TAIPEI, Aug 4 (Reuters) – China on Thursday deployed a large number of aircraft and fired missiles near Taiwan in its largest-ever military exercise in the Taiwan Strait, a day after a visit to Speaker Island. US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi to show their solidarity with Taipei.
The Chinese military has confirmed that they have fired several conventional rockets off the coast of Taiwan as part of an exercise planned in six areas near the island from Thursday to Sunday afternoon (0400 GMT), according to Chinese state television.
More than 100 aircraft were mobilized, including fighters and bombers, as well as more than ten warships, CCTV reported.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said it sent fighter jets to repel 22 Chinese fighter jets that entered the island’s air defense zone.
Japan, for its part, condemned the appearance of five missiles in its exclusive economic zone.
In Beijing, a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry said that “collusion between the United States and Taiwan and their provocation will only push Taiwan to the abyss of disaster, with disaster for Taiwanese compatriots.”
Reacting to Chinese military exercises, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said the island would not provoke any conflict but would firmly defend its sovereignty and national security, and Beijing did not rule out using force to regain its position in what it considers a renegade province.
“Taiwan will never be overwhelmed by challenges,” she said in a video message to the people of the island. “We are calm and not impulsive, rational and not provocative, but we will also be firm and not belittle ourselves.”
China has repeatedly warned of the consequences of Nancy Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan, calling it a provocation that could ignite tensions and damage regional security.
Even before the official start of the maneuvers, the Chinese army sent warships and aircraft into the Taiwan Strait several times on Thursday morning, according to a Taiwanese source familiar with the matter.
Subsequently, Chinese and Taiwanese warships collided with each other, and Taipei also deployed fighter jets and missile systems to track Chinese military activities.
Despite fears that Beijing might decide to fire a missile at the island, life in Taiwan went on as usual.
“When China says it wants to annex Taiwan by force, that’s nothing new,” said Chen Ming-cheng, a 38-year-old real estate agent. “From my point of view, they are trying to direct public anger, the anger of their people, to Taiwan.”
Taipei condemned the cyberattacks on the websites of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President of Taiwan, warning of a coming “psychological war”.
The visit of Nancy Pelosi, the first “Speaker” of the House of Representatives and the highest U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, is a “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational” act, said the head of Chinese diplomacy, quoted by public television.
Speaking in Cambodia at a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers, Wang Yi added that China has tried to avert the crisis through diplomatic means, but will never tolerate encroachment on its core interests.
Nancy Pelosi praised local democracy during her visit to Taiwan and expressed US solidarity with the island, with which the US does not have formal diplomatic relations, but for which it is a major arms supplier.
“Our delegation came to Taiwan to make it clear that we will not leave Taiwan,” Nancy Pelosi, escorted to the island by six members of the US Congress, said during a meeting with Tsai Ing-wen, who China sees as seeking independence for Taiwan – a red line for Beijing.
In protest, China summoned the US ambassador to Beijing and suspended imports of agricultural products from Taiwan.
The US and G7 foreign ministers have warned China not to use Nancy Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to start military action against Taiwan.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu, with Tony Munro, Ryan Wu and Martin Quinn Pollard in Beijing, Fabian Hamacher in Taipei; French version by Jean Tertian, edited by Jean-Stephan Brosse)