October 3, 2022


HONG KONG — Beijing is preparing live-fire military drills this week in areas surrounding Taiwan, a major step from its responses to past crises and underscoring China’s rapidly developing combat capabilities.

China revealed the drills minutes after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taipei late Tuesday. They will be carried out from Thursday to Sunday in waters and airspace in six zones that collectively surround the democratically self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as its own.

The People’s Liberation Army said naval, air, strategic missile and other forces held joint training Wednesday in the north, southwest and southeast of Taiwan ahead of the live-fire drills, which will include the use of long-range weapons and conventional missiles.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen welcomed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei on Wednesday amid rising US-China tensions. Pelosi reiterated her support for cooperation between the two administrations. Photo: Taiwan Presidential Office/Reuters

While the designated live-fire zones are mostly in international waters, some of them are near Taiwan’s major ports and overlap what Taipei claims as its territorial waters, meaning the drills could disrupt civilian shipping. Depending on launch sites and missile types, experts say PLA missiles could fly over Taiwan — a gesture that could be seen as a major escalation — on their way to waters east of the island.

Beijing’s response so far has not shown any direct use of force or led to high-risk close encounters with other soldiers – a risk some observers had pointed to before Ms Pelosi’s trip. Even so, Western defense analysts said the show of force appears far more far-reaching than what China deployed during the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, the most tense military standoff between Chinese and US forces in recent years. decades. That showdown, which included Chinese missile launches and landing drills, began after Taiwan’s president’s trip to the U.S.

“These announced exercises are not only unprecedented in scope, but also unprecedented in scale,” said M. Taylor Fravel, professor and director of the MIT Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While the 1995-96 drills focused on amphibious assaults, this week’s drills appear to be aimed at demonstrating the PLA’s ability to blockade Taiwan and conduct a range of air, sea and land attacks, he said.

This “reflects capabilities that the PLA simply did not have in 1995-96,” Mr. Fravel said, pointing in particular to improvements in technology and training that China has built up over decades of military modernization.

The PLA’s choice of weapons in the exercises will convey its own message, said J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior adviser at the International Republican Institute, a Washington nonprofit whose board is dominated by Republican heavyweights. Party. While the main intention appears to be to coerce Taiwan, Beijing could choose to send “a clear message of deterrence” against any US military intervention in a future conflict, for example by launching ballistic missiles designed to destroy US aircraft carriers, he said .

The military exercises appear to be aimed at demonstrating the PLA’s ability to blockade Taiwan.


Photo:

TINGSHU WANG/REUTERS

“Beijing wants to impose a psychological cost on Taiwan to negate the benefits of Pelosi’s visit and make the US, Taiwan and other potential partners think twice about future iterations of such a high-level engagement,” Mr. Cole.

Taiwan’s defense ministry condemned the PLA drills, saying on Wednesday they violated the island’s sovereignty and posed a threat to international waterways and flight paths. Beijing’s choice of firing zones represents “an attempt to threaten our important ports and urban areas and unilaterally undermine regional peace and stability,” the ministry said.

The ministry said Taiwanese forces monitored 21 sorties carried out on Tuesday by Chinese warplanes – including fighters and surveillance planes – in the southwestern part of the island’s air defense reconnaissance zone. He dismissed Chinese reports that PLA Su-35 fighter jets had flown over the Taiwan Strait late Tuesday, calling the claim false and Chinese disinformation. Chinese state media reported the Su-35 flights shortly before Ms Pelosi arrived in Taipei, using phrases that could either mean the jets were flying along or through the strait.

Beijing has in recent years stepped up what experts call a “gray zone war” against Taiwan – a series of operations aimed at intimidating the island and wearing down its defenses without resorting to open conflict. It includes amphibious assault exercises, naval patrols and warplane sorties alongside civilian methods such as cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and diplomatic pressure.

The near-constant flow of PLA aircraft and warships operating near Taiwan has forced the island’s military to intercept them at a taxing pace, driving up fuel and maintenance costs, wearing down personnel and equipment, and eroding their combat readiness. Taiwan has reported a number of fatal military accidents in recent years, including two fatal Air Force jet crashes this year.

Taipei has acknowledged these shortcomings while stepping up efforts to modernize its military in recent years, acquiring advanced fighter jets, tanks and missiles in major arms deals with the US and committing to higher defense spending. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has also pledged to adopt asymmetric warfare techniques to counter the PLA’s numerical superiority and technological strengths.

Write to Chun Han Wong at chunhan.wong@wsj.com

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