China conducted "precision missile strikes" Thursday in the Taiwan Strait and in the waters off the eastern coast of Taiwan as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades.
China earlier announced that military exercises by its navy, air force and other departments were underway in six zones surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
The drills were prompted by a visit to the island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week and are intended to advertise China's threat to attack the self-governing island republic. Along with its moves to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, China has long threatened military retaliation over moves by the island to solidify its de facto independence with the support of key allies including the U.S.
China fired long-range explosive projectiles, the Eastern Theater Command of the People's Liberation Army, the ruling Communist Party's military wing, said in a statement. It also said it carried out multiple conventional missile launches in three different areas in the eastern waters off Taiwan. An accompanying graphic on state broadcaster CCTV showed those occurred in the north, east, and south.
"All missiles hit the target accurately," the Eastern Theater said in its announcement. No further details were given.
Some of those launches were confirmed, based on Taiwan's Defense Ministry's response.
Taiwan's Defense Ministry said it tracked the firing of Chinese Dongfeng series missiles beginning around 1:56 p.m. Thursday. It said in a statement it used various early warning surveillance systems to track the missile launches. It later said it counted 11 total Dongfeng missiles in the waters in the north, east and south.
The defense ministry also said they tracked long-distance rockets and ammunition firing in outlying islands in Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin.
Earlier during the day, Taiwan's Defense ministry said its forces were on alert and monitoring the situation, while seeking to avoid escalating tensions. Civil defense drills were held last week and notices were placed on designated air raid shelters months ago.
China's "irrational behavior" intends to alter the status quo and disrupt regional peace and stability, the ministry said.
China's official Xinhua News Agency reported the exercises were joint operations focused on "blockade, sea target assault, strike on ground targets, and airspace control."
On Thursday, the U.S. Navy said its USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was operating in the Philippine Sea, east of Taiwan, as part of "normal scheduled operations."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the drills Thursday saying, "I hope very much that Beijing will not manufacture a crisis or seek a pretext to increase its aggressive military activity. We countries around the world believe that escalation serves no one and could have unintended consequences that serve no one's interests."
U.S. law requires the government to treat threats to Taiwan, including blockades, as matters of "grave concern."
The drills are due to run from Thursday to Sunday and include missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military drills aimed at intimidating Taiwan's leaders and voters held in 1995 and 1996.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.