China’s military exercises targeting Taiwan have set a new norm and are likely to “regulate” similar armed exercises offshore or even more aggressive actions much closer to the island, analysts say.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been conducting live fire drills and other exercises in the seas around Taiwan’s main island for nearly a week, in an alleged response to the controversial visit to Taipei by US House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Beijing claims Taiwan as a province. It does not rule out taking it by force and objects to all foreign expressions of support for its sovereignty. Taiwan accuses Beijing of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to prepare for an invasion.
As some exercises continue, last week’s big show has ended, and observers are now trying to assess how the dynamics of the region have changed and what the future holds for relations between the straits.
“This is about fueling fear and a sense of inevitability in the hearts and minds of Taiwan,” said Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy in East Asia at King’s College London. “There is, in the political messages delivered by military means, a real risk that these more overtly aggressive steps are normalized.”
Whether Beijing felt it had achieved anything with its exercises was unclear, some analysts said. A US Pentagon official this week said there was no change in their assessment that China would not attempt to militarily recapture Taiwan for the next two years.
According to a Guardian analysis of public data from Taiwan, China and Japan, the PLA sent at least 140 planes into Taiwan’s air defense zone during the week, including 100 over the median line, an unofficial maritime line that crosses the middle of the Taiwan Strait. The aircraft included fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft, H-6 bombers and a refueling aircraft.
The PLA Navy claims it entered Taiwan’s territorial waters, which Taiwan disputes. At least 41 Chinese ships also crossed the median line. According to Taipei, ten PLA Navy ships played “cat and mouse” around the line with 10 Taiwanese ships. At least seven “batches” of one or more drones were detected over Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu, and the Taiwan Ministry of Defense said flares were fired in response. Aerial drones were also seen near Japan.
“It is impossible to make an accurate assessment of how well the PLA performed in conducting joint operations,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund.
“It is not clear who did the command and control… They practiced imposing a blockade and carrying out attacks on the island, but the exercises did not contain all the elements that would be necessary to invade the island, ” she said.
Glaser added that the newly announced exercises targeting anti-submarine and naval attack operations would practice some of those capabilities that were missing last week.
For now, most of the attention for observers is at the intersections of the median lines, which were a rare occurrence until last week. After decades of largely respecting the line, Beijing has changed its stance, denied its existence, sent its planes and ships across it in times of heightened tensions, and claimed total sovereignty over the entire strait.
On Tuesday, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said there were concerns that the PLA would “routinize” such crossings. He urged the international community to push back, saying Beijing was clearly focused on controlling the strait.
A future full of median line crossings may not be on the same scale as last week, but “the key is to regularize it,” said Amanda Hsiao, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for China.
“This is an ongoing effort to basically say that the median line is no longer a thing.”
John Culver, a retired CIA analyst and former intelligence officer in East Asia, said it was also important to note what the PLA had failed to do during its exercises. This included crossing Taiwan’s territorial or adjacent seas, flying combat aircraft over the island, or mobilizing coast guard or naval militias, “which would hold the key to an actual blockade.”
“This can be seen as restraint on the part of China, but it is also escalation steps they have set aside to show even greater threat/severity next time,” Culver said on Twitter.
Beijing’s “evasion notice” for the exercise — asking commercial ships to avoid the area — expired on Sunday, but the PLA did not announce a formal end, instead it announced new exercises targeting anti-submarine and anti-submarine warfare. naval attack operations. It was not said where.
The exercises fueled a growing nationalism in China, especially online, and anti-US and anti-Japan sentiment. dr. Ying-yu Lin, of Tamkang University’s Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, says it didn’t matter whether Pelosi came or not — he expected a “big show” for the Chinese Communist Party Congress later this year when the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will aim for his third term.
“[Xi] wants to show its power, let Taiwan and America know that the PRC is not like it was 25 years ago… and the PLA is rising,” said Lin. “He also wants to show his power to the people on the mainland.”