PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Southeast Asian foreign ministers urged restraint on Thursday (Aug 4) as China readied massive military drills off Taiwan, warning the situation risked spiralling into “open conflicts”.

Beijing is planning its biggest-ever exercises around Taiwan in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.

Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday after a trip that defied a series of increasingly stark threats from Beijing.

Ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting in Phnom Penh warned against “provocative action”.

The situation “could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers,” the ministers said in a joint statement published on Thursday.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory to one day be reclaimed, by force if necessary, was enraged by the trip by Pelosi – the highest-profile elected US official to visit the island in 25 years.

It vowed “punishment” and announced military drills, including live-fire exercises, expected to begin at 0400 GMT (noon Singapore time) in several areas encircling Taiwan.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in Phnom Penh for talks with ASEAN, condemned the Chinese response.

“There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait. It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally,” he tweeted.

Kung Phoak, Cambodia’s deputy foreign minister and Asean spokesman, urged both sides to stabilise the situation.

“We hope de-escalation happens… and normalcy returns to the Taiwan Strait,” he told reporters.

Asean is split between countries with close ties to China, such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, and others that are warier of Beijing and its growing international assertiveness.

But no Asean country formally recognises Taiwan and none have shown an appetite for backing Taipei against China.