Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has condemned Chinese military drills near Taiwan as a “grave problem” and a threat to regional peace and security, after five ballistic missiles landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Speaking after a meeting with the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in Tokyo on Friday, Kishida said China’s live-fire exercises near the self-governed island must “stop immediately”. Beijing announced four days of drills that are expected to finish on Sunday.
The drills are a “serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens”, Kishida told reporters.
China is Japan’s biggest trading partner, but the countries have traded verbal blows over the Senkakus – uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are administered by Japan but claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu. While Tokyo is keen not to antagonise Beijing, its role in hosting tens of thousands of US troops –most of them based on the southern island of Okinawa – could see Japan playing a key role in any crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
Five Chinese missiles appeared to have landed in Japan’s EEZ off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan’s main islands, with four with believed to have flown over Taiwan’s main island. The zone extends up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the country’s coastline, beyond the limits of its territorial waters.
“China’s actions this time around have a serious impact on the peace and stability of our region and the international community,” Kishida said after a breakfast meeting with Pelosi, who sparked fury in Beijing after she visited Taiwan on Wednesday. “I told her that we have called for the immediate cancellation of the military drills. We also confirmed a continued close cooperation to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Kishida said he and Pelosi were committed to a “free and open Indo-Pacific” – a reference to increasingly assertive military activity by China in the South and East China seas.
Pelosi said China must not be allowed to isolate Taiwan by preventing US officials from travelling to the island. “They may try to keep Taiwan from visiting or participating in other places, but they will not isolate Taiwan by preventing us from travelling there,” she said on Friday.
Japan’s defence minister, Nobuo Kishi, said Tokyo had protested to Beijing. The missiles, he added, “threatened Japan’s national security and the lives of the Japanese people, which we strongly condemn”.
China has said Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is a challenge to its sovereignty claims to the island, which it regards as breakaway province that will eventually be brought under its control – by force if necessary. Taiwan has blasted the drills as tantamount to an air and sea “blockade” and a violation of international law.
Pelosi, the most senior US official to visit Taiwan for 25 years, met Kishida at the end of a tour of Asia that has significantly raised tensions in the region. South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, did not meet Pelosi on Thursday, drawing accusations he was seeking to placate China. Yoon was on holiday, reportedly in Seoul, but held a phone call with the US House speaker instead.
Pelosi, who met the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen this week, said her visit made it “unequivocally clear” that Washington would not abandon a democratic ally.
Kishida said he and Pelosi discussed North Korea, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and nuclear weapons.
But Tokyo is most concerned about China’s military drills, which are being held in locations close to Japan’s outlying southern islands. They include Yonaguni, which is just over 100km (62 miles) from Taiwan, and the Senkakus – uninhabited islets that are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.
Japan has bolstered its defences and troop presence in its south-western region and on remote islands, including Okinawa, located about 700km (420 miles) northeast of Taiwan. Okinawa is home to most of the 50,000 US troops based in Japan.
Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic party has pledged to double military spending to 2% of GDP, citing growing threats from China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
The defence section of the Japanese embassy in Washington said Japanese self-defence force jets had been mobilised after Chinese drones flew around Sakishima island and Taiwan.
US officials said the drills were an “overreaction”. “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,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said after China launched 11 ballistic missiles on Thursday.
Kirby said the “irresponsible” launches were “another example of how China’s actions are undermining peace and security in the region”.