China on Thursday began military exercises with live ammunition in the waters and airspace around Taiwan, in what Washington characterised as an “irresponsible” overreaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “China has chosen to overreact and use the speaker's visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait”.
He added that Beijing is leveraging Ms Pelosi's trip as a “pretext” to increase military activity in the region.
“There's no reason for this manufactured crisis to exist,” he said.
Ms Pelosi and US officials have repeatedly claimed that her visit to Taiwan does not undermine Washington's “One China” policy. Beijing condemned the trip as a threat to stability in the Taiwan Strait.
China ordered missile strikes in the waters off of Taiwan's coast in response to Ms Pelosi's visit, five of which landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone off Hateruma, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defence said it had begun tracking Chinese missiles at about 1.56pm local time and counted 11 Dongfeng missiles in the waters north, south and east of the island.
At least 27 Chinese military aircraft were detected near Taiwanese airspace and 22 had crossed the median line of the strait, the ministry added.
“The temperature's pretty high,” Mr Kirby said.
Tension “can come down very easily by just having the Chinese stop these very aggressive military drills and flying missiles in and around the Taiwan Strait”, he said.
China's military said the drills will continue until about noon on Sunday, state media in Beijing reported on Thursday.
“The US-Taiwan collusion and provocation will only push Taiwan towards the abyss of disaster, bringing catastrophe to Taiwanese compatriots,” a representative for the Chinese defence ministry said.
In response, Washington postponed a routine test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile to avoid escalating the situation.
The USS Ronald Reagan, an American aircraft carrier, has also been ordered to remain in the area and “monitor the situation”.
“We will not be deterred from operating in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific consistent with international law, as we have for decades, supporting Taiwan and defending a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Mr Kirby said.
Officials in Taiwan have said the drills break UN rules, breach the island's territorial space and are a direct challenge to free air and sea navigation.
Conducting drills on the busiest international waterways and aviation routes is “irresponsible, illegitimate behaviour”, Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party said.
Taiwan's defence ministry said the territory's troops are conducting routine daily training exercises and added the military would raise its alertness level and react appropriately.
The Association of South-East Asian Nations issued a warning on Thursday that tension in the Taiwan Strait could lead to “miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers”.
“Asean stands ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue between all parties,” the regional bloc said, as it called for maximum restraint and for parties to refrain from provocative action.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control, said its differences with the island were an internal affair.
“Our punishment of pro-Taiwan independence diehards [and] external forces is reasonable, lawful,” China's Taiwan Affairs Office said.
After Ms Pelosi’s visit, which ended on Wednesday, China blocked several imports from Taiwan and announced military drills.
Taiwan's government urged companies to enhance their cyber security as authorities reported a record number of attacks on websites. But it did not directly blame China.
Major Taiwanese websites were temporarily forced offline by cyber attacks on Thursday, Taipei said.
China scolded foreign ministers of the G7 nations on Thursday for telling Beijing not to use a visit by Ms Pelosi to Taiwan as “pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait”.
Due to the statement from G7, of which Japan is a member, China cancelled a meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi on the sidelines of Asean events in Cambodia, said Hua Chunying, spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Several countries, including some from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), on Thursday reinforced their support of China.
“The UAE affirmed its support for China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the importance of respecting the 'One China' principle, while calling for adherence to relevant United Nations resolutions,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said in a statement.
“The ministry urged prioritising diplomatic dialogue in an effort to ensure regional and international stability.”
Bahrain's foreign minister also met China's ambassador, Anwar Habibullah, and repeated the country's support for the One China policy.
“The foreign minister expressed Bahrain's interest in developing joint friendly relations with China and its wishes for peace and security to prevail in the Chinese territories and Asian countries, stressing the kingdom's firm stance on the One China Policy,” Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.