China begins major Taiwan military drills after Pelosi visit

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China’s largest-ever military exercises encircling Taiwan kicked off Thursday, in a show of force straddling vital international shipping lanes after a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi left Taiwan Wednesday after a trip that defied a series of stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory.

Pelosi was the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and said her trip made it “unequivocally clear” that the United States would not abandon a democratic ally.

It sparked a furious reaction from Beijing, which vowed “punishment” and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan — some of the world’s busiest waterways.

The exercises, which began around 12 pm (0400 GMT), involve “live-firing”, according to 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.

AFP journalists in the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles flying into the sky followed by plumes of white smoke and loud booming sounds.

AFP was not in a position to identify the projectiles, which were fired from the proximity of nearby military installations, nor their precise direction.

The exercises are taking place in multiple zones around Taiwan — at some points within just 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the shore — and will conclude at midday on Sunday.