China launches 11 ballistic missiles into Taiwanese waters amid largest ever military drills

·6-min read
China's military fires PCL191 multiple guided missile systems - @Military_News4
China's military fires PCL191 multiple guided missile systems - @Military_News4

The Chinese army launched multiple ballistic missiles into waters around Taiwan on Thursday as China's largest ever military drills encircling the island began.

"The Ministry of National Defence stated that the Chinese Communist Party fired multiple Dongfeng series ballistic missiles into the surrounding waters of northeastern and southwestern Taiwan from approximately 13:56 this afternoon," the Taiwanese defence ministry said in a brief statement.

It later confirmed that 11 missiles had been fired, nearly double the number that were fired in July 1995 during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.

In response, Taiwan activated “relevant defence systems,” a senior military official said at a briefing. Taiwan’s defence ministry condemns “the irrational actions,” which undermine regional peace, the official said.

China's military has kicked off unprecedented war games as Beijing ramps up its intimidation campaign against the self-ruled island following United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.

China on Thursday morning added another zone for its military drills encircling Taiwan – bringing the total to seven – and extended the duration of the war games until Monday at 10am (0200 GMT), Taiwan’s Maritime Port Bureau announced, according to Taiwanese media.

The new zone for military drills is located in the waters east of Taiwan, about 130 kilometers from the Port of Hualien, according to Liberty Times. This intensifies and extends the duration of the unprecedented war games encircling the island that China has launched in response to Ms Pelosi’s visit.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said in a statement that it will "uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war".

Tourists look on as a Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points from Taiwan, in Fujian province - AFP
Tourists look on as a Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points from Taiwan, in Fujian province - AFP

The zones were chosen for their importance in a potential campaign to seal off Taiwan and thwart foreign intervention, Major General Meng Xiangqing, a professor of strategy at the National Defense University in Beijing, said in an interview on Chinese state 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, he said.

The zone near Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, where there are crucial bases, “creates conditions to bolt the door and beat the dog,” said General Meng, using a Chinese saying that refers to blocking an enemy’s escape route.

Hypersonic missiles and stealth fighter jets

The air and naval live-fire exercises, some of which are crossing into Taiwan’s air and maritime space, began hours after the US House of Representatives speaker left Taiwan on Wednesday, after conducting the first visit by such a senior US politician to the island in 25 years.

The drills will use some of China’s most advanced weapons, including DF-17 hypersonic missiles and J-20 stealth fighter jets, according to a report by the state-run newspaper Global Times.

“The exercises are unprecedented as the PLA conventional missiles are expected to fly over the island of Taiwan for the first time,” the paper said.

China’s drills amount to a de facto blockade of the island, Taiwan’s defence ministry claimed.

Unidentified aircraft, likely drones, were seen flying on Wednesday night above the area of its Kinmen islands and Taiwan fired flares to drive them away.

Major General Chang Zone-sung, of the Army's Kinmen Defence Command, told Reuters that Chinese drones came in a pair and flew into the Kinmen area twice at around 9pm (2pm UK) and 10pm.

"We immediately fired flares to issue warnings and to drive them away. After that, they turned around. They came into our restricted area and that's why we dispersed them," he said.

The heavily fortified Kinmen islands are just off the southeastern coast of China, near the city of Xiamen.

"We have a standard operating procedure. We will react if they come in," Maj Gen Chang said, adding that the alert level there remained "normal".

Smoke trails from projectiles launched by the Chinese military are seen as tourists look on from Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan - HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images
Smoke trails from projectiles launched by the Chinese military are seen as tourists look on from Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan - HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Maj Gen Chang said he believed the drones were intended to gather intelligence on Taiwan's security deployment in its outlying islands.

Last week, Taiwan's military fired flares to warn away a drone that "glanced" its Matsu archipelago off the coast of China's Fujian province and was possibly probing its defences, Taiwan's defence ministry said.

Besides exercises involving ground troops, the air force and navy, the Eastern Theatre Command said earlier there would be missiles hitting waters off Taiwan’s eastern coast, where its air force is located.

Military drills were slated to be held near Taiwanese military bases at Hualien and Taitung. Exercises would also target blocking the Bashi Channel and the airspace over the southwestern port city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city.

Foreign officials condemn aggression

A US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol plane and American MH-60R anti-submarine helicopter Seahawk entered an area southwest of Taiwan near Kaohsiung just as the PLA was starting its war games in the area around noon, the South China Morning Post reported.

Meanwhile, the Taiwanese air force was scrambling Mirage 2000 and F-5 fighter jets earlier in the day to monitor the situation at the start of the games, Taiwanese media reported.

The PLA also stationed a Chinese missile destroyer, likely to be a Type 055 Renhai class, east of Taiwan, defence analyst HI Sutton said on Twitter. The Type 055, equipped with weapons to counter missiles, ships and submarines, has the country’s most advanced integrated electric propulsion system, allowing it to travel up to 10,000 nautical miles without refueling.

The G7 Foreign Ministers issued a statement on Wednesday, saying "There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait" and that China's "threatening actions... risk unnecessary escalation".

"We call on the PRC not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region, and to resolve cross-Strait differences by peaceful means," the statement said.

In response, China cancelled a planned bilateral meeting with Japan.

Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan - HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images
Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan - HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

A top US official on Wednesday called China's military drills in response to Ms Pelosi's visit irresponsible and warned of the danger of the situation spiralling out of control.

"We believe that what China is doing here is not responsible," said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in an interview with National Public Radio.

"Whenever a military engages in a series of activities that include the possibility of missile tests, of live fire exercises, of fighter jets buzzing around the skies and ships moving around on the seas, the possibility of some kind of incident is real."

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said on Twitter on Thursday that Taiwan was "committed to defending the status quo and (its) hard-earned democracy".

Following her high-profile trip to Taiwan, Mr Pelosi was in South Korea on Thursday and her agenda included a visit to the border with the nuclear-armed North.

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