Xi ‘let missiles fall in Japanese waters’

Xi ‘let missiles fall in Japanese waters’

Chinese leader wanted to send a message to Tokyo during drills off Taiwan, sources say

A man reads a newspaper report on military exercises near Taiwan by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, at a newspaper stand in Beijing on Aug 8. (Reuters Photo)
A man reads a newspaper report on military exercises near Taiwan by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, at a newspaper stand in Beijing on Aug 8. (Reuters Photo)

TOKYO: Chinese President Xi Jinping personally decided to let ballistic missiles launched by the military during recent drills near Taiwan fall in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to deter Tokyo’s interference in any cross-strait contingency, according to sources close to the matter.

Xi, who heads the Central Military Commission, the highest decision-making organ of China’s armed forces, ditched a plan to avoid conducting exercises last week in waters overlapping the Japanese EEZ to make the training in six areas encircling Taiwan more combat-oriented, the sources said.

The large-scale exercises began on Aug 4 as part of China’s fierce response to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit earlier to the self-ruled island, which Beijing views as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Five of the 11 Chinese ballistic missiles launched that day fell into Japan’s EEZ, triggering a protest from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The sources who spoke to Kyodo News said the military submitted to Xi two plans, with one covering Japan’s EEZ south of a remote Okinawa prefecture island and the other avoiding the waters so as not to harm bilateral relations ahead of the 50th anniversary of normalisation of diplomatic ties in late September.

One of the sources said Xi adopted the plan covering Japan’s EEZ in order to warn the Kishida administration against strengthening Tokyo’s involvement in the Taiwan Strait by bolstering its security alliance with the United States.

Xi also preferred the drills to be conducted in waters overlapping Japan’s EEZ as a military blockade of sea areas near the Nansei Islands, a chain that includes Okinawa and stretches southwest from Kyushu toward Taiwan, would be unavoidable in the event of an actual operation to take control of the island, the sources said.

The Chinese military assumes US forces will dispatch vessels and fighter jets from its bases in Okinawa and other parts of Japan to support Taiwan if Beijing launches an operation to seize the democratically governed island of 24 million people.

The latest exercises near Taiwan were conducted under a scenario in which the Chinese military would deny US forces access by launching ballistic missiles and carry out landing operations after taking control of airspace and waters surrounding the island.

Last October, Xi and Kishida agreed to seek “constructive and stable” relations in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties in their first phone talks since the Japanese leader took office.

However, bilateral relations have deteriorated rapidly amid rising cross-strait tensions.

In protest against Japan criticising China together with the United States and other G7 members for increasing military pressure on Taiwan following Pelosi’s visit, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi abruptly cancelled his planned meeting on Aug 4 with Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi in Phnom Penh.

The following day, Wang walked out with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov when Hayashi spoke at a regional ministerial meeting held in the Cambodian capital.

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