HONG KONG—China concluded four days of fire and combat exercises demonstrating its growing offensive capabilities against Taiwan and updating Beijing’s toolkit for intimidating democracy on the island.
On Sunday, the People’s Liberation Army said it has been conducting joint training in the waters and airspace near the island to test the PLA’s capacity to attack ground targets and engage in long-range aerial combat. China Central Television broadcast images of the exercises on the evening news, which showed jet fighters and strategic bombers, the latter armed with air-to-surface missiles, carrying out what the state broadcaster described as simulated attacks.
The exercises, announced in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Tuesday, marked China’s most dramatic display of power in decades near the self-governed island that Beijing claims as its territory. The maneuvers also offered clues as to how a Chinese attack on Taiwan might unfold, demonstrating the PLA’s ability to impose an air and naval blockade on the island ahead of amphibious landings.
“China now clearly has the confidence and ability to conduct exercises near Taiwan itself from all directions,” said M. Taylor Fravel, a professor and director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The exercises show that China may now be able to carry out certain types of operations that it may not have been able to do in the past, such as carrying out an actual blockade of Taiwan’s ports, perhaps closing the Strait of Taiwan,” said Mr Fravel. said, adding that Beijing will likely continue to conduct similar exercises in the future to pressure Taipei.
Beijing’s response to Ms. Pelosi’s (D. Calif.) visit, which involved military maneuvers with a diplomatic move to suspend any cooperation with Washington, could also deter some countries from closer cooperation with Taipei.
While China can do little to stop the US and Japan from backing Taiwan, other governments in Asia and Europe could be more cautious, said Bilahari Kausikan, a top former Singaporean diplomat. He noted that, for example, the president of South Korea refused to meet Ms. Pelosi while she was traveling through Seoul after her stop in Taipei.
Whether Ms Pelosi’s visit will result in a net gain for Taiwan after the dust settles remained an open question, Mr Kausikan said.
The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees troops near Taiwan, has not officially announced an end to its four-day exercises. Taiwan said on Sunday it was gradually lifting restrictions on flights through its airspace as the time period China had set for live fire drills in six declared zones had expired. Taiwanese authorities would continue to divert shipping and planes from a seventh zone off the island’s east coast – one that China has not recognized – until Monday morning, the transportation ministry said.
On Saturday, Beijing announced that its military will be conducting new maneuvers in the waters off China’s northeast coast near the Korean peninsula in the coming month, expanding a series of PLA exercises in that area.
Since the beginning of exercises near Taiwan on Thursday, Eastern Theater Command has surrounded the island with missile and ballistic missile fire and sent warships and aircraft within range of Taiwan’s military bases and major commercial ports – maneuvers that it says Chinese military officials demonstrated the PLA’s ability to seal off the island. China’s two operational aircraft carriers also worked together for the first time for exercises.
The PLA flew drones over the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen and Matsu, just outside mainland China. Taiwanese troops fired flares at the drones, a symbolic gesture that posed little threat, although the maneuvers sparked some debate among Taiwanese about whether their military should have responded more forcefully, for example by shooting down the drones or hitting them with a gun. to disable electronic means.
It could not be determined whether Chinese troops fired live shots on all four days of the exercises. PLA and state media footage of exercises held Friday through Sunday showed no live fire.
PLA officials say the exercises demonstrated China’s enhanced ability to deter the US from military intervention 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 withdrew several hundred miles after Beijing announced it would fire missiles in waters east of Taiwan.
Gene. Meng also cited the circuitous flight path that Ms. Pelosi’s plane traced to Taipei as a sign of how the PLA has put in place an effective deterrent around Taiwan. While flying to Taiwan from Malaysia on Tuesday, Ms Pelosi’s plane gave a wide berth to the South China Sea — where Beijing has built a significant military presence — by circling east of the Philippines.
A US Pacific Command spokesman declined to comment on General Meng’s claims. White House officials have said U.S. forces will continue to operate in the western Pacific as they have done before, and that the USS Ronald Reagan was ordered to remain in the general area near Taiwan “to monitor the situation.” “.
During the exercises, Chinese state media also released images that appeared to show the PLA operating within visual range of Taiwan’s coastline and its armed forces. For example, the official Xinhua News Agency has released photos and images – taken aboard Chinese naval vessels – of what appeared to be Taiwanese warships and the east coast of Taiwan.
The Chinese images were mocked by some Taiwanese analysts and social media users, who claimed the photos were faked. The Taiwan Ministry of Defense responded by releasing a photo of a Taiwanese frigate appearing to follow a nearby PLA warship, with the caption: “Absolutely real! No photoshop needed!”
While the PLA exercises took place, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials assured residents that the island’s military is capable of repelling any Chinese threat, while accusing Beijing of harming regional peace and stability.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense has also issued statements suggesting that Chinese claims should not be mocked. For example, the ministry insisted that the Chinese ballistic missiles launched into waters east of Taiwan on Thursday flew so high over the island that they exceeded the airspace that defines Taipei.
“China has been buzzing and threatening since news of Pelosi’s intention to visit Taiwan some time ago, but all the commotion and threats have not stopped her from visiting her,” said Mr Kausikan, the former Singaporean diplomat. “So to save face – both internally and externally – Beijing had to respond in a dramatic way and it did.”
Nevertheless, China avoided stronger gestures to protest Ms. Pelosi’s visit, for example by starting combat exercises while she was still in Taiwan, or by recalling its ambassador to Washington. Some users on Chinese social media expressed disappointment at what they saw as a lukewarm response, though many others expressed excitement at seeing images of the PLA exercises as it appeared on military and state media accounts.
“US-China relations will always be complicated,” Mr Kausikan said. Still, “neither side is looking for trouble 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-decade conclave later this year where Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to claim a third term as Communist Party leader.
— Joyu Wang in Taipei contributed to this article.
Write to Chun Han Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org
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