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China announces it carried out precision missile strikes in the Taiwan Strait

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is increasing tension in the region. Today, China launched several missiles toward waters around the island during unprecedented military drills. This comes after Beijing had warned of serious consequences if Pelosi's visit went ahead. Joining us now from Beijing with more is NPR's John Ruwitch. Hi, John.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Hey there.

FADEL: So, John, tell us more about what's happening there today. How extensive are these military exercises?

RUWITCH: Sure. First, it's worth noting these are not a surprise. After Pelosi's plane landed in Taiwan on Tuesday night, China said it would be doing this, right?

FADEL: OK.

RUWITCH: But these drills, some of which are live fire, are quite extensive. China identified six zones in the seas surrounding Taiwan where the drills are happening, and it warned planes and ships to stay out of them while the drills are underway. China's state news agency describes the exercises as joint operations focused on blockading, sea target assault, strikes on ground targets and airspace control. We do not know at this point exactly how many planes and ships or crew are involved. China hasn't said so, but we get the sense from Taiwan's government that there's quite a few and that the Chinese have been taking some steps that are quite provocative. For instance, Taiwan says Chinese ships and planes have been approaching, even crossing, the midway line down the Taiwan Strait. The drills also involve missiles, as you said. China says that, you know, it conducted precision missile strikes in the Taiwan Straits. And the Taiwan government says that China fired 11 ballistic missiles into the waters near the island.

FADEL: So these drills are being called unprecedented. But how unusual are they actually? Is this something China's done before, maybe in a more limited way?

RUWITCH: Yeah, drills are definitely not unusual. The People's Liberation Army also routinely has reports - publicizes the information about these drills, often, too, you know, they're seen by analysts as practice or rehearsals for Taiwan-related contingencies, like we're seeing now. Beijing does consider Taiwan a part of China, wants to get it back and hasn't ever renounced the use of force as a possible way to get that. But drills of this size are unusual, and it's unprecedented that they're happening simultaneously around the entire island and, in some cases, extremely close to Taiwan. Some of these areas where the drills are happening are within 12 miles of the coast. The last time that tensions were this high probably dates back to 1995, '96. Back then, Beijing launched missiles into waters north and south of the island after Taiwan's then-president Lee Teng-hui visited the U.S.

FADEL: So how long do we expect this show of force to last?

RUWITCH: China has said that these exercises are going to last until Sunday midday. So that's about 72 hours. Beijing, of course, was very unhappy with Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, and analysts and observers think that we might well see more of this kind of thing beyond that point - right? - maybe on a smaller scale, maybe elsewhere. Taiwan has been girding for - you know, they put their military on alert. The island's government says that these drills are dangerous and effectively amount to a blockade. And it's worth noting that the situation is being watched far and wide, beyond just Taiwan or China. The foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who are meeting in Cambodia today, put out a statement expressing concern about international and regional volatility. You know, they didn't mention the U.S., China or Taiwan by name, but they were clearly alluding to what's happening in the Taiwan Strait. They said they worry about miscalculations, even open conflict, and they called for maximum restraint. Secretary Blinken was actually at the meeting, and he reiterated that, you know, nothing has changed in U.S. policy toward China, but, you know, escalation serves no one, he said. And maintaining cross-strait stability is in the interests of everyone.

FADEL: NPR's John Ruwitch in Beijing, thank you so much.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.