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By David Stanway and Alessandro Diviggiano
PINGTAN, China (Reuters) - Tourists on the beaches of Pingtan island, China's closest point to Taiwan island, were on Thursday treated to an unexpected sight: helicopters in formation and smoke trails from projectiles.
The display was part of extensive drills of military hardware in six zones around Taiwan, deployed the day after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a solidarity trip to the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.
The exercises are expected to last until noon on Sunday and some - to the awe of parasol-holding tourists who rushed to the top of the rocky coastal hills to snap pictures - have been visible from Pingtan, 68 nautical miles (126 km) from Hsinchu on Taiwan island.
On Friday, a military jet that images suggested was carrying missiles was spotted flying past.
Taiwan, which along with the United States and its allies condemned the drills, has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong's communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.
On Pingtan island, residents and Chinese tourists defended what China sees as its right to bring Taiwan under its control.
"Taiwan belongs to China. We don't want any foreign country or foreign force interfering with our domestic problems," said a 15-year-old student from Wuhan, surnamed Huang.
"Neither side wants to fight. The two governments should negotiate and compromise," he added.
At a coffee shop in the Pingtan hills, families took turns under a scorching sun to photograph themselves holding pro-unification banners reading "awaiting return", or "peaceful unification."
Beijing says it is entitled to use military means to take Taiwan if necessary.
A 27-year-old games designer surnamed You from Fujian province said he believed China should gradually "strengthen" its unification resolve, though not necessarily through "excessive" force.
"In the end, they are compatriots," You said.
"The economy or some other method can pressure Taiwan into understanding that they are heading up towards a dead end and can turn back themselves."
Chen, a 64-year-old retiree from the eastern city of Nanjing, took a more combative tone.
"You've invited Pelosi over: what are you trying to do? Do you think she can help you? She can't possibly help you. She can only make things worse," said Chen.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; editing by John Stonestreet)