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Japan PM calls China drills 'grave problem'

Japanese PM Fumio Kishida said China should immediately stop missile launches

ASIA-PELOSI/JAPAN U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo | Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday that China's military exercises aimed at Taiwan represent a grave problem that threatens regional peace and security. Five ballistic missiles launched as part of the drills landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone.

Kishida, speaking after breakfast with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her congressional delegation, said the missile launches need to be stopped immediately.

China, which claims Taiwan and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary, called Pelosi's visit earlier this week to the self-ruled island a provocation and on Thursday began military exercises, including missile strike training, in six zones surrounding Taiwan, in what could be its biggest since the mid-1990s.

In Taipei on Wednesday, Pelosi said the American commitment to democracy in Taiwan and elsewhere remains ironclad. She became the first House speaker to visit the island in 25 years.

Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said five missiles landed on Thursday in Japan's exclusive economic zone off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan's main islands. He said Japan protested to China, saying the missiles threatened Japan's national security and the lives of the Japanese people, which we strongly condemn.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, attending a regional meeting in Cambodia, said China's actions are severely impacting peace and stability in the region and the international community, and we demand the immediate suspension of the military exercises.

Japan has in recent years bolstered its defense capability and troop presence in southwestern Japan and remote islands, including Okinawa, which is about 700 km (420 miles) northeast of Taiwan. Many residents say they worry their island will be quickly embroiled in any Taiwan conflict. Okinawa is home to the majority of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact.

At the breakfast earlier Friday, Pelosi and her congressional delegation also discussed their shared security concern over China, North Korea and Russia, and pledged their commitment to working toward peace and stability in Taiwan, Kishida said. Pelosi also was to hold talks with her Japanese counterpart, lower house Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda.

Japan and its key ally, America, have been pushing for new security and economic frameworks with other democracies in the Indo-Pacific region and Europe as a counter to China's growing influence amid rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised nations issued a statement saying there is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait. It said China's escalatory response risks increasing tensions and destabilising the region.

China cited its displeasure over the statement for the last-minute cancellation of talks between the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Cambodia on Thursday.

Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defence drills, while the US has numerous naval assets in the area.

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