October 2, 2022


HONG KONG — China wrapped up four days of live-fire and combat drills that showcased its growing offensive capabilities against Taiwan and updated Beijing’s toolkit to intimidate the island republic.

On Sunday, the People’s Liberation Army said it conducted joint water and air training near the island to test the PLA’s ability to strike ground targets and engage in long-range air combat. China Central Television broadcast footage of the drills on its evening news, showing fighter jets and strategic bombers, the latter armed with air-to-surface missiles, carrying out what the state broadcaster described as simulated attacks.

The drills, announced in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Tuesday, marked China’s most dramatic show of force in decades near the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory. The maneuvers also offered clues as to how a Chinese attack on Taiwan might play out, demonstrating the PLA’s ability to impose an air and sea blockade on the island ahead of amphibious landings.

“China now clearly has the confidence and ability to conduct exercises close to Taiwan itself, from all directions,” said M. Taylor Fravel, professor and director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The exercises demonstrate that China may now be able to carry out some kinds of operations that it may not have been able to do in the past, such as actually blockading Taiwan’s ports, perhaps closing the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Fravel said, adding that Beijing will likely continue to conduct similar exercises to pressure Taipei in the future.

Beijing’s response to Ms. Pelosi’s (W. Calif.) visit, which combined military maneuvers with diplomatic play to stall some cooperation with Washington, could also deter some countries from engaging more closely with Taipei.

While China can do little to prevent the US and Japan from supporting Taiwan, other governments in Asia and Europe may become more cautious, said Bilahari Kausikan, a former top Singaporean diplomat. He noted that the president of South Korea, for example, refused to meet with Ms. Pelosi while passing through Seoul after her stop in Taipei.

Whether Ms. Pelosi’s visit results in a net gain for Taiwan after the dust settles remains an open question, Mr. Kaushikan said.

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees forces near Taiwan, has not officially announced the end of the four-day exercises. On Sunday, Taiwan said it was gradually lifting restrictions on flights through its airspace as a period of time set by China for live-fire drills in six declared zones expired. Taiwanese authorities will continue to divert shipping and aircraft away from a seventh zone off the island’s east coast – which China has not recognized – until Monday morning, the transport ministry said.

China continued military exercises near Taiwan for a second day on Friday. The drills were in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei. Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken called the Chinese actions in the region “a significant escalation”. Photo: Aly Song/Reuters

On Saturday, Beijing revealed that its military is conducting new maneuvers next month in waters off China’s northeast coast near the Korean peninsula, expanding a series of PLA exercises in the region.

Since the start of exercises near Taiwan on Thursday, the Eastern Theater Command has surrounded the island with missiles and ballistic missiles and sent warships and aircraft within range of Taiwan’s military bases and major commercial ports — maneuvers that Chinese military officials say they demonstrated the PLA’s ability to seal off the island. China’s two operational aircraft carriers also teamed up for exercises for the first time.

The PLA flew drones over the Taiwanese-controlled islands of Kinmen and Matsu, which lie just off mainland China. Taiwanese troops fired flares at the drones, a symbolic gesture that posed little threat, although the maneuvers sparked some debate among Taiwanese over whether their military should have responded more forcefully, such as shooting down the drones or disabling them with electronics. inside.

It could not be determined whether Chinese forces fired live fire on all four days of the exercises. PLA and state media footage of exercises conducted from Friday to Sunday did not include live fire.

PLA officials say the drills demonstrated China’s improved ability to deter the US from intervening militarily in Taiwan’s defenses. Major General Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, told state television that the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan retreated several hundred kilometers after Beijing announced it would fire missiles into waters east of Taiwan.

General Meng also cited the circular flight path traced by Ms. Pelosi’s plane to Taipei as an indication of how the PLA has created an effective deterrent around Taiwan. While flying to Taiwan from Malaysia on Tuesday, Ms Pelosi’s plane made a major stopover in the South China Sea – where Beijing has built up a significant military presence – circling 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 would continue to operate in the Western Pacific as before, and that the USS Ronald Reagan had been ordered to remain in the general area near Taiwan “to monitor the situation”.

During the drills, Chinese state media also released images that appeared to show the PLA operating within visual range of Taiwan’s coastline and its military forces. The official Xinhua news agency, for example, released photos and footage — taken on board Chinese navy ships — of what appeared to be Taiwanese warships and Taiwan’s east coast.

The Chinese images were met with derision by some Taiwanese analysts and social media users, who claimed the photos were distorted. Taiwan’s defense ministry responded by posting a photo that appeared to show a Taiwanese frigate tracking a nearby PLA warship, with a caption that read “Absolutely real! No need to photoshop!”

As the PLA exercises unfolded, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials assured residents that the island’s military is capable of fending off any Chinese threat, while accusing Beijing of undermining regional peace and stability.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense also issued statements implying that the Chinese claims should not be ignored. For example, the ministry insisted that Chinese ballistic missiles fired Thursday into waters east of Taiwan flew so high over the island that they exceeded what Taipei defines as its airspace.

“China has been fretting and threatening ever since Pelosi’s intention to visit Taiwan was tipped off some time ago, but all the bluster and threats have failed to dissuade her from visiting,” said Mr Kaushikan, its former diplomat. Singapore. “So to save face—both internally and externally—Beijing had to respond in a dramatic way, and it did.”

Still, China has avoided stronger gestures to protest Ms. Pelosi’s visit, such as starting combat drills while still in Taiwan or recalling its ambassador to Washington. Some users on Chinese social media expressed disappointment at the lukewarm response, though many others expressed excitement at seeing footage of the PLA exercises as it emerged on military and state media accounts.

“US-China relations will always be complicated,” Mr. Kausikan said. Even so, “neither side is looking for trouble and it is in Beijing’s interest to have a stable external environment ahead of the 20th party congress,” he said, referring to the bi-decade congress later this year where Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to seek a third term as head of the Communist Party.

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

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