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.
Taiwan forces on alert
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said it tracked the firing of Chinese Dongfeng series missiles beginning around 1:56 p.m. local time on Thursday. It said in a statement it used various early warning surveillance systems to track the missile launches, which were directed at waters northeast and southwest of Taiwan.
Earlier during the day, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said its forces were on alert and monitoring the situation, while seeking to avoid escalating tensions. Civil defence drills have also been held and notices were placed on designated air raid shelters.
China’s “irrational behaviour” intends to alter the status quo and disrupt regional peace and stability, the ministry said.
“The three service branches will combine efforts with all the people to jointly safeguard national security and territorial integrity” while adapting to the situation as it develops, the statement said.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.