China fired multiple missiles near Taiwan on Thursday in its biggest ever military drills in the Taiwan Strait, a day after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island.
"The US-Taiwan collusion and provocation will only push Taiwan towards the abyss of disaster, bringing catastrophe to Taiwan compatriots," said a Chinese defense ministry spokesperson.
Responding to the Chinese drills, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not provoke conflicts but would firmly defend its sovereignty and national security.
"Taiwan will never be knocked down by challenges," Tsai said in a recorded video message to the people of Taiwan.
"We are calm and not impetuous, we are rational and not provocative, but we will also be firm and not shirk."
The exercises began at midday and included live-firing waters to the north, south and east of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own. They brought volatility in the area to its worst in a quarter century.
China's military said at around 3:30 p.m. (1030 Israel) that it had completed multiple firings of conventional missiles in waters off east Taiwan as part of planned exercises in six different zones set to run until noon on Sunday.
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong's communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.
Pelosi's unannounced visit defied warnings from China.
Before Thursday's drills officially began, Chinese navy ships and military aircraft briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line several times in the morning, a Taiwanese source briefed on the matter told Reuters.
China, which has long said it reserves the right to take Taiwan by force, says its differences with the island are an internal affair.
"Our punishment of pro-Taiwan independence diehards, external forces is reasonable, lawful"China's Beijing-based Taiwan Affairs Office
"Our punishment of pro-Taiwan independence diehards, external forces is reasonable, lawful," China's Beijing-based Taiwan Affairs Office said.
In Taiwan, life was largely normal despite worries that Beijing may even fire a missile over the main island as North Korea did over Japan's northern island of Hokkaido in 2017.
"When China says it wants to annex Taiwan by force, they have actually said that for quite a while," said Chen Ming-cheng, a 38-year-old realtor. "From my personal understanding, they are trying to deflect public anger, the anger of their own people, and turn it onto Taiwan."
Taiwan said that the websites of its defense ministry, foreign ministry and the presidential office were attacked by hackers, and warned of coming "psychological warfare".
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Pelosi's visit to Taiwan a "manic, irresponsible and highly irrational" act, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Wang, speaking at a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Cambodia, said China had made the utmost diplomatic effort to avert crisis but would never let its core interests be hurt.
Unusually, the drills in six areas around Taiwan were announced with a locator map circulated by China's official Xinhua news agency - a factor that for some analysts illustrates playing to both domestic and foreign audiences.
In Beijing, security in the area around the US Embassy remained unusually tight though there were no signs of significant protests.
"I think this (Pelosi's visit) is a good thing," said a man surnamed Zhao. "It gives us an opportunity to surround Taiwan, then to use this opportunity to take Taiwan by force. I think we should thank Comrade Pelosi."
Pelosi, the highest-level US visitor to Taiwan in 25 years, praised its democracy and pledged American solidarity during her brief stopover. Chinese anger could not stop world leaders from traveling there, she said.
"Our delegation came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear that we will not abandon Taiwan," Pelosi told Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, whom Beijing suspects of pushing for formal independence - a red line for China.
China summoned the US ambassador in Beijing in protest and halted several agricultural imports from Taiwan.
The United States and the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations warned China against using Pelosi's visit as a pretext for military action against Taiwan.
"From where have they received such a prerogative? ... To shield the infringer of rights and to accuse their defenders - how inexplicable!"Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister
"From where have they received such a prerogative? ... To shield the infringer of rights and to accuse their defenders - how inexplicable!" responded Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The US reaction
The United States urged China not to overreact to US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan after Beijing deployed planes and fired live missiles near Taiwan, some of which Japan said appeared to land in its economic zone.
"We're watching this closely. We continue to urge the Chinese not to overreact here. There's no reason to react the way that they have or to escalate the tensions," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told MSNBC.
He urged China to "bring down the tensions, just like we are doing," adding: "We're not saber rattling. Bring down the tensions and work through this so that there's no change in the status quo of a unilateral or forceful nature."
The United States has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is bound by US law to provide it with the means to defend itself.
China views visits by US officials to Taiwan as sending an encouraging signal to the pro-independence camp on the island. Taiwan rejects China's sovereignty claims, saying only the Taiwanese people can decide their future.