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China fires 11 missiles near Taiwan in biggest test in decades

A woman uses her mobile phone as she walks in front of a large screen showing a news broadcast about China’s military exercises encircling Taiwan, in Beijing on Aug. 4, 2022. – China’s largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan kicked off Aug. 4, in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes after a visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
Cindy Wang Bloomberg News

China fired its largest missile tests in Taiwan’s waters in decades, the day after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defied Beijing by visiting the self-ruled island it claims as its own.

The People’s Liberation Army fired 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles into waters north, east and south of Taiwan between 1:56 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time Thursday, the island’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Sun Li-fang, a ministry spokesman, earlier said missiles had been fired from land.

It was unclear which location the missiles were fired from and if any went over Taiwan. China has never sent missiles over the island before and such a move would be a provocative escalation. Taiwan’s defense ministry declined to comment on that point.

China also sent long-range rockets near the northwestern outlying islands of Matsu and Dongyin, and Wuqiu in the west, Taiwan confirmed. Its defense ministry said it had strengthened its guard around the islands, which are located closer to China’s coastline than Taiwan.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. had engaged Chinese counterparts in recent days at “every level of government” to convey a message of restraint after Pelosi’s trip, which Beijing has called “an infringement on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We, and countries around the world, believe that escalation serves no one and could have unintended consequences that serve no one’s interests,” Blinken said Thursday, on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia.

Earlier in the day, China said an unspecified number of its missiles had accurately hit targets in seas east of Taiwan. The Eastern Military Command of the People’s Liberation Army said in a statement it had completed live-fire training, and lifted relevant air and sea controls.

The statement didn’t clarify whether that meant all military exercises had ended in six exclusion zones surrounding the island, which began at noon on Thursday and were set to last for 72 hours. At a regular briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she didn’t have information on whether all the drills had ended, and referred reporters back to the original Aug. 4-7 timeframe.

People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said on its official Twitter account that sea and airspace controls off the eastern coast of Taiwan had been lifted.

China earlier this week warned airlines to avoid “danger zones” around Taiwan after it announced its most provocative drills in decades in response to Pelosi’s visit, including missile tests and live-fire exercises. The No. 3 American official vowed Wednesday during a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei that the U.S. wouldn’t abandon Taiwan.

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said earlier it continues to be on high alert in response to the exercises, which the agency criticized as an attempt to undermine regional stability. Taiwanese Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai said flights could use alternative air routes via Japan and the Philippines until the drills ended Sunday, while ships would be able to avoid the six exclusion zones.

“Shipping is different from air traffic as there is no fixed route — it’s freer,” Wang told reporters at a briefing late Wednesday. “So what’s done in the past is to avoid the areas where drills will take place.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is under pressure to give a strong response to the trip, particularly after some local nationalists were disappointed that Beijing wasn’t able to deter Pelosi from visiting. She left Taiwan on Wednesday and is holding meetings in South Korea on Thursday before heading next to Japan.

Separately, Southeast Asian foreign ministers urged “maximum restraint” in a statement released during an annual meeting Thursday in Cambodia. Association of Southeast Asian Nations envoys expressed concern that developments “could destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers,” without naming China, Taiwan or the U.S.

On Wednesday, 27 Chinese military aircraft were detected in the skies around Taiwan’s airspace, with 22 crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait — the most since the island began making the maneuvers public in 2020. Separately, Taiwan said it warned off Chinese military drones flying near its Kinmen and Beiding islands — both of which sit close to the coastal Chinese city of Xiamen — Wednesday night.

China’s national security agency separately detained a Taiwanese man for long-time advocacy of Taiwan independence and founding a Taiwan Nationalist Party, state broadcaster CCTV on Wednesday. Beijing has also announced some trade restrictions on Taiwan.