CHINA launched unprecedented live fire military drills as close as 12 miles from Taiwan’s shores this morning – as the island’s defenders opened fire at suspected Beijing drones.
The Asian powerhouse kicked off its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan on Thursday in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes.
Taiwan has been on high alert as China conducts a series of war games in response to a visit by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Polosi to the island this week.
Beijing vowed “punishment” and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan – some of the world’s busiest waterways.
The war game drills began at 12 pm (0400 GMT) on Thursday and involved “live-firing”, according to Chinese state media.
“Six major areas around the island have been selected for this actual combat exercise and during this period, relevant ships and aircraft should not enter the relevant waters and airspaces,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Reports have also emerged of small projectiles flying into the sky around Pingtan followed by plumes of white smoke and loud booming sounds.
It’s believed they were fired from a nearby military installation and follows a Taiwan government report that Beijing launched two Dongfeng ballistic missiles into drill zones off the country’s northeastern coast.
The exercises are taking place around just 12 miles from Taiwan’s shores and isn’t expected to wrap up until midday on Sunday.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was closely watching the military exercises.
“The Ministry of National Defence stresses that it will uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war, and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and causing disputes,” it said in a statement.
Beijing’s nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times said, citing military analysts, that the exercises were “unprecedented” and that missiles would fly over Taiwan for the first time.
“This is the first time the PLA will launch live long-range artillery across” the Taiwan Strait, the newspaper said using the Chinese military’s formal name, the People’s Liberation Army.
Major General Chang Zone-sung told Reuters that a group of Chinese drones flew into the Kinmen area twice on last night at around 9pm and 10pm local times (2pm UK time).
He said his troops “immediately fired flares to issue warnings and to drive them away”.
“After that, they turned around. They came into our restricted area and that’s why we dispersed them,” he said.
“We have a standard operating procedure. We will react if they come in.”
Kinmen islands are a heavily-armed fortress just off the southeastern coast of China.
Maj Gen Chang said he believed the drones were trying to father intelligence on Taiwan’s security around the outlaying islands.
Last week, Taiwan fired flares at a drone that “glanced” that was believed to be probing defences at the Matsu archipelago near China’s Fujian province, Taiwan’s defence military said.
It comes as China brought the world a step closer to nuclear when its navy ships and military aircraft crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait Thursday morning, a Reuters correspondent has claimed.
The correspondent claimed 10 Chinese navy warships and multiple aircraft crossed the country’s maritime border.
China fired long-range rockets towards Taiwan in the latest military drills taking place in the Taiwan Strait.
In response, Taiwan triggered its missiles systems to track Chinese fighter jets near the median line while navy ships remained close by to monitor China’s navy activity.
China vowed to surround Taiwan as part of a “targeted military operations” in response to a controversial visit to the country by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
State-affiliated media in China has quoted the country’s Ministry of National Defence as saying the People’s Liberation Army will be countering Pelosi‘s visit to Taiwan in a bid to “defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
These operations will include live fire drills and “war games” around the coast of the island, which China claims is a breakaway province.
On Tuesday, China announced a series of life-fire exercises surrounding Taiwan between Thursday and Sunday.
Commercial ships and flights have been warned to avoid these areas during these times.
China has threatened to “fight to the death” over Taiwan, which it views at its own.
In response, the US Navy has deployed four warships east of Taiwan, while Chinese vessels and planes have moved close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait.