BEIJING (AP) — China said Friday that more than 100 warplanes and 10 warships have taken part in live-fire military drills surrounding Taiwan over the past two days, while announcing sanctions on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her visit to the self-governing island earlier this week.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Friday that fighters, bombers, destroyers and frigates were all used in what it called “joint blockage operations” taking place in six zones off the coast of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
The military’s Eastern Theater Command also fired new versions of missiles it said hit unidentified targets in the Taiwan Strait “with precision.”
The Rocket Force also fired projectiles over Taiwan into the Pacific, military officers told state media, in a major ratcheting up of China’s threats to attack and invade the island.
The drills, which Xinhua described as being held on an “unprecedented scale," are China's response to a visit this week by Pelosi to Taiwan. The speaker is the highest ranking U.S. politician to visit Taiwan in 25 years.
China announced unspecified sanctions on Pelosi and her family. Such sanctions are generally mostly symbolic in nature.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said that Pelosi had disregarded China’s serious concerns and resolute opposition to her visit. It called Pelosi’s visit provocative and said it undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
China opposes Taiwan having its own engagements with foreign governments.
On the Chinese coast across from Taiwan, tourists gathered Friday to try to catch a glimpse of any military aircraft heading toward the exercise area.
Fighter jets could be heard flying overhead and tourists taking photos chanted, “Let’s take Taiwan back," looking out into the blue waters of the Taiwan Strait from Pingtan island, a popular scenic spot in Fujian province.
Pelosi's visit stirred emotions among the Chinese public and the government's response “makes us feel our motherland is very powerful and gives us confidence that the return of Taiwan is the irresistible trend,” said Wang Lu, a tourist from the neighboring Zhejiang province.
China is a “powerful country and it will not allow anyone to offend its own territory,” said Liu Bolin, a high school student who is visiting the island.
His mother, Zheng Zhidan, was somewhat more circumspect.
“We are compatriots and we hope to live in peace,” Zheng said. “We should live peacefully with each other.”
China's insistence that Taiwan is its territory and threat to use force to bring it under its control has featured highly in ruling Communist Party propaganda, the education system and the entirely state-controlled media for the more than seven decades since the sides divided amid civil war in 1949.
Island residents overwhelmingly favor maintaining the status quo of de facto independence and reject China's demands that Taiwan unify with the mainland under Communist control.
On Friday morning, China sent military ships and war planes across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said, crossing what had for decades been an unofficial buffer zone between China and Taiwan.
Five of the missiles fired by China since the military exercises began Thursday landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan’s main islands, Japanese Defense 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.”
Japan's Defense Ministry later said they believe the other four missiles, fired from China’s southeastern coast of Fujian, flew over Taiwan.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that China’s military exercises aimed at Taiwan represent a “grave problem” that threatens regional peace and security.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China's actions were in line with “international law and international practices," though she provided no evidence.
“As for the Exclusive Economic Zone, China and Japan have not carried out maritime delimitation in relevant waters, so there is no such thing as an EEZ of Japan," Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.
In Tokyo, where Pelosi is winding up her Asia trip, she said China cannot stop U.S. officials from visiting Taiwan. Speaking after breakfast with Pelosi and her congressional delegation, Kishida said the missile launches need to be “stopped immediately.”
China said it summoned European diplomats in the country to protest statements issued by the Group of Seven nations and the European Union criticizing threatening Chinese military exercises surrounding Taiwan.
The Foreign Ministry on Friday said Vice Minister Deng Li made “solemn representations” over what he called “wanton interference in China’s internal affairs.”
Deng said China would “prevent the country from splitting with the strongest determination, using all means and at any cost.”
“Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is a blatant political manipulation and a blatant and serious violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," Deng said. “In response to the U.S.-Taiwan collusion and provocation, China’s counterattack is only natural."
China's Foreign Ministry said the meeting was held Thursday night but gave no information on which countries participated. Earlier Thursday, China canceled a foreign ministers’ meeting with Japan to protest the G-7 statement that there was no justification for the exercises.
Both ministers were attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia.
China has promoted the overseas support it has received for its response to Pelosi’s visit, mainly from fellow authoritarian states such as Russia and North Korea.
China had earlier summoned U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns to protest Pelosi's visit. The speaker left Taiwan on Wednesday after meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen and holding other public events. She traveled on to South Korea and then Japan. Both countries host U.S. military bases and could be drawn into a conflict involving Taiwan.
The Chinese exercises involve troops from the navy, air force, rocket force, strategic support force and logistic support force, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
They are believed to be the largest held near Taiwan in geographical terms, with Beijing announcing six exercise zones surrounding the island.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday called the drills a “significant escalation” and said he has urged Beijing to back down.
Blinken told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with ASEAN in Cambodia that Pelosi’s visit was peaceful and did not represent a change in American policy toward Taiwan, accusing China of using it as a “pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.”
He said the situation had led to a “vigorous communication” during East Asia Summit meetings in Phnom Penh in which both he and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi took part along with the ASEAN nations, Russia and others.
U.S. law requires the government to treat threats to Taiwan, including blockades, as matters of “grave concern.”
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.
Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defense drills, but the overall mood remained calm on Friday. Flights have been canceled or diverted and fishermen have remained in port to avoid the Chinese drills.
In the northern port of Keelung, Lu Chuan-hsiong, 63, was enjoying his morning swim Thursday, saying he wasn’t worried.
“Everyone should want money, not bullets,” Lu said.