New Chinese Drills Spark Fears Of Prolonged Squeeze On Taiwan

The Pentagon warns that China’s military actions are trying to intimidate Taiwan and the West and create a “new normal.”

byHoward Altman|
Chinese military surrounds Taiwan
China’s military is surrounding Taiwan. Credit: PLAAF and @detresfa_ (composite)


A day after the scheduled end of its large-scale military exercise in the sea and air around Taiwan, China announced it was conducting a new series of combat drills.

Though scant details were announced, the continued presence of Chinese military so close to Taiwan seems aimed at showing that China can strangle Taiwan, potentially through a naval and air blockade, if need be.

"Drills like these will not stop and are expected to become routine until reunification, as the Chinese mainland shows its determination to push forward the reunification process after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's provocative visit to the island last week that seriously violated China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," China's Global Times stated Monday, citing "experts." The outlet is directly tied to the Chinese Communist Party.

China's Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations Reuters reported Monday.

During Monday's drills, "the Type 052C guided missile destroyer Changchun operating in waters southwest to Taiwan island coordinated with several Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft and formed an anti-submarine combat formation together with the Changchun's Ka-28 vessel-based anti-submarine helicopter," Global Times reported, citing China Central Television (CCTV).

On Sunday, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported that Taiwan's army would conduct live-fire artillery drills in southern Pingtung County on Tuesday and Thursday, in response to the Chinese exercises, The Associated Press reported.

The drills are expected to include snipers, combat vehicles, armored vehicles as well as attack helicopters, said the report, which cited an anonymous source.

China's new drills raise fears that its aggressive actions toward Taiwan have not only not subsided, but may come with increasing frequency.

Taiwan's foreign ministry condemned the move, saying China was deliberately creating crises. It demanded Beijing stop its military actions and "pull back from the edge."

"In the face of military intimidation created by China, Taiwan will not be afraid nor back down, and will more firmly defend its sovereignty, national security, and free and democratic way of life," the ministry said in a statement.

China's threat to Taiwan is "more serious than ever," but the island will stand firm to protect its freedom and democracy - including by welcoming those who support it, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told CNN in an interview Monday.

"China has always been threatening Taiwan for years and it's getting more serious in the last few years," Wu told CNN. "Whether Speaker Pelosi visits Taiwan or not, the Chinese military threat against Taiwan has always been there and that is the fact that we need to deal with."

"In the face of military intimidation created by China, Taiwan will not be afraid nor back down, and will more firmly defend its sovereignty, national security, and free and democratic way of life," the ministry said in a statement.

The New York Times suggested that China’s military buildup has reached a point “where some commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario. Even if imminent conflict is unlikely, the exercises are putting the region on edge.”

The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense (MOD) reported that on Monday, 13 People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships and 39 Chinese aircraft were detected around Taiwan Monday.

The Taiwanese MOD said of those, it detected 21 aircraft - eight Su-30 Flanker fighter jets, six J-11s, two JH-7s, four J-16s as well as a Ka-28 Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter - had flown in the east part of the median line of the Taiwan Strait and the southwest Air Defense Identification Zone (SW ADIZ).

ROC armed forces “have monitored the situation and responded to these activities with aircraft in [combat air patrol], naval vessels, and land-based missile systems.”

A day earlier, the PLA sent a total of 66 fighter aircraft to carry out training activities around the Taiwan Strait, according to the Taiwanese MOD.

Of those, eight Su-30 fighter jets and four J-11 fighter jets crossed the northern end of the so-called median line. There were six sorties of J-16 fighter jets, three sorties of Xian H-6N bombers, and one sortie of a Yun-8 anti-submarine aircraft that entered the southwest ADIZ.

It appears that among the Chinese ships taking part in the action on Sunday was the Type 052 Luyang III class Guided Missile Destroyer Hefei.

During a Monday press conference, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said there was no change in the Biden administration's assessment that China will not try to take Taiwan by force in the next two years. U.S. officials, as well as their Taiwanese counterparts, have been repeatedly warning in recent years that the PLA is working to at least be in a position by 2027 when it will feel confident in its ability to successfully carry out a military intervention on the island. Of course, there is no concrete evidence, at present, that the Chinese military is working on a firm schedule to execute such an operation in the next five years.

But while Chinese missiles flying over Taiwan last week were a concern, an even bigger concern is Beijing's creeping presence around the island.

"The sheer number of maritime and air assets that are crossing over this kind of de facto center line, creeping closer to Taiwan shores," is making it "clear that Beijing is trying to create a kind of new normal, with the goal of trying to coerce Taiwan, but also, frankly, to coerce the international community given the importance of the Taiwan Strait to the global economy," Kahl said.

To date, any Chinese effort to choke off the Taiwanese economically has yet to pan out, Kahl noted. But there is reason to be concerned about the future.

"There's [an] enormous amount of global commerce that passes through the Taiwan Strait," he said. "Taiwan itself is among the most impactful economic entities on planet Earth and it provides something like 70% to 90% of the most advanced semiconductors that everybody's iPhone and laptops and everything else runs on. So obviously there could be a point at which the PRC could engage in activities that would have economic consequences, not just for Taiwan, but for the world economy. That's one of the key reasons why there is a global consensus that there needs to be stability across the Taiwan Strait and that conflict across the Taiwan Strait is in nobody's interest."

Kahl reiterated the U.S. support for a "One China" policy and said that China was engaging in a "manufactured crisis." But despite China's increased activity in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. will continue to support its ally and partners in the region.

"So you know what's important for us right now?" he asked rhetorically. It's "to make sure Beijing understands that our forces in the region will continue to operate, to fly, to sail, wherever international waters allows. That includes the Taiwan Strait. I think you should expect...we will continue to do Taiwan Strait transits as we have in the past and in the coming weeks, we will continue to do freedom of navigation operations elsewhere in the region. We will continue to stand by our allies and partners so even as China tries to kind of chip away at the status quo."

President Joe Biden said that while he is "concerned" about the new Chinese exercises, he does not think they will lead to a larger military action against Taiwan.

Despite China’s move to continue combat drills around Taiwan, air traffic has resumed, Reuters reported.

The previous drills led some airlines to cancel flights to Taipei and to alter flight paths between Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia to avoid the affected area.

"Beijing-issued notices to airmen (NOTAM) had declared temporary danger areas for airlines to avoid during the exercises that encircled much of Taiwan. The final NOTAM covering a section of airspace east of the island expired on Monday at [10 a.m. Taipei time]. After China's military announced fresh drills in the seas and airspace around Taiwan on Monday, no new NOTAM was issued and there were no signs on flight tracking service FlightRadar24 of airlines adjusting routings."

Taiwan's transportation ministry said earlier "most scheduled flights to and from the island had continued to operate during the Chinese military exercises that began on Aug. 4, averaging around 150 departures and arrivals per day."

The announcement by China that it will conduct new combat drills around Taiwan comes two days after Taiwan’s MOD reported that Chinese forces made a possible simulated attack run against a “high-value asset” in the Taiwan Strait.

The ministry reported on Saturday that some of these forces crossed the median line, the de facto boundary between the island and the mainland. Taiwan sent alert broadcasts, patrolling aircraft, and warships to counter the move, but it is not clear what the simulated attack targeted.

Last Thursday, the Chinese military launched short-range ballistic missiles, or SRBMs, directly over Taiwan, starting its planned four-day series of live-fire exercises close to the island. On Friday, a record-breaking number of Chinese aircraft, plus warships, entered the area. Beijing also severed some of its relationships with the United States on a range of important issues.

At the same time, however, the United States has taken measures to try and reduce tensions with China, including postponing a planned test of an LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The recently concluded Chinese live fire drills, that kicked off in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Aug. 2 visit to Taiwan, took place in six areas around the island.

“The six major areas are the training areas closest to Taiwan Island, forming a situation of encirclement on Taiwan Island, which is conducive to reshaping the unified strategic pattern,” Maj. Gen Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the National Defense University, told China's official CCTV.

One zone covers the narrowest part of the Taiwan Strait, The New York Times reported. Others could be used to block a major port or attack three of Taiwan’s main military bases. Another, facing southern Taiwan, could block an escape route.

Meanwhile, as China tightens its noose around Taiwan, it continues working with partners in Asia.

On Monday, Thailand said its Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) will be conducting a training exercise with China later this month, the Bangkok Post reported, citing an unnamed source.

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) and its Chinese counterpart "will hold a 10-day joint air exercise in Udon Thani, a source said yesterday. China has confirmed that it will join 'Falcon Strike 2022' which is set to take place from Aug. 14-24 at Wing 23."

Chinese J-10 and Thai Gripen fighter jets fly together during Exercise Falcon Strike 2019. China Military / Xie Zhongwu and Zhou Yongheng

China is expected to send a fleet of "six J-10 C/S multirole fighter jets, a JH-7AI fighter-bomber and a Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft to take part in the exercise, the source said. Chinese Su-27 fighter jets will not be involved in the drill. The RTAF will deploy five Gripen aircraft, three Alphajet trainers/light attack aircraft, and a SAAB 340 AEW early warning and control aircraft. The U.S.-made F-16 jets will not participate, the source told the Bangkok Post. The drill is the fifth of its kind since 2015. The previous round was held in 2019 also at Udon Thani-based Wing 23."

So far, China has refused to adhere to Taiwan's request to stand down its forces. And while the Pentagon said it will continue to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the region, it remains to be seen just how close the U.S. will come to Chinese forces while they remain ensconced around Taiwan.

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