China has been intensifying its military maneuvers in the region, including sending warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), because the leadership in Beijing faces domestic pressure, academics said on Thursday.
Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University’s Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, said that pressure on the leadership in Beijing has been growing, especially since it initiated large-scale military reforms in 2016.
Reforms of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) included merging several units and scrapping others, Lin said, adding that the PLA is trying to show its members and the Chinese public that the reforms have successfully beefed up China’s military might.
The Taiwan Strait is seen as a perfect venue for the PLA to demonstrate its reformed might and for Beijing to ease internal pressure, Lin said.
As Taiwan has in the past few months strengthened its ties with the US, China’s military has raised the frequency of maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and surrounding areas, he said, adding that this included the PLA Air Force making incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ or crossing the Taiwan Strait’s median line.
Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the Institute of National Defense and Security Research, agreed with Lin that the moves were to demonstrate strength to the Chinese public.
Crossing the Strait’s median line is an attempt to demonstrate strength, but it does not significantly increase the risk of all-out war in the region, Su said, adding that the PLA is operating in a gray area.
The PLA has also engaged in several small-scale exercises in open seas or near China’s coast, Su said, adding that these must be understood as propaganda, rather than as genuine military threats.
The crossings of the median line can also be understood as reactions to the US’ role in the region, Lin said.
The concept of the median line is thought to have been established by the US in 1954 to prevent further conflict between Taiwan and China after the Chinese Civil War had ended in 1949.
China has never openly recognized the median line, but its military rarely crossed it until Taiwan and the US increased their political and military ties.
Lin said that for many years, Taiwan and China have both tacitly recognized the line, and the PLA’s willingness to break this consensus is aimed at sending a warning to the US.
China means to say that “Washington does not have a say in the cross-Strait issue,” Lin said.
In this way, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) can show that under his leadership, China is powerful enough to stand up to the US, Lin said.
Yet the moves might not help China internationally, as they are reinforcing global concerns that Beijing’s rise as an economic and aspiring military superpower is a threat to regional and global security, Su said.
In related developments, a Chinese intelligence vessel remains deployed in the waters off Taiwan’s east coast as Taiwan holds missile tests in the area.
The vessel has remained in the area since Friday last week — the longest continuous deployment in the past few years, military sources said.
As the vessel has not entered Taiwan’s 24 nautical mile (44.45km) contiguous zone, Taiwan can only monitor the ship, but cannot take further measures, the sources said.
A statement by the National Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology — Taiwan’s top weapons developer — said it was planning to fire missiles from Jioupeng Military Base (九鵬基地) in Pingtung County on Thursday and yesterday.
Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major General Shih Shun-wen (史順文) said the military has been closely monitoring the situation.
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