China’s latest military exercises represent a new challenge to Taiwan’s legal authority to demarcate its borders in the Taiwan Strait, a defense expert said, adding that the fleets in the latest exercises were likely the most powerful the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ever assembled.
The PLA conducted military exercises from Sunday last week to 6am on Friday, which encompassed large swathes of the western Pacific, including the Taiwan Strait and waters off the Philippines and Guam, National Policy Foundation associate research fellow Chieh Chung (揭仲) said on Friday.
The Ministry of National Defense said that it detected 70 warship and 162 aircraft sorties over the period in the Strait.
Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense
China’s Northern, Southern, and Eastern Theater commands participated in the exercises, with each command deploying its fleet and a large complement of aircraft to different strategic axes in the Taiwan Strait and waters off the Philippines and Guam, he said.
These actions signified an escalation in China’s “gray zone” warfare against Taiwan and a show of force directed at the nation, Japan and the US simultaneously, Chieh said.
Chieh said that PLA aircraft not only crossed the median line of the Strait on the first day of the exercises, but also deliberately entered prohibited airspace zones designated R8, R9, R11 and R5, which were claimed by Taiwan, he said.
Two four-plane flights of Shenyang J-16 jets loitered in R9 and R11, the nearest of the intruded areas to Taiwan proper, he said.
The intrusions set a new benchmark for China’s “gray zone” tactics and possibly a new pattern that the PLA would attempt to normalize, he said.
Chinese military aircraft entering these areas had the effect of compressing the depth of Taiwanese air defenses and undermining the nation’s legal authority to establish a prohibited airspace, he said.
On Monday, a PLA Navy (PLAN) destroyer-frigate group of eight vessels and a carrier strike group centered on the carrier Shandong with five escort vessels transited the Miyako Strait and Bashi Channel respectively, Chieh said.
After three days, the Chinese navy again transited the Miyako Strait with the 45th Chinese Naval Escort Task Force, a group composed of three warships of the Northern Theater Command and designated for the Gulf of Aden, he said.
The PLAN deployed three major naval groupings that included 17 surface vessels and an unknown number of submarines, he said.
This force possessed the highest concentration of combat power ever amassed in the PLAN’s history and numerically the largest Chinese fleet exercise in the western Pacific since 2014, Chien said.
Information provided by the Japanese government further indicated that the fleets divided into two groups and engaged in a mock battle that started on Wednesday in an area including the Philippine Sea and waters off Guam, he said.
The simulated battle was a demonstration of China’s capabilities to conduct large-scale naval operations centering on a carrier strike group in the western Pacific targeting the US and other nations, Chien said.
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