NASA reportedly had contingency plans for Russia’s exit from the International Space Station last year

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US condemns China’s missile launch near Taiwan, urges de-escalation

The United States on Thursday condemned China’s firing of 11 ballistic missiles around Taiwan during major military exercises as an overreaction to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island, and urged Beijing to ease tensions. The speaker of the US House of Representatives was the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in years, defying a series of blatant threats from Beijing, which views the autonomous island as its territory. In response, China launched a series of exercises in multiple areas around Taiwan, spanning both sides of some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and at some points within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the island’s shore. “China has chosen to overreact and use the spokesman’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “The temperature is very high,” he added, “but tensions “could drop very easily once the Chinese stop these very aggressive military exercises.” The Chinese military said the exercises began around 12 p.m. local time (0400 GMT), and included a “conventional missile launch force attack” in waters east of Taiwan. Taiwan said the Chinese military fired 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles “in several batches” and condemned the exercises as “irrational actions that undermine regional peace.” Taipei did not say where the missiles landed or whether they were flying over the island. But Japan, a key ally of the United States, said that of the nine missiles it had spotted, “four are believed to have flown over the main island of Taiwan.” Tokyo lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing over the exercises, with Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi saying he believed five of the missiles landed in his country’s exclusive economic zone. The Taipei Defense Ministry said it spotted 22 Chinese fighter planes briefly crossing the “middle line” of the Taiwan Strait during Thursday’s exercises. – ‘Necessary and just’ – AFP journalists on the border island of Pingtan saw several small projectiles hovering in the sky, followed by plumes of white smoke and loud bangs. On the mainland, at China’s closest point to Taiwan, AFP saw a group of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low altitude near a popular tourist spot. Beijing said the exercises would continue until midday on Sunday. Beijing has defended the exercises as “necessary and fair” and blamed the escalation on the United States and its allies. “In the face of this blatant provocation, we must take legitimate and necessary countermeasures to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing Thursday. Military analysts told state broadcaster CCTV in Beijing that the goal was to exercise a possible blockade of the island and contain pro-independence forces. “The goal is to show that the PLA is able to control all the exits of the island of Taiwan, which will be a great deterrent to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” said Zhang Junshi, a senior researcher at the China Naval Research Institute. . US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington has called Beijing “at all levels of government” in recent days to call for calm and stability. “I very much hope that Beijing will not create a crisis or look for a pretext to increase its aggressive military activity,” Blinken told ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh. – Ship warning, flights disrupted – Japan’s foreign minister, speaking at the same meeting, called for an “immediate cessation” of Chinese military exercises near Taiwan. “China’s actions this time have a serious impact on peace and stability in the region and the international community,” Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters. The maneuvers take place along some of the busiest shipping routes on the planet, and are used to supply vital semiconductors and electronic equipment produced in factory centers in East Asia to global markets. Taiwan’s Maritime and Ports Office has issued warnings to ships to avoid using the areas for Chinese exercises. The Taiwanese government said the exercises would disrupt 18 international routes that pass through its FIR. Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the prospect of invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping, China’s most assertive ruler in a generation. Analysts said the Chinese leadership is keen to show its strength ahead of a crucial ruling party meeting this fall at which Xi is expected to be given an unprecedented third term, but that China is not aiming to escalate the situation out of its control — at least for now. “The last thing Xi wants is an accidental war,” said Titus Chen, associate professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. sbr-bys-oho / wd / ec

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