On the evening of Aug. 2, an aircraft carrying US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed safely in Taipei, clearing all doubts about whether the visit would take place. Her flight to Taiwan became the most-tracked in the history of flight tracking site Flightradar24, causing it to crash and highlighting the global attention her visit received.
Prior to Pelosi’s visit, China released various messages, from the hawkish media’s threatening words to military intimidation or Chinese diplomats’ warnings.
Soon after Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan, China’s Xinhua news agency was authorized to announce that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would conduct live-fire military drills surrounding Taiwan proper, warning airlines and ships operating in Asia to avoid the waters and airspace around the nation.
The PLA might not have the capacity to completely blockade Taiwan’s sea and airspace, but by announcing the location and area the drills would take place, it created a “quasi-blockade” deterrent effect, achieving its purpose of cognitive warfare against Taiwanese.
First, the US did not break the mold regarding US-China interactions, and was simply following an example set in 1997 when then-US House speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan.
However, instead of the missile tests it conducted in the waters surrounding Taiwan during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995 and 1996, China wanted to show that its capabilities are incomparably better than before. Therefore, the military drills focused on firing missiles into the Pacific Ocean to symbolize breaking through the island chain.
Beijing’s actions suggest it has long planned to do this, and it was by no means a simple response to Pelosi’s visit, but aimed at deterring Taiwan, expressing China’s stance to the US and demonstrating its power before the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress.
Second, the drills might also draw lessons from the Russian-Ukrainian war. The US and NATO troops did not enter Ukraine or Russia, but through transmission of the information gathered by early warning and electronic-warfare aircraft, the Ukrainian army can effectively attack Russian troops. A similar model might be used if there were a Taiwan Strait conflict. Therefore, how to resist the US and its allied forces might also have been a scenario for this drill.
Third, in terms of the warning areas of the drills, the differences this time were that many areas in the drill areas designated by China overlapped with Taiwan’s territorial sea, and some even penetrated into Taiwan’s internal waters. The PLA repeatedly broke through the so-called Taiwan Strait median line. It might not be militarily effective, but the purpose of breaking past cross-strait conventions can be accomplished through the delineation of drill areas.
Fourth, immediately after Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, disinformation appeared, such as reports of an attack on Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and warplanes flying through the Taiwan Strait, combined with stories of military drills and photographs released by China. This combination of true and false information, along with cyberintrusions, is something Taiwan will need to contend with.
No matter how the relationship between Taiwan and China develops, the threat of the PLA is always there.
In addition to being alert to the possibility of war, Taiwanese should not forget that God helps those who help themselves. Only by being prepared can a robust national defense be ensured.
Lin Ying-yu is an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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