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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that China’s military exercises aimed at Taiwan represent a “grave problem” that threatens regional peace and security after five ballistic missiles launched as part of the drills landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Kishida, speaking after breakfast with U.

S. 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 Defense 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 kilometers (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.

Days before Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, a group of senior Japanese lawmakers, including former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, visited the island and discussed regional security with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Ishiba said Japan, while working with the United States to prevent conflict in the Indo-Pacific, wants a defense agreement with Taiwan.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized 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 destabilizing 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.

Pelosi held talks on Thursday in South Korea, also a key U.S. ally, which stayed away from the Taiwan issue, apparently to avoid upsetting China, focusing instead on North Korea’s increasing nuclear threat.

In recent years, South Korea has been struggling to strike a balance between the United States and China as their rivalry has deepened.

The Chinese military exercises launched Thursday involve its navy, air force and other departments and are to last until Sunday. They include missile strikes on targets in the seas north and south of the island in an echo of the last major Chinese military drills in 1996-1995 aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s leaders and voters.

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

China also flew war planes toward Taiwan and blocked imports of its citrus and fish.

China sees the island as a breakaway province and considers visits to Taiwan by foreign officials as recognizing its sovereignty.

The Biden administration and Pelosi have said the United States remains committed to the so-called one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. The administration discouraged but did not prevent Pelosi from visiting.

Pelosi has been a long-time advocate of human rights in China. She, along with other lawmakers, visited Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1991 to support democracy two years after a bloody military crackdown on protesters at the square.

As leader of the House of Representatives, Pelosi’s trip has heightened U.S.-China tensions more than visits by other members of Congress. The last House speaker to visit Taiwan was Newt Gingrich in 1997.

China and Taiwan, which split in 1949 after a civil war, have no official relations but multibillion-dollar business ties.

___

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, and Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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South Africa warns Blinken over US policies aimed at boxing out Russia and China

A recent congressional push against Russian influence in Africa threw a bit of a wrench into Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s plans to improve U.S. ties with one of the continent’s leading states.

He arrived in South Africa in part to unveil a new U.S. strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, which is in the midst of a population growth surge that could propel African societies to economic and political heights. “By 2050, 1 in 4 people on this planet will be African,” he said. “So this is the future, quite literally. And what we’re investing in is that future.”

Blinken touted that investment while attempting to surmount the impediments left by the history of Western imperialism in Africa, a legacy that China and Russia routinely invoke while advancing their strategic interests in the region. South Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, acknowledged that Blinken “confirmed that America is not asking us to choose” sides in a new geopolitical struggle, but she didn’t hide her displeasure for a House-passed bill that would require the State Department to assess and “to hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such malign influence and activities,” as the legislation put it.

“In terms of our interaction with some of our partners in Europe and elsewhere, there has been a sense of patronizing bullying toward ‘you choose this or else,’ and the recent legislation passed in the United States of America by the House of Representatives we found a most unfortunate bill that we had hoped the media would say more about,” Pandor said. “Because when we believe in freedom — as I’m saying, it’s freedom for everybody — you can’t say because Africa is doing this, you will then be punished by the United States.”

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That complaint implied that the bill reflected the “antiquated and patriarchal views” that House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the author of the legislation, has warned the State Department to avoid.

“When the United States is not at the table to support our African partners, we often leave them no other choice but to seek partners of last resort. I've heard this from our African counterparts time and time again,” he said during a recent roundtable. “We are seeing the effects of these decisions ripple across the continent, including through the increased presence of corrupt and unaccountable Russian and other foreign mercenaries and the growing influence of foreign adversaries, who are actively undermining the rules-based order and democratic systems to which most Africans aspire.”

Blinken took up Meeks’s argument while sidestepping the criticism of his bill. “What we’re seeing Russia mostly export to the most challenged places on the continent is its proxy, the Wagner Group, which is resulting in increased death and destruction in far too many countries,” Blinken said. “But part of the reason that the Wagner Group has some traction is that in the absence of an alternative to building security, countries may sign on and sign up. ... What we’re focused on is a much more holistic approach that gets at some of the root causes that lead to state failure, that lead to people having deep frustration and seeing no hope for the future, and changing that trajectory.”

Doing the press conference and a subsequent speech, Blinken touted a 2019 law sponsored by Meeks’s predecessor in the committee chair, rather than the pending proposal “Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act” that Pandor criticized, as the basis for the U.S. strategy in Africa.

“We won’t treat democracy as an area where Africa has problems and the United States has solutions,” Blinken told an audience at the University of Pretoria. “We recognize that our democracies face common challenges, which we need to tackle together as equals alongside other governments, civil society, and citizens.”

That message, delivered after his press conference with Pandor, might as well have been drafted with her unmistakable warning in mind.

“If your tactic is to approach African countries and say ... 'Listen, you must be democratic either and use our model. It works,' I think it’s bound to lead to some failure,” she said during the press conference. "To come in and seek to teach a country that we know how democracy functions and we’ve come to tell you, 'You do it, it’ll work for you,' I think it leads to defeat, so we need to think in different ways.”

Yet Blinken’s pledge during his speech to “work with partners to tackle 21st-century threats to democracy like misinformation, digital surveillance, weaponized corruption” pointed to the tension that U.S. policymakers face between partnering with African officials and blocking the inroads that Russia and China pave with bribes and support for human rights abusers.

"After all, we’ve seen the consequences when international infrastructure deals are corrupt and coercive, when they’re poorly built or environmentally destructive, when they import or abuse workers or burden countries with crushing debts,” he said at the university. “That’s why it’s so important for countries to have choices, to be able to weigh them transparently with the input of local communities without pressure or coercion.”

Pandor agreed on the need for "broader discussions about governance and democracy” but implied that these conversations wouldn’t align African states with Washington against Beijing.

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“African countries that wish to relate to China, let them do so, whatever the particular form of relationships would be,” she said. "We can’t be made party to conflict between China and the United States of America, and I may say it does cause instability for all of us because it affects the global economic system. We really hope that the United States and China will arrive at a point of rapprochement where all of us can look to economic development and growth for all our countries because that’s extremely important for all of us.”

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