China’s military ‘ready to fight’ after drills near Taiwan

10 April 2023, 14:54

Chinese navy ships take part in a military drill in the Taiwan Strait in April
China Taiwan US. Picture: PA

The actions follow President Tsai Ing-wen’s diplomatic mission to shore up Taiwan’s dwindling alliances in Central America and boost US support.

China’s military has declared it is “ready to fight” after completing three days of large-scale combat exercises around Taiwan.

The exercises, that simulated sealing off the island, followed the Taiwanese president’s trip to the US last week.

The “combat readiness patrols” named Joint Sword were meant as a warning to self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its own, China’s military said earlier.

“The theatre’s troops are ready to fight at all times and can fight at any time to resolutely smash any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ and foreign interference attempts,” it said on Monday.

The exercises were similar to ones conducted by China last August, when it launched missile strikes on targets in the seas around Taiwan in retaliation for then-US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, but have been smaller and less disruptive.

Military experts say the exercises serve both as intimidation and as an opportunity for Chinese troops to practise sealing off Taiwan by blocking sea and air traffic, an important strategic option the Chinese military might pursue in the event it uses military force to take Taiwan.

The Chinese actions follow President Tsai Ing-wen’s delicate mission to shore up Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic alliances in Central America and boost its US support, a trip capped with a sensitive meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.

A US congressional delegation also met with Ms Tsai over the weekend in Taiwan after she returned.

China responded immediately to the meeting with Mr McCarthy by imposing a travel ban and financial sanctions against those associated with Ms Tsai’s US trip and with increased military activity through the weekend.

“China wants to use any increase of diplomatic interactions between the US and Taiwan as an excuse to train its military,” said Kuo Yu-jen, a defence studies expert and director of the Institute for National Policy Research in Taiwan.

China US Taiwan
Chinese ships in the Taiwan Strait in April (CCTV/AP)

Beijing says contact between foreign officials and the island’s democratic government encourages Taiwanese people who want formal independence, a step China’s ruling Communist Party says would lead to war.

The sides split in 1949 after a civil war, and the Communist Party says the island is obliged to rejoin the mainland, by force if necessary.

After Ms Pelosi visited Taiwan, China conducted missiles strikes on targets in the seas around Taiwan, while also sending warships and war planes over the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

It also fired missiles over the island itself which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, in a significant escalation.

The live-fire exercises disrupted flights and shipping in one of the busiest shipping lanes for global trade. This time, shipping and maritime traffic have largely continued as normal.

The exercises this time have focused more on air strength, with Taiwan reporting 200 flights by Chinese warplanes in the past three days.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, citing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said the exercises are “simulating the joint sealing off” of Taiwan as well as “waves of simulated strikes” at important targets on the island.

On Monday, the PLA said its Shandong aircraft carrier was taking part in the exercises encircling Taiwan for the first time. It showed a video of a fighter jet taking off from the deck of the ship in a post on Weibo, the social media platform.

China Taiwan US
China launched large-scale military drills in retaliation for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Ringo HW Chiu/AP)

The appearance of the Shandong aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean suggests that it could be used to prevent foreign militaries from coming to help Taiwan, said Han Gan-ming, a research fellow at the government-backed Institute for National Defence and Security Research.

“In the future if there’s a similar military manoeuvre, then Taiwan will have to face it alone,” Mr Han said.

Between 6am Sunday and 6am Monday, a total of 70 planes were detected and half crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary once tacitly accepted by both sides, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence.

Among the planes that crossed the median were eight J-16 fighter jets, four J-1 fighters, eight Su-30 fighters and reconnaissance planes. Taiwan also tracked J-15 fighter jets, which are paired with the Shandong aircraft carrier.

Later on Monday morning, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry reported another 59 flights by bombers, as well as multiple fighter jets.

That followed a full day between Friday and Saturday in which eight warships and 71 planes were detected near Taiwan, according to the island’s Defence Ministry. It said in a statement that it was approaching the situation from the perspective of “not escalating conflict, and not causing disputes”.

Taiwan said it monitored the Chinese moves through its land-based missile systems, as well as from its own navy vessels.

China’s military harassment of Taiwan has intensified in recent years with planes or ships sent towards the island on a near-daily basis, with the numbers rising in reaction to sensitive activities.

The military activity has increased a notch since Ms Pelosi’s visit, with Chinese PLA fighter jets regularly flying over the middle boundary line. Experts say PLA navy vessels regularly navigate the waters off Taiwan’s north-eastern coast.

Meanwhile, to the south in the South China Sea, the US 7th Fleet said its missile destroyer USS Milius sailed by Mischief Reef in a freedom of navigation operation. China has built an artificial island on the sea feature to stake its claim to the disputed territory.

China said the US “illegally trespassed” into waters near the reef without the permission of the Chinese government, according to a statement from the Chinese military’s southern command.

By Press Association

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