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Friday, August 19, 2022

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US Slams China Missile Launches Near Taiwan, Wants De-Escalation

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US House speaker Nancy Pelosi was the highest-profile US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. She defied a series of stern threats from Beijing, which sees the self-ruled island as an integral part of its territory.

In retaliation, China kickstarted a series of military exercises in multiple areas around Taiwan, at some points just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the island’s shore.

“China has chosen to overreact and use the speaker’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“The temperature’s pretty high,” but tensions “can come down very easily by just having the Chinese stop these very aggressive military drills,” he added.

According to the Chinese military, the drills began around 12 noon local time (0400 GMT), and involved a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan.

Taiwan said the Chinese military fired 11 Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles “in several batches” and condemned the exercises as “irrational actions that undermine regional peace”.

Taipei did not comment on whether the missiles flew over the island.

But Japan said it had detected nine missiles and four were “believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island”. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said five of the missiles were believed to have landed in his country’s exclusive economic zone. Tokyo lodged a strong diplomatic protest over China’s island.

Japan’s Prime Minister on Friday condemned China’s firing of ballistic missiles during military drills around Taiwan, calling them a “serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens”.

“China’s actions this time around have a serious impact on the peace and stability of our region and the international community,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

Taiwan said it had detected 22 Chinese fighter jets crossing the Taiwan Strait’s “median line” while the exercise was in full swing on Thursday.

AFP journalists on the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles flying into the sky followed by plumes of white smoke and loud booming sounds.

On the mainland, at what is said to be China’s closest point to Taiwan, AFP saw a batch of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low altitude near a popular tourist spot.

Beijing has said the drills will last until midday on Sunday. The country blamed US for the provocation and said that the drills “necessary and just”.

“In the face of this blatant provocation, we have to take legitimate and necessary countermeasures to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a media briefing on Thursday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said US had contacted China “at every level of government” recently to call for calm and stability.

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