China is known for timing its military drills. The country’s strategically-timed drills send stern messages to the West. The three-day drills that began on April 8th are no exceptions. The drills were launched by China just a day after Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, had left China after meeting president Xi Jinping. It was no coincidence.
The European duo came calling with a clear mission. They knew China and Russia had declared a ‘no-limits’ friendship shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Knowing this closeness, the duo took it upon themselves to implore Mr Xi to persuade Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, to halt his illegal war in Ukraine. Mrs von der Leyen called for stability in the troubled Taiwan Strait. The timing of the drills tells China-watchers a lot. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-65186222
Video Courtesy: YouTube/Al Jazeera English
All Across the Median Line
Unmoved by the duo’s peace implorations, Mr Xi gushed forth a little while later. He called it ‘wishful thinking’ to expect China to compromise on Taiwan. Perhaps, Mr Xi walked the talk by launching the drills on April 8th. For the inscrutable Chinese leader, the drills were the best way to showcase, to the West, the entire range of military options he has for Taiwan. The drills demonstrated Mr Xi was leaving nothing to chance.
Desperate to prove its power, the People’s Liberation Army of China took three full days of furious drills to tell the world, and Taiwan in particular, what it means to challenge Mr Xi’s hegemony. As sweeping as its territorial ambitions, China’s military consignment to Taiwan too was large. The drills included hitherto unprecedented numbers of military aircraft and naval ships, all across the sensitive Taiwan Strait median line. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/8/china-begins- three-days-of-military-drills-in-taiwan-strait
Provoked by Visits and Meetings
Make no mistake. China was driving the drills to pressurise Taiwan to accept unification. At the same time, the dragon was taking care to ensure the exercise did not escalate. China is making no bones about its blatant timing. It was brazen enough to assert that the drills were in retaliation for the United States visit of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s China-suspecting president. Ms Tsai met Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House of Representatives, in California on April 5th.
An enraged China had threatened ‘resolute counter-measures’ if Ms Tsai’s meeting with Mr McCarthy happened. For China, which lays its ‘rightful’ claims on the self-governed democratic Taiwan, Ms Tsai’s American visit and her meeting with Mr McCarthy was infuriating enough. Adding insult to injury, China saw the Taiwan visit of the bipartisan Michael McCaul’s US congressional delegation as a China-provoking act. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/us-lawmakers-arrive- taiwan-china-mccarthy-tsai-rcna78452
Combat Readiness Patrols
Moreover, Mr McCaul is a Republican and chairman of the House foreign affairs committee. On his Taiwan visit, Mr McCaul had assured extended training for Taiwan’s armed forces and expeditious delivery of American arms for its fight for independence. Provoked, China was itching to demonstrate its might and retaliate. Within 24 hours of Ms Tsai’s return from America, on April 9th, China was there in the Taiwan Strait.
Over there, China was holding ‘combat readiness patrols,’ among other military exercises. As many as 11 warships and 70 fighter jets of China flexed their muscles in the Taiwan Strait. The retaliation motive apart, China was using the drills to tell the world that Taiwan would be attacked when the dragon had to claim it forcefully. The drills were China’s stern way of telling America to stay away from the Taiwanese island. https://www.reuters.com/world/us-says-it-is-monitoring- chinas-drills-around-taiwan-closely-2023-04-08/
Manifold Rise in Sorties
China told America so through the drills, all in the name of maintaining global peace. As China does not trust America, particularly when it comes to Taiwan, drills were needed to prove the distrust. Seen from this perspective, the drills may not help China much. Yet, China put up a grandiose drill. So elaborate was the drill that combat jets took off from the aircraft carrier, while naval ships practised detailed military manoeuvring in the Taiwanese Sea.
Complementing this, the People’s Liberation Army of China had live-fire practices in a nearby Chinese island. By April 10th, when the drills drew to a close, Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, aka ADIZ, had seen more than 90 Chinese military aircrafts flying in. ADIZ is a self-imposed buffer around the Taiwanese island. The 90 military aircrafts that flew in represent a manifold rise in the number of Chinese sorties, the highest number since 2020. https://focustaiwan.tw/cross-strait/202304110006
Simulated Precision Attacks
The drills are now acquiring an ominous dimension. An emboldened China is accusing the United States of harbouring diabolical designs. An editorial in the Liberation Army Daily, the Chinese military’s main newspaper, said on April 9th: “America’s sinister designs to use Taiwan as a pawn, courting disaster for the two sides of the strait, are there for all to see.” This is not the first time China is conducting the drills.
In August 2022, when the former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was visiting Taiwan, drills were launched to mimic a blockade. Though that drill was bigger, the April 2023 drill carries sterner warnings of consequences for ignoring China’s demand for Taiwan unification. https://poliphoon.com/the-pelosian- promise/ Walking the talk, in the current drill, Chinese jets crossed the median line. In tandem, ‘simulated precision attacks’ were launched, along with missiles near Taiwan’s cities. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/04/09/asia/china-taiwan- simulated-attacks-military-drills-day-two-intl-hnk-mil/index.html
Improving Military Competence
The attacks were choreographed to include bombers. China is now threatening to kick off more such drills in the days to come. Though Taiwan was quick to reply to the simulated attacks, with images of defence readiness, China remained undeterred. The dragon is saying now future drills will include live-fire exercises. Finally, when the drills drew to a close on April 10th, China was crowing with delight.
Unabashedly, China went on to claim the drills had improved its military competence to crush Taiwanese separatism and external interference. Clearly, China was hinting at America. The drills, and the elaborate exercises included in them, amply demonstrate China’s total military preparedness for a Taiwanese aggression. With every close encounter, on both sides of the strait, China and Taiwan are definitely inching towards an armed showdown. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-59900139
Offering Valuable Clues
The drills are only a noisy preface to that showdown. Aware of the consequences of a military showdown, Taiwan is acting with caution by avoiding accidents and open conflagrations. The island is already adopting a responsible stand on the drills. It has made an open declaration that it will not get involved in escalatory or provocative actions. However, military strategists have a question to ask.
Will Taiwan be able to stand its ground if China continues to rain missiles? Highly improbable. Moreover, as China has expanded its military capabilities over the years, the nation’s drills offer valuable clues to military strategists. These clues pertain to the constantly-evolving and continuously-expanding Chinese military, and its burgeoning ambitions during its different growth phases. China’s hegemonic ambitions are huge. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/apr/11/china- drills-taiwan-war-like-escalation
The ‘Surround-and-Encircle’ Message
One valuable clue was about Shandong, the sole aircraft carrier China had in its drill. Shandong was supplemented by the many sorties of Chinese fighter jets. This is a crucial piece of Chinese military information. Particularly because this is the first time that Chinese J-15 jets, as many as a higher-than-average 29 of them, entered Taiwan’s ADIZ. Notably, these jets can work from aircraft carriers.
China’s idea behind including the aircraft carrier in the drill is to drive home the message that the nation can ‘surround and encircle’ Taiwan, if push comes to shove. Yet, Taiwan is unruffled. The island has always lived under threats from China, whose ultimate aim is to annex Taiwan as one of its provinces. For an optimistic Taiwan, a Chinese aggression is still distant. In fact, Taiwan sees the drills as less threatening than those in 2022. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/04/07/china/china-taiwan- military-exercises-hnk-intl-ml/index.html
Tantamounts to Separatism
While Taiwan paid little attention to the drills, many of its own people even did not know Chinese drills took place on April 8th. However, this does not reduce the risk of a potential Chinese aggression. The danger is still in the air. Confirming this reality, The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party, commented that China has “a strong ability to thwart any form of Taiwan’s independence secession.” http://en.people.cn/n3/2023/0410/c90000-20003355.html
The mouthpiece went on to assert that it is “China’s legitimate and legal right to safeguard its territorial integrity.” As secretive as ever, China is not making any effort to make its claims on Taiwan open and transparent. Despite president Ms Tsai’s repeated offers for talks, the dragon is yet to respond. China justifies its silence by arguing Ms Tsai’s offers tantamount to separatism. China’s response is on expected lines. For the simple reason, it is keen on annexing Taiwan.
An Excuse for Military Adventures
As China continues to refuse to recognise Taiwanese people’s right to have a final say on their future, Ms Tsai made an important assertion on April 8th. She mixed no words to say: “Taiwan will continue to work with the US and other like-minded countries to jointly defend the values of freedom and democracy.” The drills prove China is ignoring Ms Tsai’s words. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/04/06/asia/china- taiwan-reaction-tsai-ing-wen-mccarthy-meeting-intl- hnk/index.html
Losing no opportunity, Taiwan, together with America, had warned China not to use Ms Tsai’s American visit as an excuse for military adventures. Yet, China went ahead with the drill. This is a clear pointer towards more Chinese manoeuvres are in the offing. The Taiwan Strait too offers vital clues. China has declared more inspection-patrol operations in the Strait, while Taiwan is dead set on blocking its potential Chinese aggressor from boarding its civil vessels.
May Not Precipitate Military Action
This is why most military strategists feel the risks of escalation could only increase in the days to come. As the Chinese president Xi continues to say that expecting China to compromise on Taiwan is ‘wishful thinking’, the current drills could be the beginning of a long military strife over Taiwan. After all, China is dead serious about taking back Taiwan. China had vowed to re-annex Taiwan when the triumphant Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949. China has that vow to fulfil.
Since then, China has been furthering its narrative that Taiwan is an integral part of China. However, analysts in Taiwan are theorising that China may not precipitate military action, post-drills. They say China will be cautious not to go against public opinion in Taiwan. The island is due for presidential elections in 2024. China is hoping a win for the opposition KMT Nationalist Party. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/20/taiwans- kmt-hopes-for-elections-boost-after-china-trip
Bad luck for Taiwan and Ms Tsai, KMT wants friendly relations with mainland China. Any meeting between a Taiwanese and an American official with any American official is sure to be seen by China and KMT as an intensified attempt by the island nation to secure freedom. Sure, China is not happy with Ms Tsai’s American visit, her meeting with Mr McCarthy and Mr McCaul visiting Taiwan. Yet, China may prefer to wait, and watch the developments.
Despite KMT and its love for China, Ms Tsai needs to feel assured that America will do everything it can to aid Taiwan’s territorial integrity and democracy. If China crosses the red line and attacks Taiwan, America is sure to intervene with its armed forces. Taiwan and its people should appreciate this. The drills launched by China on April 8th have alerted America to the heightened possibility of a military intervention. The drills have succeeded in making America sit up. Viewed through this prism, the drills were a blessing for Taiwan.