China has started another round of military exercises around Taiwan as tensions continue to rise after a 24-hour visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Chinese state media reports that the drills are underway hours after suspected drones flew over Taiwan territory on Wednesday and hackers targeted the Defense Ministry website.
Taiwan said before the start of military drills on Thursday morning that some of the drills were to take place within its 12-nautical-mile sea and air territory.
This has never happened before and a senior ministry official described the potential move as “amounting to a sea and air blockade of Taiwan”.
Chinese news agency Xinhua said the drills, involving live-fire drills, would take place in six areas that surround Taiwan from 5 a.m. UK time.
It comes as China’s foreign minister called Ms Pelosi’s visit ‘manic, irresponsible and highly irrational’.
Taiwan said before the start of the latest round of exercises that it would respond by strengthening its self-defense capabilities and coordinating closely with the United States and like-minded countries.
Taiwan also said its military was closely monitoring the situation in the strait between the island and mainland China.
The ministry added that it will “respond appropriately” to enemy behavior to “safeguard national security and sovereignty.”
Taiwan is on high alert as China conducts military drills in response to the 24-hour visit by Pelosi, the highest-ranking US politician to visit the island in 25 years.
China considers the island part of its territory and opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments.
On Thursday, Major General Chang Zone-sung of the Taiwan Army’s Kinmen Defense Command said a pair of suspected drones flew in the Kinmen Islands area around 9 and 10 p.m. local time. (2pm and 3pm UK time) Wednesday evening.
The heavily fortified islands, ruled by Taiwan, lie just off the southeast coast of China near the city of Xiamen.
“We immediately fired flares to issue warnings and drive them away. After that they turned back. They entered our restricted area and that’s why we dispersed them,” Major General said. Chang.
“We have a standard operating procedure. We will react if they come in,” he continued.
Major General Chang said he believed the drones were intended to gather intelligence on Taiwan’s security deployment in its outer islands.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it was working closely with other authorities to improve cybersecurity after hackers targeted its website and temporarily took it offline.
The cyberattack comes after several Taiwanese government websites, including the presidential office, were targeted earlier this week.
Taiwanese authorities said some of the attacks were carried out by China and Russia.
Continued cyberattacks on government websites “have not caused any damage so far”, a Taiwan cabinet spokesperson said.
The Taiwanese government is now urging businesses on the island to step up their cybersecurity in the coming days as authorities have seen a record number of attacks on their websites amid escalating tensions with China.
Earlier on Wednesday, Taiwan dispatched planes to warn 27 Chinese planes in its air defense zone, the island’s defense ministry said, adding that 22 of them had crossed the median line separating the island from China.
Aircraft of both sides do not normally cross the center line.
This happened before the Chinese Taiwan Affairs Office said the punishment of Taiwan independence supporters and outside forces was reasonable and legal.
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The Beijing-based office added that Taiwan is not a “regional” issue but an internal affair of China.
A suspected Taiwanese separatist was arrested by state security in east China’s Zhejiang province on Wednesday on suspicion of endangering national security, Chinese state media reported.
Ms Pelosi concluded her visit to Taiwan on Wednesday by promising that the United States’ commitment to democracy on the self-governing island and elsewhere “remains rock solid.”