China claims ‘precision missile strikes’ in Taiwan Strait as tensions mount

China said it has conducted “precision missile strikes” in the Taiwan Strait as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades.

The country announced that military exercises by its navy, air force and other departments were under way 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 US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week and are intended to advertise China’s threat to attack the self-governing island republic.

Taiwan has cancelled airline flights as the Chinese navy fired artillery near the island in retaliation Ms Pelosi’s visit, but the impact on shipments of processor chips and other goods needed by global industries was unclear.

Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest point from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-ruled 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 US.

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“Long-range armed live fire precision missile strikes were carried out on selected targets in the eastern area of the Taiwan Strait,” the Eastern Theatre 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.” No other details were given.

Ms Pelosi avoided making direct public comments on relations with China and Taiwan that could increase regional tensions.

The first US House Speaker to visit Taiwan in 25 years, Ms Pelosi said on Wednesday in Taipei the American commitment to democracy in the self-governing island and elsewhere “remains ironclad”.

The Hong Kong newspaper The South China Morning Post called the drills an “effective Taiwan blockade”.

At least 40 flights to and from Taiwan were cancelled on Thursday, according to the China Times newspaper.

It cited Taoyuan Airport in the capital Taipei as saying cancellations were “not necessarily” related to the military drills.

There was no immediate indication of the possible impact on shipping.

Some flights to the mainland would detour through Hong Kong, Taiwan’s transport minister Wang Kwo-tsai said on Wednesday at a news conference.

Business has grown even as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government stepped up pressure on Taiwan, sending growing numbers of fighter planes and bombers to fly around the island to intimidate its government.

Two-way trade soared 26 per cent last year to $328.3 billion (£270bn).

Taiwan said chip sales to Chinese factories rose 24 per cent to $104.3bn (£85bn).

Fruit, fish and other foods are a small part of Taiwan’s exports to China, but the ban hurts areas that are seen as supporters of President Tsai Ing-wen.

Beijing has used import bans on bananas, wine, coal and other goods as leverage in disputes with Australia, the Philippines and other governments.

The ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) called for calm in the Taiwan Strait, which separates mainland China and Taiwan, and urged the avoidance of any “provocative action”.

ASEAN foreign ministers, meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for a regional forum, said they were concerned the situation could “destabilise the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers”.

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