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China gears for live-fire drills around Taiwan

China is set to kick off several days of military drills in a number of zones surrounding Taiwan

China is set to kick off several days of military drills in a number of zones surrounding Taiwan

China is set to launch massive, live-ammunition military drills encircling Taiwan on Thursday.

The show of force around vital international shipping lanes — disrupting 18 international routes, according to Taiwan — comes after a visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi, the highest-ranking politician to visit the self-ruled island in 25 years, had defied Beijing's threats of repercussions to the trip.

What we know about the drills

According to Chinese state media, the exercises will involve "training activities including live-fire drills." They are set to kick off at 12:00 p.m. local time (0400 GMT) and will last until midday Sunday.

The drills will reportedly take place as close as just 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Taiwan's shore at some points.

State-run tabloid the Global Times reported, citing military analysts, that the drills were "unprecedented," with missiles expected to fly over Taiwan.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying claimed the maneuvers were "defensive."

"In the current struggle surrounding Pelosi's Taiwan visit, the United States are the provocateurs, China is the victim," she told a regular briefing Wednesday.

Taipei on alert

Taiwan has warned that the planned drills pose a threat to regional security.

"This is an irrational move to challenge the international order," Defense Ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang told a news conference Wednesday.

The island's Maritime and Port Bureau issued warning to ships to avoid areas of the military exercises.

Taiwan also reported on Wednesday that 27 Chinese military jets entered its air defense zone.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said it fired flares to drive away unidentified aircraft, likely drones, that had flown above Taiwan.

Western and regional condemnation

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned Beijing's "aggressive" drills around Taiwan.

"There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait. It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally," Borrell wrote on Twitter.

His remarks echoed that of the G7, which said Beijing's "escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilizing the region."

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also warned that the standoff could spark "open conflicts."

The situation "could destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers," the ASEAN ministers said in a statement.

fb/rs (AFP, Reuters)