Chinese military exercises aimed at Taiwan a 'grave problem' for region, Japan's PM says

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that China’s military exercises aimed at Taiwan represent a “grave problem” that threatens regional peace and security after five ballistic missiles launched as part of the drills landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Kishida, speaking after breakfast with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her congressional delegation, said the missile launches need to be “stopped immediately.”

China, which claims Taiwan and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary, called Pelosi’s visit earlier this week to the self-ruled island a provocation and on Thursday began military exercises, including missile strike training, in six zones surrounding Taiwan, in what could be its biggest since the mid-1990s.

In Taipei on Wednesday, Pelosi said the American commitment to democracy in Taiwan and elsewhere “remains ironclad.” She became the first House speaker to visit the island in 25 years.

Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said five missiles landed on Thursday in Japan’s exclusive economic zone off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan’s main islands.

A woman in Beijing uses her mobile phone Thursday as she walks in front of a large screen showing a news broadcast about China’s military exercises. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

He said Japan protested to China, saying the missiles “threatened Japan’s national security and the lives of the Japanese people, which we strongly condemn.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, attending a regional meeting in Cambodia, said China’s actions are “severely impacting peace and stability in the region and the international community, and we demand the immediate suspension of the military exercises.”

Japan has in recent years bolstered its defence capability and troop presence in southwestern Japan and remote islands, including Okinawa, which is about 700 kilometres northeast of Taiwan. Many residents say they worry their island will be quickly embroiled in any Taiwan conflict.

Okinawa is home to the majority of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact.

Shared security concerns

At the breakfast earlier Friday, Pelosi and her congressional delegation also discussed their shared security concern over China, North Korea and Russia, and pledged their commitment to working toward peace and stability in Taiwan, Kishida said. Pelosi also was to hold talks with her Japanese counterpart, lower house Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda.

Japan and its key ally, America, have been pushing for new security and economic frameworks with other democracies in the Indo-Pacific region and Europe as a counter to China’s growing influence amid rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei.

Days before Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, a group of senior Japanese lawmakers, including former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, visited the island and discussed regional security with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Ishiba said Japan, while working with the United States to prevent conflict in the Indo-Pacific, wants a defence agreement with Taiwan.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations issued a statement saying “there is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait.” It said China’s “escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region.”

China cited its displeasure over the statement for the last-minute cancellation of talks between the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Cambodia on Thursday.

Increasing North Korean nuclear threat

Pelosi held talks on Thursday in South Korea, also a key U.S. ally, which stayed away from the Taiwan issue, apparently to avoid upsetting China, focusing instead on North Korea’s increasing nuclear threat.

In recent years, South Korea has been struggling to strike a balance between the United States and China as their rivalry has deepened.

The Chinese military exercises launched Thursday involve its navy, air force and other departments and are to last until Sunday. They include missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island.

Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defence drills, while the U.S. has numerous naval assets in the area.

China also flew warplanes toward Taiwan and blocked imports of its citrus and fish.

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By Jon Doe