Chinese Missiles Strike Seas Off Taiwan, Some Land Near Japan

At least 11 Chinese missiles struck seas north, south and east of Taiwan on Thursday, less than 24 hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated the island as a bulwark of democracy next to autocratic China. The People’s Liberation Army declared its missiles “all precisely hit their targets,” even as five landed in Japanese waters.

The Chinese military called the exercises a prelude to a bigger show of force intended to punish the island for a visit by Ms. Pelosi that challenged Beijing’s claims to Taiwan. The drills, jostling ever closer to Taiwan and expected to run 72 hours, will also give Chinese forces valuable practice should they one day be ordered to encircle and attack the island.

But tensions could dangerously escalate, especially if something goes wrong. The Japanese government on Thursday said that five Chinese ballistic missiles had fallen into its exclusive economic zone.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has said that he hopes to eventually unify Taiwan and China through peaceful steps. But like his predecessors, he has not ruled out force, and China’s military buildup has reached a point where some commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario.

Even if unlikely, it is leaving the region on edge. The Japanese government lodged a diplomatic protest to the Chinese government over the missiles’ landing in its waters.

“This is a grave issue that concerns our national security and the safety of the people,” said Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.

The six zones for China’s exercises were chosen for their importance in a potential campaign to seal off Taiwan and repel foreign intervention, Maj. Gen. Meng Xiangqing, a professor of strategy at the National Defense University in Beijing, said in an interview on Chinese television.

One zone covers the narrowest part of the Taiwan Strait. Others could be used to block a major port or attack three of Taiwan’s main military bases. One facing southern Taiwan, “creates conditions to bolt the door and beat the dog,” he said, using a Chinese saying that refers to blocking an enemy’s escape route.

“You all can wait and see,” General Meng said. “This is the first time that the military will hold a joint military operation around all of Taiwan island,” he said. “It should be said that although this is an exercise resembling actual combat, it can at any time turn into real combat.”

“Use the momentum to surround,” read a slogan used by People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, as it announced that the drills had begun.

It remains unclear how close Chinese forces will come to Taiwan during the exercises, which are scheduled to end on Sunday. In one possible sign of what to expect, China’s Eastern Theater Command, which encompasses Taiwan, said that it was mobilizing more than 100 fighter planes, bombers and other aircraft, as well as more than 10 destroyers and frigates, to “carry out joint closure and control operations.”

The Chinese military could also test Taiwan’s responses by firing into the territorial waters directly off its coast. Three of the exercise zones have corners jutting into those waters.

“It signals that, since Taiwan is part of China, it doesn’t get a 12-nautical-mile zone,” said William Overholt, a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, referring to the sea perimeter by which Taiwan defines its territorial waters. “Taiwan either has to defend its zone like an independent country or cave.”

China is trying to reinforce its influence over Taiwan by upgrading deterrence after the visit by Ms. Pelosi, who praised the island’s people for standing strong against Beijing, several Chinese analysts said.

“The tendency of external forces exploiting Taiwan to contain China has become increasingly clear,” Wu Yongping, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing who studies Taiwan, said in written answers to questions. “The Chinese government has adopted some unprecedented military operations in response to this.”

One of the designated exercise zones lies off the eastern coast of Taiwan, at the farthest point from the Chinese mainland. When China held menacing military exercises off Taiwan during a crisis 25 years ago, the People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., did not go that far.

“It’s an intentional message meant to highlight the P.L.A.’s heightened capacity to project power farther from the Chinese mainland, and it’s a visible signal that China can surround the island,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It will also complicate traffic to and around the island from all sides.”

Kinmen Island, a Taiwanese-controlled island a little over six miles off China’s coast, reported that on Wednesday night, flying objects of unclear origin — probably drones — flew overhead.

“I’m not worried about war, but I’m worried about accidents,” said Cheng Yu-han, 31, a computer engineer in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. He was a little nervous when he heard the sound of planes flying across the sky in Taipei this morning. “I hope that Taiwanese people can get through this crisis safely,” he said.

Global Times, a swaggeringly nationalist Chinese newspaper, raised the possibility of missiles being fired from the mainland into that eastern zone, arcing over Taiwan. But Mr. Hart said China was unlikely to fire missiles over Taiwan. “That would be extremely escalatory,” Mr. Hart said. “They will more likely fire ship-based or air-launched missiles into that area without flying missiles over the island.”

After decades of tensions and several military crises with China, many on Taiwan have become inured to threats. But even if China does not take the most potentially incendiary steps this time, experts and officials on the island worry that the operations could spark an incident — a collision at sea or in the air, or a misfired missile — that inflames tensions into a full-fledged crisis.

A monitoring service run by the U.S. Naval Institute reported on Monday that a strike group led by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was in the Philippine Sea, some distance east of Taiwan, and that the U.S.S. Tripoli, an amphibious assault ship, was also in that area. There were no announcements Thursday of American naval ships near the Chinese exercises.

“Previously, the Chinese Communists carried out military exercises at a distance, now they’ve become close-up,” Chang Yan-ting, a retired deputy commander of Taiwan’s air force, said in an interview. “They’re already at our doorstep.”

Jane Perlez and John Liu contributed reporting. Claire Fu and Li You contributed research.

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