China's live-fire military exercises in Taiwan Strait condemned

China says it conducted "precision missile strikes" in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades.

Japan says 5 of the missiles landed in territory it claims off its coast

Tourists look on as a Chinese military helicopter flies past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points to Taiwan, on Thursday, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

China says it conducted "precision missile strikes" in the Taiwan Strait on Thursday as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades.

China earlier announced that military exercises by its navy, air force and other departments were underway in six zones surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.

The drills were prompted by a visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week and are intended to advertise China's threat to attack the self-governing island. Along with its moves to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, China has long threatened military retaliation over moves by the island to solidify its de facto independence with the support of key allies including the U.S.

"Long-range armed live-fire precision missile strikes were carried out on selected targets in the eastern area of the Taiwan Strait," the Eastern Theater Command of the People's Liberation Army, the ruling Communist Party's military wing, said in a statement on its social media platform.

"The expected outcome was achieved," it added. No other details were given.

The drills are due to run from Thursday to Sunday and include missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military drills aimed at intimidating Taiwan's leaders and voters held in 1995 and 1996.

The exercises also raised tensions between China and Japan. Five of the missiles landed inside Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone off its coast, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said.

He said Japan protested the missile landings to China as "serious threats to Japan's national security and the safety of the Japanese people."

The missiles landed off Hateruma, an outer island quite far from the main islands of Japan, he said.

The Chinese foreign ministry had said earlier on Thursday that a meeting between China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart on the sidelines of the ongoing Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference would not take place. Beijing is strongly displeased with the joint statement put out by the Group of Seven nations, including Japan, concerning Taiwan, said Hua Chunying, a Chinese spokesperson.

The 27-nation ASEAN bloc expressed concern Thursday that the volatility caused by tensions in the Taiwan Strait could lead to "miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers."

Taiwan scrambles jets in response

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen criticized the drills in a public video address, saying China "destroyed the status quo and violated our sovereignty" with its "irresponsible actions." She urged China to be "reasonable and restrained."

"We are calm and not impulsive, we are reasonable and not provocative," she said. "But we will also be firm and not back down."

In this image taken from video footage run by China's CCTV, a projectile is launched from an unspecified location in China. (CCTV/The Associated Press)

Tsai said Taiwan is in communication with its allies to ensure that things do not escalate further.

Taiwan scrambled jets on Thursday to warn away 22 Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone, the Taiwanese defence ministry said in a statement. All 22 Chinese aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, the statement said.

The ministry said it tracked the firing of Chinese Dongfeng series missiles beginning around 1:56 p.m. local time on Thursday. The defence ministry also said they tracked long-distance rockets and ammunition firing in outlying islands in Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported the exercises were joint operations focused on "blockade, sea target assault, strike on ground targets, and airspace control."

A pro-China supporter steps on a defaced photo of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a protest against her visit to Taiwan outside the Consulate General of the United States, in Hong Kong Wednesday. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

While China has given no word on numbers of troops and military assets involved, the exercises appear to be the largest held near Taiwan in geographical terms.

The exercises involved troops from the navy, air force, rocket force, strategic support force and logistic support force, Xinhua reported.

Taiwanese citizens remain calm

On Thursday, at least 40 flights to and from Taiwan were cancelled, according to the China Times newspaper. It cited Taoyuan Airport in the capital, Taipei.

There was no immediate indication of the possible effect on shipping, which has the potential to jolt the global economy. Taiwan produces more than half the processor chips used in smartphones, vehicles, tablet computers and other electronics.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan may have been brief, but it wasn’t short on controversy. She's the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in decades — but many worry her visit will fan the flames of an already tense relationship between the self-governed island and China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments. Ahead of Pelosi's visit, China ramped up military drills near Taiwan, and Beijing has vowed to hold even more military exercises over the next several days. Some experts are calling it the most hazardous escalation between the two regions since the 1990s. Today Christian Shepherd, a Washington Post correspondent based in Taipei, explains how tensions between China and Taiwan got to this point, and why Pelosi’s visit was so controversial.

In Keelung, a city on the northern coast of Taiwan and close to two of the announced drill areas, swimmers took their morning laps in a natural pool built in the ocean.

Lu Chuan-hsiong, 63, was enjoying his morning swim, saying he wasn't worried. "Because Taiwanese and Chinese, we're all one family. There's a lot of mainlanders here, too," he said.

"Everyone should want money, not bullets," he quipped, saying the economy wasn't doing so well.

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While the U.S. has not said it would intervene, it has bases and forward-deployed assets in the area, including aircraft carrier battle groups. U.S. law requires the government to treat threats to Taiwan, including blockades, as matters of "grave concern."

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy said its USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was operating in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan, as part of "normal scheduled operations."

With files from Reuters