The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has recently conducted a massive joint military exercise in the areas surrounding the island democracy of Taiwan. The three-day event, facilitated by its Eastern Theater Command, was announced on Monday by the Chinese Defense Ministry.
“The naval, air and conventional missile forces of the Chinese PLA Eastern Theater Command held drills in seas and airspace to the east and southwest of Taiwan Island from May 6 to 8 in a bid to test and improve the joint operations capability of multiple services and arms,” wrote the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China in its official statement.
Since its conception, the Republic of China, or Taiwan as we know it, has been claimed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as part of its sovereign territory. It all began when the Nationalist Government of China was forced to flee the Chinese mainland after the government takeover of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. Since that time, neither government recognises the legitimacy of the other.
Taiwan has since made its home in its island territory and has established democracy in contrast to China. Reclaiming Taiwan has always been the largest ambition of the PRC, but recent years saw it become more assertive as the country grew into an economic power.
This can be seen in China’s push for the “One China Policy,” which is a foreign policy that requires countries that interact with China to recognize it as the sole legal Chinese entity. This, in turn, implies support for China’s claim on Taiwan. However, the West never fully committed to the One China Policy, particularly the United States, which has continued to deal with Taiwan and supply it with weapons.
The Global Times, a Chinese state-funded publication, reported aerial, maritime, missile, and other drills that were conducted around Taiwan. The Liaoning aircraft group was also deployed east of Taiwan along with a surmountable number of combat fighters in the west.
Taiwanese officials reported several instances of Chinese aircraft passing through the island nation’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). 12 Chinese fighter jets, two bombers, and four other aircraft were identified in the ADIZ on Friday. Two bombers and three other aircraft were seen on Saturday. Two more were spotted in Taiwan’s ADIZ on Sunday, the last day of the exercise.
Even before the massive military exercise, the PLA has routinely deployed military aircraft in Taiwan’s ADIZ. In the first month of the year, over 39 Chinese aircraft were spotted in the country’s ADIZ.
Some speculate that the constant incursions may be an attempt to exhaust Taiwan’s limited air capabilities by forcing constant usage and decreased maintenance periods. This March, Taiwan was forced to ground a fleet of Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets after one crashed at sea during a training session.
The deployment patterns used in the PLA’s three-day exercise could be a “rehearsal of possible real action,” according to Chinese mainland military analyst Song Zhongping.
“In preparation of and a possible real action of military conflict in the Taiwan Straits, all PLA forces will play their roles, as they will surround the entire island, seal it off and launch effective strikes,” Song said, who noted the lack of amphibious landings and ground exercises.
“By having the Liaoning aircraft carrier group positioned east of Taiwan, the PLA not only cuts off possible reinforcements from foreign interference forces but also launches attacks on military bases east of the Taiwan island and intercepts any escape attempts from secessionist forces.”
He also noted that conventional missiles, which were likely operated by the PLA’s Rocket Force, have the capability to target military facilities and equipment across Taiwan. These may include “air defense systems, radar systems, missile positions, airfields, naval ports, and other bases,” according to Song.
It is important to note that the PLA Rocket Force does operate a number of short and medium-range conventional missiles and hypersonics, as we can see from their DF-17 hypersonic missile and the DF-100 supersonic cruise missile. They also operate the DF-21D and the DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles, often dubbed the “aircraft carrier killers.”
The drill conducted during the military exercises was likely a response to the recent appearance of the US Navy’s Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, which was spotted near the Philippine Sea.
If the provocations by China against Taiwan continue (in Chinese media, if Taiwan continues to provoke China), we can expect to see the PLA expand the scale of its military exercises, according to an unnamed military expert from Beijing interviewed by the Global Times.
“The latest drills are like a rehearsal of possible real action, but only a partial one,” the anonymous expert said.
“More training courses will be added, more types and a larger number of equipment will be deployed, and more frequent drills will take place if Taiwan secessionists and external interference forces do not stop,” they predicted.