Chinese military drills underscore Beijing’s relentless message that it dictates conditions in the Taiwan Strait

Experts also suggest that the announcement of the drills shortly after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taipei on Tuesday was not a sudden reaction to her controversial visit – rather, the drills are part of a relentless, years-long plan to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control. .

Pelosi’s trip to the island – a democracy of 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party considers its territory although it has never controlled it – has only thrust the Taiwan question into the headlines. newspapers, analysts said.

“That’s what Nancy Pelosi has really accomplished, raising awareness around the world about China’s sustained campaign of military coercion against Taiwan that has spanned more than a decade,” said Drew Thompson, visiting senior scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“They do this every year,” Thompson said of the Chinese drills. “The difference this year is that we are paying attention.”

Reaction in Taipei, Tokyo and Washington

The Taipei government is certainly on alert, announcing on Friday that several Chinese warships and jets had crossed the middle line – the halfway point between the mainland and Taiwan that Beijing says it does not recognize but generally respects.

After China fired ballistic missiles over the island on Thursday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen pledged to “firmly defend our sovereignty and national security, and stick to the line of defense democracy and freedom”.

These missiles also caught the attention of Japan. Five of them landed inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, an area of ​​the ocean where a country enjoys special rights to resources such as fishing and mining under the seabed.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the Chinese drills were “a serious issue regarding the security of our country and its people”. He called for their immediate halt and said Japan would work with its closest ally, the United States, “to maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at the ASEAN-US ministerial meeting in Cambodia, said: “I really hope that Beijing will not manufacture a crisis or seek to seeming to step up its aggressive military action.

But in Washington, the official line was that Beijing’s actions were no surprise.

“We expected China to take steps like this — in fact, I described them to you in detail the other day,” John Kirby, spokesman for the United States National Security Council, said Thursday. United, to reporters at the White House. . “We also hope that these actions will continue and that the Chinese will continue to react in the coming days.”

China launched missiles into the waters off the east coast of Taiwan on August 4, 2022.

Isolate Taiwan

Visiting Kishida on Friday, Pelosi said Beijing was trying to “isolate” Taiwan.

China’s drills were designed to practice doing just that, said Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the Joint Intelligence Center at US Pacific Command in Hawaii.

“China (shows) that it can bombard Taiwan with missiles and isolate it from outside support and affect air and sea trade across the Taiwan Strait and around Taiwan,” Schuster said.

This has long been Beijing’s plan, and this week’s drills are just the manifestation of at least months of planning and years of politics, experts said.

“An exercise of this size, scope and complexity cannot be planned and forces prepared in two weeks,” Schuster said, referring to the period following the rumors of Pelosi’s trip to the island. .

He said the outlines of Chinese military exercises were probably decided a year ago and most of the actions were set in April.

Parts of the exercises, such as the multiple ballistic missile launches, could have been added in recent weeks because the logistics of these are not as complicated as, for example, setting up a naval blockade, which Beijing said was one of his training points for the exercises.

A Chinese military plane flies over Pingtan Island, one of mainland China's closest points to Taiwan, in Fujian province on Aug. 5, 2022.

Exercises “to intimidate the United States and Japan”

Schuster also noted that the drills are larger than those China has held in previous years.

“This expanded exercise activity has a third purpose – to intimidate the United States and Japan – both of which have indicated support for Taiwan,” Schuster said.

“If you look at the rhetoric from January to April, (Chinese President Xi Jinping) and company have escalated their criticism of the United States and Japan, the latter over recent statements of support for Taiwan and its increased defense spending.”

Japan’s 2022 Defense White Paper, an annual overview of its security policy released in late July, has unequivocally challenged Beijing.

“China continues to unilaterally change or attempt to change the status quo through coercion in the East China Sea and the South China Sea,” the report said. “Furthermore, China has made it clear that it will not hesitate to unify Taiwan by force, further increasing tensions in the region.”

In a virtual speech to a Taiwanese think tank last December, the late former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said an armed invasion of Taiwan would pose a grave danger to Japan.

“The people of Beijing, President Xi Jinping in particular, should never have any misunderstandings in recognizing this,” Abe said.

A Chinese military ship sails off Pingtan Island in Fujian Province on Aug. 5, 2022.

Maybe Beijing wasn’t listening or just didn’t care. The drills – especially the launch of missiles that landed in Japan’s EEZ – show this, experts said.

“They validated Shinzo Abe’s concerns that an emergency in Taiwan is an emergency in Japan and an emergency for the US-Japan alliance,” said Thompson, of the National University of Singapore.

And we can expect this emergency to continue. Bringing Taiwan under Beijing’s control is a cornerstone of Chinese policy.

On Friday, China continued its relentless military exercises and intimidation.

Taiwanese Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang acknowledged the drills had the effect Beijing wanted, showing how it can control the Taiwan Strait.

“The evil next door neighbor flexed his muscles on our doorstep and arbitrarily sabotaged (one of) the busiest waterways in the world with military drills,” he said.

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