China held extensive naval exercises and launched nearly a dozen ballistic missiles into the waters surrounding Taiwan on Thursday, less than 24 hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island, where she promised that the United States would not abandon democracy amid threats from Beijing.
Her trip to Taiwan may have been brief, but it caused a storm of backlash, including headaches for the White House, which wanted Ms Pelosi to cancel the visit.
A spokesman for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said China fired 11 Dongfeng series ballistic missiles into waters northeast, southwest and east of the island. Japan’s Defense Ministry said four of the Chinese missiles may have flown over Taipei, the capital.
China views Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory and Pelosi’s visit as a violation of Washington’s promises not to encourage the island’s democracy to take further steps towards independence.
Ms Tsai criticized the exercises in a public video address, saying China “destroyed the status quo and violated our sovereignty” with its “irresponsible actions”, the Associated Press reported. “We are calm and not impulsive, we are reasonable and not provocative, but we will also be firm and not back down.”
The White House said it had no authority to stop Ms Pelosi and a delegation of congressional Democrats from visiting Taiwan, and insisted her visit did not mark a change in US policy . National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday accused China of “overreacting” to the one-day stopover.
SEE ALSO: White House condemns China’s ‘irresponsible’ overreaction to Pelosi’s Taipei layover
The Pentagon announced measures on Thursday both to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses and avoid further escalation with Beijing, ordering the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to remain in the area near Taiwan “to monitor the situation”, but also delaying for a brief period a planned test of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, according to Mr. Kirby.
But Chinese officials described Thursday’s military actions as a “necessary response” to actions by Washington and Taipei over what Beijing sees as “dangerous moves” on the Taiwan issue, Chinese officials said.
“The military operation will fully test the military equipment and joint combat capability of the [People’s Liberation Army] forces and prepare them for all possible emergencies,” said Maj. Gen. Gu Zhong, deputy chief of staff of the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command.
The row over the speaker’s trip – the most senior US official to visit Taipei in 25 years – also prompted China’s top diplomat to cancel a meeting with his Japanese counterpart that was due to take place on the sidelines of a international conference in Cambodia. Japan on Wednesday endorsed a Group of Seven statement criticizing China’s response to the visit to Taiwan and calling for restraint.
China has sworn to unite Taiwan with China, peacefully if possible but by force if necessary. The rapid pace of China’s military modernization has prompted some analysts to believe an invasion is not only plausible but likely at some point.
White House assurances that the United States still stands by the “One China” policy that recognizes the People’s Republic of China as China’s sole legal government apparently do little to assuage the anger of Beijing facing the visit of Ms. Pelosi.
READ ALSO: China cancels meeting with Japanese leader
“This is our stern message to the ill-intentioned officials and separatist forces seeking Taiwan independence. The PLA Eastern Theater Command has full confidence and ability to counter any provocation and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” Major General Gu said.
Some analysts say Washington should be careful about whipping up the heat on Taiwan as it tries to back Ukraine militarily against an invasion by Russia.
“There is already an intense war going on in Eastern Europe. The idea that we could be fighting essentially two wars at once should prompt us to be not just cautious but extremely cautious,” said Lyle Goldstein, director of Asian engagement at Washington-based think tank Defense Priorities.
Capitol Hill lawmakers have largely backed Pelosi’s trip, saying China’s live-fire drills around Taiwan are just another example of Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and coerce Taipei. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Idaho Sen. James E. Risch, the most Republican on the panel, said the speaker’s visit did not justify the China stocks.
“The intensive exercises, which essentially amount to a blockade, create immense risks for passengers on civilian airlines and ships on the high seas,” the two senators said in a statement. “Beijing should have no false illusions that these military exercises will diminish resolve in the United States or elsewhere, or erode our commitment to supporting the Taiwanese people and their right to determine their own future.”
• Joseph Clark contributed to this report.