The Chinese military on Thursday carried out missile strikes as part of its biggest-ever military drills surrounding Taiwan, just a day after a US delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island and vowed to preserve democracy in Taiwan.

Key Facts

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In an official statementthe Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said it carried out “long-range live fire” precision missile strikes targeting specific areas of the Taiwan Strait.

The missile firing drills “achieved the expected results,” the statement added.

The missiles—identified as Dongfeng 15B short range ballistic missiles—were tracked closely by the Taiwanese defense ministry as they landed in waters northeast and southwest of the island.

The live firings were part of a set of high-stakes military drills—China’s biggest ever in the region—by the Chinese military in six locations encircling Taiwan.

According to the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency, the exercises are focussed on “joint blockade, sea target assault, strike on ground targets, and airspace control operations, and the joint combat capabilities of the troops.”

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party called China’s actions “irresponsible, illegitimate behavior,” while the island’s defense ministry labeled it as “irrational action that has jeopardized regional peace.”

Crucial Quotes

In a statement issued on Wednesday the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations—US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan—criticized China's saber rattling and called out “threatening actions…which risk unnecessary escalation.” The statement added: "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."

What To Watch For

According to the New York Times, there are some concerns within Washington that China's military drills around Taiwan could slowly morph into a longer term blockade of the island that could last several weeks or even months. While such a move or even a more drastic full scale invasion of Taiwan remains unlikely due to the slowing Chinese economy, the report notes that there are fears that the proximity of the drills to the island could cause an unintended incident that could lead to an escalation . A US response to any escalation across the Taiwan Strait remains unclear but President Joe Biden last year indicated that the US would come to the defense of Taiwan if China attacked.

Key Background

China's military drills were announced earlier this week in response to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan where she met with the country's leadership including President Tsai Ing-wen. Following her meeting with Tsai, Pelosi said her support for Taiwan was a choice between "democracy and autocracy" and added that the US was determined to "preserve democracy" in Taiwan and the rest of the world. Pelosi's visit to Taiwan was the most high-profile trip to the island by a US official since a 1997 tour by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Last week, President Joe Biden spoke with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in an official phone call where he reiterated Washington's position on Taiwan—stating it had not changed and the US does not support Taiwanese independence. However, Biden warned that the US is opposed to any effort by China to unilaterally change the status quo. Beijing, which views the US's actions as meddling in its internal affairs, issued a readout after the call saying "those who play with fire will perish by it."

Pelosi Says US Is Determined To 'Preserve Democracy' As She Meets Taiwanese President (Forbes)

China claims 'precision missile strikes' in Taiwan Strait (Associated Press)