The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) latest round of military exercises revealed a new strategy in Beijing’s campaign of intimidation against Taiwan, a defense expert said.
Last month, China launched a three-day drill following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the US, National Defense University researcher Ma Chen-kun (馬振坤) wrote in an article published in the Mainland Affairs Council’s (MAC) latest briefing.
These exercises, named “joint sword,” included 232 air sorties — 134 of which crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait — but did not feature the use of exclusion zones or live-fire maneuvers, he said.
The drills suggest that the PLA has adopted a strategy to regularly and without warning conduct preparedness patrols around Taiwan proper, which cements the notion that the Taiwan Strait is part of China’s territorial waters, he said.
The intended effect of this is to compress Taiwan’s air-sea defensive depth, which allows the PLA to project power into the western Pacific Ocean, and potentially launch an invasion during a supposed patrol, Ma said.
The strategic implications of the preparedness patrols are more of a threat to Taiwan’s security than the high-profile live-fire drills of the past, due to the possibility that the PLA could use the exercises as a smokescreen for an attack, he said.
The PLA likely dispensed with firing missiles during the exercises to avoid raising unwanted attention from the international community, which was counterproductive, he said.
The Chinese forces that took part in the drills conducted rehearsals of maneuvers that would be used in an attack on Taiwan proper, he said, adding that the PLA demonstrated improved capabilities to prevent US forces from aiding the nation.
Although China’s aircraft carriers are inferior to the US’, the PLA could deploy more modern warships, submarines, and ground and air-launched anti-ship missiles, as it would be closer to the warzone, he said.
The PLA is in a stronger position against the US than ever before, and it has capacity for deterrence that it did not have during the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, Ma said.
The urgency displayed by the US in efforts to stock Taiwan with secure ammunition storage is an indication of the dangers, he said.
China’s aggressive use of military exercises not only breached the tacit understanding between Taipei and Beijing to respect the median line, but also significantly increased the risk of inadvertently triggering a conflict through mishap, he said.
The PLA would likely refrain from carving out exclusion zones when it uses military drills to threaten Taiwan, to avoid international censure that disrupting sea communications would spark, he said.
Beijing would exert pressure by increasing the frequency and size of war games, he said.
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