• A top US fleet commander said China's firing of missiles over Taiwan must be contested.
  • He warned that failure to do so would embolden China to establish its live fire drills as a norm.
  • Vice Admiral Karl Thomas commands the Seventh Fleet, the largest of all US forward-deployed fleets.

Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas said on Tuesday that China's firing of missiles near Taiwan has to be contested to prevent the risk of such actions becoming the "next norm."

"It's very important that we contest this type of thing. I know that the gorilla in the room is launching missiles over Taiwan," Thomas said at a press roundtable in Singapore, per Agence France-Presse. 

China has repeatedly fired ballistic missiles near Taiwan as part of a series of naval and air force drills, ramping up pressure on the self-governed island after it received visits from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a second congressional delegation this month.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that several of those missiles flew directly over Taiwan, though both Beijing and Taipei have yet to formally confirm this. Meanwhile, Japan's defense ministry said it detected that four missiles had flown over Taiwan.

"If we just allow that to happen, and we don't contest that, that'll be the next norm," said Thomas on Thursday, AFP reported.

Thomas also criticized China's actions as "irresponsible" and highlighted the "unsafe" and "unprofessional" actions taken by Chinese warplanes such as getting close to US aircraft in the Pacific and firing flares, Bloomberg reported.

China's live-fire drills have also affected shipping lanes in the Taiwan Strait, which ships from factories in China, Japan, and South Korea pass through to reach Western markets. The heightened military activity has prompted Taiwan to warn vessels to seek alternative routes.

"It's irresponsible to launch missiles over Taiwan into international waters, where the shipping lanes, where free shipping operates," Thomas said, according to AFP.

Thomas' command, the Seventh Fleet, is based in Yokosuka, Japan, and is the largest of all American forward-deployed fleets with up to 70 vessels and 150 aircraft.

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