February 7, 2023


HONG KONG – China has ended four days of live-fire and combat exercises that demonstrated its increased offensive capabilities against Taiwan and upgraded Beijing’s toolkit to intimidate the island’s democracy.

On Sunday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army said it conducted joint exercises in the waters and airspace near the island to test the ability of the People’s Liberation Army to strike ground targets and engage in long-range air combat. China Central Television broadcast footage of the exercises in its evening news bulletin, showing the jet fighters and strategic bombers, the latter armed with air-to-ground missiles, carrying out what state radio described as simulated attacks.

The exercises, announced in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Tuesday visit to Taiwan, represent China’s most dramatic show of force in decades near the self-ruled island that Beijing claims. The maneuvers also provided evidence of how a Chinese attack on Taiwan had taken place, demonstrating the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to impose an air and sea blockade on the island before amphibious landings.

M said. Taylor Fravel, professor and director of the Security Studies Program at MIT: “It is clear that China now has the confidence and ability to conduct the exercises near Taiwan itself, and from all directions.”

“The exercises show that China may now be able to carry out some types of operations that it might not have been able to do in the past, such as carrying out a de facto blockade of Taiwan’s ports, and possibly closing the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Fravel said, adding that Beijing would likely continue to conduct similar exercises. To pressure Taipei in the future.

Beijing’s response to Pelosi’s (California) visit, which coupled the military maneuvers with a diplomatic maneuver to suspend some cooperation with Washington, may also deter some countries from associating too closely with Taipei.

While China can do little to dissuade the United States and Japan from supporting Taiwan, other governments in Asia and Europe may become more cautious, said Bilhari Kosikan, a former senior Singaporean diplomat. He noted that the South Korean president, for example, refused to meet Ms. Pelosi as she was passing through Seoul after her stop in Taipei.

Mr. Koseikan said whether Ms. Pelosi’s visit will result in net gains for Taiwan after the dust has cleared remains an open question.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees forces close to Taiwan, has not officially announced the end of the four-day exercise. Taiwan said on Sunday it had gradually lifted restrictions on flights through its airspace as the time period set by China to conduct live-fire exercises in six declared regions had passed. The Ministry of Transportation said Taiwan authorities will continue to redirect cargo and aircraft away from District Seven off the island’s east coast – an area not recognized by China – until Monday morning.

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

On Saturday, Beijing revealed that its military is conducting new exercises over the next month in the waters off China’s northeastern coast near the Korean Peninsula, to expand the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) training series in that region.

Since the exercises began near Taiwan on Thursday, Eastern Theater Command has cordoned off the island with missile and ballistic missile fire and dispatched warships and aircraft within range of Taiwan’s military bases and major trading ports — exercises that Chinese military officials say have demonstrated the ability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). to close the island. Two Chinese operable aircraft carriers also cooperated to conduct the exercises for the first time.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) flew drones over the Taiwanese-controlled Kinmen and Matsu islands off mainland China. Taiwanese forces fired flares at the drones, a symbolic gesture that did not pose much of a threat, although the exercises sparked some debate among the Taiwanese about whether their military should respond more forcefully, such as firing at the drones or disabling them by electronic means. .

It could not be determined whether Chinese forces carried out live fire on all four days of the exercises. The footage of the People’s Liberation Army and state media from the exercises, which took place from Friday through Sunday, did not include live fire.

People’s Liberation Army officials say the exercises demonstrated China’s improved ability to deter the United States from interfering militarily in Taiwan’s defense. Major-General Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, told state TV that the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan had retreated several hundred kilometers after Beijing announced it would fire missiles into waters east of Taiwan.

General Ming also cited the twisting flight path of Mrs. Pelosi’s plane to Taipei as evidence of how the People’s Liberation Army created an effective deterrent around Taiwan. Flying to Taiwan from Malaysia on Tuesday, Ms Pelosi’s plane gave a wide berth in the South China Sea – where Beijing has established a significant military presence – by flying east of the Philippines.

A spokesman for the US Pacific Command declined to comment on General Meng’s allegations. White House officials said US forces will continue to operate in the western Pacific as they did before, and the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan has been ordered to remain in the general area near Taiwan to “monitor the situation.”

During the exercises, Chinese state media also published images that appeared to show the People’s Liberation Army operating within the visible range of Taiwan’s coast and its military forces. For example, the official Xinhua News Agency released photos and footage – taken aboard Chinese navy ships – of what appeared to be Taiwanese warships and the east coast of Taiwan.

The Chinese photos were met with mockery from some Taiwanese analysts and social media users, who claimed the photos had been manipulated. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense responded by posting an image that appeared to show a Taiwanese frigate tracking a nearby People’s Liberation Army warship, with the caption, “Absolutely real! No Photoshop needed!”

As the People’s Liberation Army exercises began, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials assured residents that the island’s army was capable of fending off any Chinese threat, while accusing Beijing of harming regional peace and stability.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense has also released statements indicating that the Chinese allegations should not be taken for granted. For example, the ministry insisted that Chinese ballistic missiles fired Thursday into waters east of Taiwan flew so high over the island that they bypassed what Taipei defines as its airspace.

“China has been chanting and threatening since news of Pelosi’s intention to visit Taiwan some time ago, but all the uproar and threats failed to stop her from visiting,” said Mr. Kosikan, the former Singaporean diplomat. “So to save face – internally and externally – Beijing had to respond in a dramatic way and it did.”

However, China has avoided stronger gestures to protest Ms Pelosi’s visit, such as starting combat exercises while in Taiwan, or recalling its ambassador in Washington. Some users on Chinese social media expressed disappointment at what they saw as the tepid reaction, although many others expressed enthusiasm to see footage of Chinese People’s Liberation Army exercises when it appeared on military and state media accounts.

“The relations between the United States and China will always be complex,” Mr. Kosikan said. Despite this, “Neither side is looking for problems and Beijing’s interest is to have a stable external environment in the run-up to the 20th Party Congress,” he said, referring to the twice-a-half meeting later this year where the Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to win a third term as head of the Communist Party.

write to Chun Han Wong at [email protected]

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