Missiles in Chinese drills hit seas near Taiwan and Japan

China conducts conventional missile tests into the waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan, from an undisclosed location. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - China on Thursday (Aug 4) fired at least 11 ballistic missiles around Taiwan in the course of unprecedented live-firing exercises following the visit of United States Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) said its missiles "all precisely hit their targets", even as Japan said five of them had landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China has deployed scores of planes and fired live missiles in its biggest-ever drills in the Taiwan Strait, which began at noon on Thursday and will run until noon on Sunday, making clear its fury over Mrs Pelosi's visit to the self-ruled island.

As tensions rippled into the annual meetings of Asean foreign ministers and their dialogue partners in Phnom Penh, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken refused to meet each other.

A planned meeting between Mr Wang and his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi was also cancelled as Beijing slammed a Group of Seven statement that urged it to resolve tensions over Taiwan peacefully.

Mr Wang described Mrs Pelosi's Taiwan trip as a "manic, irresponsible and extremely irrational action", and called the US the "biggest destroyer of peace in the Taiwan Strait and the biggest troublemaker for regional stability".

Asean foreign ministers urged "maximum restraint", while warning that tensions could lead to "open conflicts and unpredictable consequences".

In his meeting with Asean ministers, Mr Blinken said that Washington had reached out to Beijing "at every level of government" to ease tensions.

"I hope very much that Beijing will not manufacture a crisis or seek a pretext to increase its aggressive military activity," he said.

Beijing regards Taiwan, with 23 million people, as a breakaway province to be reunited, by force if necessary, while Mrs Pelosi had, in a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, celebrated Taipei as a bulwark of democracy.

By Tokyo's analysis, four missiles flew over Taiwan in what would be seen as an unprecedented escalation. The last time China fired missiles into waters around Taiwan was in 1996, and it had never before sent missiles over the island.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said China's missiles had flown high into the atmosphere and constituted no threat, responding to public concern about whether they passed over the main island of Taiwan.

The ministry said it would not disclose the Chinese missiles' flight path due to intelligence concerns. Earlier, it said 11 Chinese Dongfeng ballistic missiles had been fired in waters around the island.

Japan condemned the missiles that landed in its EEZ, and Mr Hayashi demanded that China "immediately stop" the drills near Taiwan.

Exclusive economic zones fall outside of countries' territorial waters, where international ships can pass freely.

This was the first time that missiles launched by China have entered Japan's EEZ, which stretches up to 200 nautical miles from shore, and fell into waters south-west of the island of Hateruma, Japan's southernmost inhabited point with a population of under 500 people.

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One missile was launched from Zhejiang and the other four from Fujian province, the Japanese Defence Ministry said.

Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi slammed the "grave threat to Japan's national security and safety of its people". The Japan Coast Guard said that no reports of damage or injuries were confirmed as at last night.

Still, Dr Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow at Hudson Institute, said that China's "indiscriminate firing" will only serve to push Japan and the US closer to Taiwan.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force said it was reinforcing the surrounding sea and airspace with destroyers and patrol craft, with 20 refuelling aircraft having been redeployed to Okinawa.

Dr Tosh Minohara, chairman of the Research Institute of Indo-Pacific Affairs think-tank, described China's missile launches into Japan's EEZ as a warning to Tokyo that "definitely raises the ante".

Mrs Pelosi will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday in Tokyo, the last leg of an Asia tour that had also taken her to Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea.

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