February 7, 2023

Four days of exercises around Taiwan have provided a rare glimpse of China’s progress toward its goal of winning any major conflict, including against the United States in a possible war on the island.

Years ago, President Xi Jinping pledged to turn the Chinese military into a world-class fighting force that could dominate the Asia-Pacific region. The just-completed exercises allowed the world to witness how far the Chinese military had come from the last time it fought a war – a failed attempt in 1979 to defeat Vietnam in a three-week border clash. While the Chinese military was participating in the exercises this time, rather than the actual conflict, the exercises served as a large-scale rehearsal for any combat operations.

The exercises included fighter and bomber sorties, along with naval maneuvers, and showcased what is believed to be the first time China has launched missiles over the island of Taiwan. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army said on Sunday that it had conducted joint exercises in the waters and airspace near the island to test its ability to hit land targets and engage in long-range air combat.

A Chinese military ship near Pingtan Island off Fujian Province on Friday.


Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Military analysts said the combined exercises showed elements of how China would deal with an invasion across the Taiwan Strait, one of the most dangerous flashpoints of the 21st century, and indicated the seriousness of the new intentions emerging from Mr. Xi’s project to transform the region. The country’s sprawling military-industrial complex has turned into a cohesive fighting force.

M said. Taylor Fravel, a Chinese military specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “The ability to conduct joint operations across Taiwan has been a driver of China’s military strategy and force modernization for more than two decades,” and also noted that the exercises were one of the few times that China offered so much. Details about the exercise. “We shouldn’t be surprised by what the People’s Liberation Army does, how it does or what it has accomplished.”

The initial indications that Beijing could coordinate different branches of the armed forces, Mr. Fravel added, is the success of the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army, the main regional command responsible for Taiwan that was set up in a military reorganization in 2016 to improve the ability to conduct. joint operations.

The exercises began as the angry Chinese government protested the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei earlier last week.

Hong Kong television broadcast a missile launch during military exercises.


Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

The exercises began at noon Thursday in six regions that effectively encircle Taiwan. Many areas face the island’s largest commercial ports and overlap what Taipei claims to be its territorial waters, lying 12 miles off its coast in what some military analysts have compared to a temporary blockade.

All major organs took part in the exercises, according to Chinese press reports, including the army, navy, air force, missile force, support forces and logistics.

The United States is Taiwan’s longstanding security partner and is obligated by law to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. For decades, the United States maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity without saying whether it would directly intervene in the conflict. Although the White House says that policy has not changed, President Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan if China attempted an invasion. For its part, Beijing viewed Ms Pelosi’s visit as another sign of the United States’ retreat from previous commitments to limit relations with the island.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei last week.


Wang Yu-cheng/Presidentia Taiwan/Zuma Press

The Pentagon said that since the end of last week, PLA officials have not responded to calls from their Pentagon counterparts.

“The People’s Republic of China has chosen to overreact and use the spokesperson’s visit as an excuse to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” Todd Priselli, the acting Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “Part of this overreaction has been to strictly limit their defense engagements when any responsible nation realizes we need them most now.”

US defense officials said it will take weeks before they finish analyzing all the information they learned while watching Chinese exercises, particularly how it maneuvers and commands its ships while conducting a joint operation with its air force.

In addition to aerial survey, the United States maintained an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, and its escort ships in the area throughout the exercises.

A Beijing-backed group, the South China Sea Strategic Posture Verification Initiative, said on its Twitter account that the United States has deployed reconnaissance and reconnaissance aircraft in the area, including RC-135s, P-8s and E-3s, along with KC-135 carriers. . Hand refueling in the air. The Pentagon declined to comment.

A CCTV news broadcast in Beijing included a map of military exercise sites across Taiwan.


Thomas Peter/Reuters

Military analysts say that while China has deployed some of its latest weapons in the exercises, there appears to be no military hardware that was not already known about. Some said China did not use enough ships to show it could block ships from reaching Taiwan.

Instead, it used ships such as destroyers and cruisers during its exercises, which are not ideal for conducting a blockade, naval observers said. Brian Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said that although they have exercised with as many as 50 ships, the Chinese Navy has not used enough smaller, more flexible ships, such as frigates, that could better sustain something like The blockade around Taiwan. .

What we saw during the exercise was that China was not using enough ships to divert, search or detain those arriving and cut off access to Taiwanese ports. “They have enough to quickly inspect incoming ships and slow down the Taiwanese economy,” said Mr. Clark. “This was more of a quarantine display than a demonstration of their ability to cut off Taiwan. But for China, it would be a good first step.”

China continued military exercises near Taiwan for a second day on Friday. The exercises came in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described China’s actions in the region as a “major escalation”. Photo: Ali Song/Reuters

Useful intelligence that can be gained from the exercises includes assessments of how missile brigades coordinate with each other and making battle damage assessments from strikes, said Christopher Tomei, associate professor of national security affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He said that such information could be obtained from intercepted communications.

“It is assumed that the US intelligence community is getting a lot of material from these activities from classified sources about operational capabilities and practices,” said Mr. Tommy.

Several close observers of the Chinese military have pointed out that the exercises fell short of fully training for the invasion of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing said it would bring under its control. An attempt to capture and control the island would include an amphibious invasion through the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait, but there were no indications of amphibious forces mobilizing during recent exercises.

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Thomas Shugart, a former US submarine warfare officer and an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the Chinese exercises were likely pre-planned for a scenario in which Beijing wanted to show its intent to go to war over Taiwan.

Mr. Shugart said China’s decision to conduct exercises for the first time inside the maritime areas that Taiwan considers its territorial waters shows that Beijing’s appetite for military risk has grown, but that the true test of its ability to operate effectively as a single power will come only if it faces a response from either Taiwanese or US forces.

“In general, we learn mostly about political intentions: the Chinese are concerned about the trend in US-Taiwan relations and their view that we are moving away from the commitments made in the 1970s that every administration has reiterated since then: to support an independent Taiwan,” said Mr. Tommy. “They are using military tools to report that there are military costs to these shifts in US policy.”

write to Alastair Gale at [email protected] and Nancy A. Youssef at [email protected]

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