China has encircled Taiwan with a series of huge military drills — now into their second day — that have been condemned by the United States and other Western allies.

Set to last until Sunday, the exercises will take place in multiple zones around Taiwan — at some points within just 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the shore.
Set to last until Sunday, the exercises will take place in multiple zones around Taiwan — at some points within just 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the shore. (AFP)

Taiwan says Beijing's fighter jets and ships have crossed the median line that runs down the Taiwan Strait as part of its latest military drills, calling China "the evil neighbour next door".

China has been holding huge drills encircling Taiwan, which Beijing considers as its own territory, since Thursday to protest this week's visit to the island state by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The drills involve live firing on the waters and in the airspace near the self-ruled island state, with as many as four missiles believed to have flown over the capital Taipei in an unprecedented escalation during the exercises.

"This Chinese military exercise, whether it be the launch of ballistic missiles or the deliberate crossing of the median line of the strait, is a highly provocative act," Taiwan's defence ministry said in a statement on Friday.

"...multiple batches of Chinese warplanes and warships conducted exercises around the Taiwan Strait and crossed the median line of the strait."

The median line is an unofficial but once largely-adhered-to border that runs down the middle of the Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan and China.

It was previously rare for military jets and ships to cross the median line, although Chinese incursions have become more common after Beijing declared in 2020 that the unofficial border no longer existed. 

And there has been a spike in median-line incursions during this week's drills.

Crossings of the line are sensitive because the Taiwan Strait is narrow, just 130 kilometres (81 miles) at its thinnest point, and incursions raise the risk of military accidents. 

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Show of strength

The latest drills are expected to continue until midday Sunday, and have sparked outrage from the United States, Japan and the European Union, as well as Taipei.

China defends the drills as just countermeasures in the face of provocations by the United States and its allies in Taiwan.

Taiwan's premier Su Tseng-chang called for allies to push for de-escalation on Friday.

"(We) didn't expect that the evil neighbour next door would show off its power at our door and arbitrarily jeopardise the busiest waterways in the world with its military exercises," he told reporters.

The military exercises have straddled some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Airlines too have cancelled flights to Taipei and rerouted others to avoid airspace nearby that has been closed to civilian traffic during Chinese military exercises.

Beijing is yet to formally confirm whether missiles overflew the island state during the drills, while Taipei has refused to confirm or deny the flight paths, citing intelligence concerns.

But Japan's defence ministry said of the nine missiles it had detected, four were "believed to have flown over Taiwan's main island".

Meng Xiangqing, a professor at China's military-affiliated National Defence University, told state broadcaster CCTV that the drills represented the People's Liberation Army's closest-ever exercises to the island, its first encirclement and the first time it set up a shooting range east of Taiwan.

"That's unprecedented," Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said of statements that four ballistic missiles had been fired over Taiwan.

"In my view, the larger threat is that China is doing a rehearsal for a blockade, demonstrating it can block Taiwan's ports and airports, and prevent shipping," she said.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies