China’s military recently conducted large-scale military drills in the air and waters around Taiwan.
Normally, such activities are accompanied by a wave of propaganda designed to intimidate the island. But this time, as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports, the exercises were accompanied by silence — China’s military is honing its ability to encircle Taiwan and block U.S. intervention in the event of an invasion.
On Sunday around 6 a.m., Taiwanese military personnel detected 103 Chinese military aircraft and nine navy vessels, a number it says was a daily record for recent encounters. Forty of the planes entered the island’s air-defense identification zone.
Taiwan’s defense ministry has called on China to cease its military activities near the self-governing island in the Taiwan Strait.
“The continuous military harassment by the Communist military can easily lead to a sharp increase in tensions and worsen regional security,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by Reuters. “We call on the Beijing authorities to take responsibility and immediately stop such destructive unilateral actions.”
Earlier in the month, a Chinese aircraft carrier and roughly 24 warships conducted major exercises southeast of Taiwan. China’s recent activities have used an increasing number of transport and refueling aircraft flying along fighters, which, according to military analysts, suggests a stronger focus on improving long-range combat capabilities.
“They’re getting better, and I think this drill is kind of proof that they’re trying,” Ben Lewis, an independent military analyst based in Washington, D.C., told WSJ.
“We will surely study the PLA’s likely courses of action and plan for proper response measures,” said Maj. Gen. Sun Li-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. “The closer the PLA’s aircraft are to Taiwan, the stronger our countermeasures will be.”
Currently, China’s fighter jets do not have the range to undertake extended operations east of Taiwan, military analysts told WSJ. So, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a term for China’s military, has begun exercises where fighter jets take turns conducting refueling operations with transport jets.
However, Lewis said that China has a long way to go before it can pose a significant threat to the U.S. military.
“They need to do a lot more of these drills before I would say that they’re really in a position to realistically threaten the United States’ ability to intervene in the conflict in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Other analysts have told the Washington Post that China is trying to “create a new normal,” stating that they don’t really need a reason for the drills.
“They can display their military might at any time. They want to put constant pressure on Taiwan’s perimeter. One of the things they want to say is that they can blockade Taiwan anytime if they want to,” said Lin Ying-yu, a professor who teaches PLA studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.