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China launches long-range airstrike drills around Taiwan on fourth day of military exercises

<i>Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>A Taiwanese military vessel patrols near the east coast in Yilan county on August 7.
AFP via Getty Images
Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images
A Taiwanese military vessel patrols near the east coast in Yilan county on August 7.

By Wayne Chang and Simone McCarthy, CNN

Chinese forces took part in drills focused on land attacks and long-range airstrikes around Taiwan on Sunday, its military said, on what was expected to be the final day of extensive exercises rolled out in response to a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese military said on Sunday around noon local time that it conducted live-fire drills in the waters and airspace around Taiwan “as planned.”

“The drills focused on joint fire land strikes and long-range air strike capabilities,” the command said in a statement posted to its official account on the social media platform Weibo, without specifying whether the drills have ended.

The exercises, planned to take place in six zones around the island, began Thursday and were scheduled to last until Sunday at noon local time in Beijing, Chinese state media reported.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said that as of 5 p.m. local time on Sunday, 66 Chinese warplanes and 14 Chinese vessels were detected operating around the Taiwan Strait.

Among the 22 jets entering the airspace around Taiwan, 12 crossed the median line, the statement read.

The ministry previously called the drills a “simulated attack against the main island of Taiwan and Taiwan’s naval vessels” — a slight dial-up of language from Saturday when it said that Chinese military drills around the island could be a “possible simulated attack.”

Taiwan’s military “closely monitored” the situation and deployed aircraft and vessels to “appropriately” react to Chinese military drills around the island, the Defense Ministry added. It also said drones “intruded” into outlying islands controlled by Taiwan.

China announced the drills — whose scale marks a significant escalation from past activities — within an hour of the arrival of Pelosi and a congressional delegation in Taiwan on Tuesday evening. The stop, which was expected but not announced beforehand, was part of a larger Asia tour.

Chinese officials had repeatedly warned Washington of unspecified repercussions in the lead-up to the expected trip. In addition to the drills, Beijing also launched a raft of diplomatic penalties, including canceling future phone calls between Chinese and US defense leaders and suspending bilateral climate talks.

The Chinese Communist Party views self-governing Taiwan as its territory, despite never having controlled it, and has long vowed to “reunify” the island with the Chinese mainland — by force if necessary.

The previous days’ drills had seen a number of air and maritime operations around the island, including the launch of 11 ballistic missiles on Thursday — some of which flew over the island of Taiwan and landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. That marked the first time China had sent missiles over the island.

On Saturday, 14 vessels and 20 planes operated by the Chinese military were detected around the strait, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. Of the 20 aircraft, 14 crossed the median line, it added.

On Friday, 68 Chinese warplanes were reported in the Taiwan Strait, according to the ministry. Of those, 49 entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone — a buffer of airspace commonly referred to as an ADIZ. That was just a few planes short of the record set last year when 56 Chinese warplanes entered the ADIZ on the same day.

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang on Sunday reiterated Taiwan’s condemnation of the drills.

“Not only Taiwan but other countries in the region as well as freedom-loving countries like the US and so on have vehemently protested and condemned China’s arrogant military operations disrupting regional peace and stability,” he said during a press engagement.

“We call on the Chinese government to not flex its military muscles and disrupt regional peace.”

A US National Security Council spokesperson on Saturday called China’s recent military activities around Taiwan a “significant escalation in China’s efforts to change the status quo.”

“They are provocative, irresponsible, and raise the risk of miscalculation,” the spokesperson said. “They are also at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is what the world expects.”

US allies have also come forward to condemn China’s actions, including in a joint statement issued Friday by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa following their meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Cambodia.

The diplomats “condemned (China’s) launch of ballistic missiles,” including those the Japanese government said landed in its exclusive economic zone, for “raising tension and destabilizing the region,” and called on China “to immediately cease the military exercises,” according to the statement released by the US State Department.

China hit back on Saturday evening, with its embassy in Australia calling the US “the biggest saboteur and destabilizer of peace in the Taiwan Strait” and disputing the “legal basis” for Japan‘s claims regarding the missile landings.

“China is the victim of political provocation from the US. The actions taken by the Chinese government to safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity and curb the separatist activities are legitimate and justified,” a statement from the embassy read.

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CNN’s Gladys Tsai and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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