Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence has accused China of firing 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles into waters to the northeast and southwest of the island as part of aggressive military drills intended as an intimidating show of force.
Tensions in the region have escalated considerably following a visit to Taiwan this week by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, third in line to the presidency and the most senior American politician to visit the country in 25 years.
Beijing urged Ms Pelosi not to pay her respects to a territory that has its own democratic political system, constitution and military but which China considers its own, warning that the trip amounted to “playing with fire”.
After she brushed off those threats and arrived in Taipei, the superpower ordered five days of live-fire exercises and warned that regional conflict could become inevitable, ratcheting up tensions with the self-governing republic to their highest levels since 1996.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said its armed forces had used early warning, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to monitor the Dongfeng (or DF) rockets and condemned China’s “irrational actions undermining regional peace”.
For its part, the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the military wing of China’s ruling Communist Party, said on social media: “Long-range armed live-fire precision missile strikes were carried out on selected targets in the eastern area of the Taiwan Strait. The expected outcome was achieved.”
The missiles fired by the PLA’s Rocket Force are reportedly the DF-15B versions of China’s Dongfeng (“East Wind”) arsenal.
Originally developed during the Cold War era with the help of the Soviet Union, the DF range is manufactured by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s Academy of Rocket Motor Technology.
According to Global Security, the DF-15 first appeared in the late 1980s and is a single-stage, solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile, similar in appearance to US Pershing rockets, and relies on a sophisticated guidance system housed inside its warhead.
It is vertically-launched from a mobile transport and measures 9.1 metres in length with a 373-mile range and a 500kg payload, typically used for strikes on small targets or specific areas.
Although designed to carry only conventional explosives, it is “probably” capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, as are others in the DF family, the analysts state.
Even without such a threat, a direct hit is said to be likely to result in a crater measuring 30-50 metres in diameter.
The DF-15 is the same model that was fired on Taiwanese waters during the last major crisis in the region, when strikes were launched from nearby Fujian in June 1995 and again in March 1996.
Ma Chen-kun, a professor at Taiwan’s National Defence University, said China’s current hostilities are aimed at showing off its military’s ability to deploy precision weapons to cut off the country’s links with the outside world and facilitate the landing of troops.
The announced drills are “more complete, and if the People’s Liberation Army actually invades Taiwan in an all-out invasion, the concrete actions it will take, it’s all in this particular exercise,” Professor Ma told the Associated Press.
“The main thing is they will cut off Taiwan’s links to the outside world, from their sea; they would suppress the coastal defence firepower.”