US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that China’s military exercises aimed at Taiwan including missiles fired into Japan’s exclusive economic zone represent a “significant escalation” and that he has urged Beijing to back down.
China launched the drills following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan that infuriated Beijing, which claims the self-governed island as its own territory.
Blinken told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia, however, that Pelosi’s visit was peaceful and did not represent a change in American policy toward Taiwan, accusing China of using it as a “pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.”
He said the situation had led to a “vigorous communication” during East Asia Summit meetings in Phnom Penh in which both he and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi took part along with the ASEAN nations, Russia and others.
“I reiterated the points that we made publicly as well as directly to Chinese counterparts in recent days, again, about the fact that they should not use the visit as a pretext for war, escalation, for provocative actions, that there is no possible justification for what they’ve done and urge them to cease these actions,” he said.
Blinken did not sit down one-on-one with Wang but said he had spoken with the Chinese foreign minister already about the possibility of a Pelosi visit to Taiwan before it had taken place during meetings in Bali, and had made the US position clear.
As the East Asia Summit opened, Wang patted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the shoulder as he entered the room and gave the already-seated Lavrov a quick wave before taking his own seat. Lavrov waved back in response.
Blinken, who entered the room last, did not even glance at Lavrov as he took his own seat about a half-dozen chairs away, or at Wang who was seated farther down the same table as Lavrov.
Ahead of the Phnom Penh talks, the U.S. State Department indicated Blinken had no plans to meet one-on-one with either man during the course of the meetings.
The talks came a day after WNBA star Brittney Griner was convicted of drug possession and sentenced to nine years in prison by Russia in a politically charged case amid antagonisms over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken said the conviction and sentence “compounds the injustice that has been done to her.”
“It puts a spotlight on our very significant turn with Russia’s legal system and the Russian government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda using individuals as political pawns,” he said.
On Thursday, China canceled a foreign ministers’ meeting with Japan to protest a statement from the Group of Seven nations that said there was no justification for Beijing’s military exercises, which virtually encircle Taiwan.
“Japan, together with other members of the G-7 and the EU, made an irresponsible statement accusing China and confounding right and wrong,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing.
When Japan’s Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa began to speak Friday at the East Asia Summit, both Lavrov and Wang walked out of the room, according to a diplomat in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private session.
In the wake of the Chinese missile launches into Japan’s economic zone, Blinken said the US stands in “strong solidarity” with Japan following the “dangerous actions China has taken.”
Taipei’s military said Chinese fighter jets and ships crossed the median line that runs down the Taiwan Strait on Friday, calling Beijing’s latest military drills “highly provocative”.
“As of 11 am, multiple batches of Chinese warplanes and warships conducted exercises around the Taiwan Strait and crossed the median line of the strait,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
“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.”
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.
Crossings of the line are sensitive because the Taiwan Strait is narrow, just 130 kilometers (81 miles) at its thinnest point, and incursions raise the risk of military accidents.
In recent years Beijing has ramped up incursions against Taipei.
The vast majority are military aircraft flights into the southwestern corner of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
The ADIZ is not the same as Taiwan’s territorial airspace, including a far greater area that overlaps with part of China’s own air defense identification zone and even some of the mainland.
But this week’s military drills by China have seen a spike in median-line incursions.
Of the 49 incursions, Taiwan reported on Wednesday and Thursday, 44 involved Chinese aircraft crossing the median line.