Thursday said five Chinese ballistic missiles had fallen into its exclusive economic zone, the first time any had landed in those waters. The zone is outside of the country’s territorial waters, where international ships can pass freely.
Another missile, the government said, landed 50 miles northwest of Yonaguni, a small island at Japan’s southernmost tip and just a short distance from Taiwan. The missile did not land in Japan’s economic zone.
Japan lodged a protest with the Chinese government. “This is a grave issue that concerns our national security and the safety of the people,” said Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi.
On Wednesday, before the missile incident, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, told reporters that Beijing did not recognize Japan’s zone, since “China and Japan have not demarcated a boundary in the relevant waters.”
The six areas for China’s exercises were chosen for their importance in a potential campaign to seal off Taiwan and repel foreign intervention, Maj. Gen. Meng Xiangqing, a professor of strategy at the National Defense University in Beijing, said in an interview on Chinese television.
One zone covers the narrowest part of the Taiwan Strait. Others could be used to block a major port or attack three of Taiwan’s main military bases. One facing southern
Taiwan, “creates conditions to bolt the door and beat the dog,” he said, using a Chinese saying that refers to blocking an enemy’s escape route. He signaled that a bigger show of force using live ammunition was on the way.
“You all can wait and see,” Meng said of the exercises. “This is the first time that the military will hold a joint military operation around all of Taiwan island,” he said. “It should be said that although this is an exercise resembling actual combat, it can at any time turn into real combat.”
Current and former Pentagon officials and military commanders said China’s missile firings conducted from areas north, south and east of Taiwan served both broad strategic purposes and specific operational goals.
The missile launches in the northeast, toward Japan, were designed specifically to send a message to Japan, the United States and Taiwan “based on the sensitivity to those waters to each,” said Adm. Scott H. Swift, a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander.
It remains unclear how close Chinese forces will come to Taiwan during the rest of the exercises, which are scheduled to end Sunday.