China again increases military activity against Taiwan
Twenty-eight fighter jets surveyed Taiwan’s defenses earlier this week.
It was the most powerful force to do so to date. Is this President Xi Jinping’s “trustworthy, kind and humble” new China?
The June 15 incursion into the airspace claimed by Taiwan represents a significant increase in firepower.
It comprised the most modern of Chinese fighter planes. It was a complete “strike package” containing command, surveillance, strategic strike and long-range combat aircraft.
“Didn’t President Xi order you to make China trustworthy, kind and respectable?” Asked a tweet from the Taipei Foreign Ministry. “Didn’t he also order you to chain the wolves and to be modest and humble?” It’s time to check the reality. Threatening Taiwan militarily and diplomatically violates the great man’s orders!
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The timing of the flight was also remarkable.
An American battle group centered on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was passing by en route to cover the American retreat from Afghanistan.
And, just two days earlier, Group of Seven leaders issued a joint statement criticizing Beijing for undermining peace and stability in the region.
“You must not interfere in China’s internal affairs, China’s reputation must not be slandered, and China’s interests must not be violated,” its diplomatic officials said.
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Beijing says Taiwan is an “internal” affair. This despite the fact that the UN-mandated island never surrendered to the Chinese Communist Party during the 1949 revolution.
Beijing calls for “reunification”.
Taipei does not want to be “assimilated”.
President Xi also insists that the entire South China Sea is part of mainland China’s sovereign heritage. Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia, however, disagree.
But that didn’t stop China from sending 16 combat transport planes into Malaysian UN-defined waters earlier this month.
Xi may want to switch back from ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy to ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in terms of tone, but that probably won’t change the way China defines its core national interests, ”the national executive director said. from the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA). Dr Bryce Wakefield told News Corp.
The air operation was large, coordinated and comprehensive. At its heart were four H-6 bombers capable of carrying ballistic and cruise missiles. These can be armed with nuclear or conventional warheads.
In their wake flew Y-8 anti-submarine and electronic warfare planes capable of generating immense “noise” to blind enemy sensors. And around them was a large force of J-16 long-range fighters.
Keeping a close watch on this mass of warplanes, two KJ-500 early warning and command aircraft, with their own J-11 interceptor and J-16 fighter protection detachment nearby.
In total, this force numbered 28.
It was only three more than the previous largest bullying effort on April 12.
But it represented a tailor-made package capable of tackling anything it encountered.
“Deducing the intentions of Chinese action is always difficult because of the lack of transparency around its military planning,” says Dr Wakefield.
Perhaps it was a response to the USS Ronald Reagan. This was perhaps another example of “strategic intimidation”.
“The incursions may also have been a response to the G7 statement on Taiwan,” adds Dr Wakefield. “Although there was general agreement within the G7 that China’s behavior is problematic, leaders were divided on the extent to which they should take a hard line on China. Beijing may be hoping that such authoritarian actions will make world leaders think twice before challenging its authority. “
Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Bureau said the operation was a response to “acts of collusion” between Taiwan and “foreign forces.”
Taiwanese media report that Chinese pilots hit the airwaves to taunt “this is our territory”, “are you used to this” and “This is the high seas, okay? Read some books ”. The plane passed near Taiwan’s remote Pratas Atoll and swept across the east coast of the original island.
Taipei jammed fighter jets and activated air defense radars in response. He also reportedly issued around 15 flight safety warnings, stating: “If something happens, you are responsible!” “
The US Navy said the USS Ronald Reagan did not report any “interactions” with Chinese planes that day. In February, a group of Chinese H-6 bombers reportedly carried out a “mock attack” against the attack group of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Chinese military activity around Taiwan is at its highest level since the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995. This was sparked by Beijing waging invasion war games while firing live missiles off the coast. from Taiwan.
RAND Corporation analyst Derek Grossman said such military provocations “help the PLA air force improve its operational capabilities in accordance with the leadership directive to train under realistic conditions.” .
“The bottom line is that this latest operation, for me, represents the next logical step towards preparing the PLA for real combat,” he told South China morning post.
But Dr Wakefield argues that “there is a difference between the message and the reality”.
“A planned military takeover of the island is still unlikely in the short to medium term, given Taiwan’s strategic importance to the United States and, above all, its main allies such as Japan. China also has other means of punishing or exerting pressure on Taiwan, including through attrition methods. The increase in flights is therefore probably more a question of posture than of actual preparation for war. “
Singapore-based international affairs experts Dr Adrian Ang U-Jin and Dr Olli Pekka Suorsa say there is much more at stake here than the anti-Taiwan “saber rattling”.
“We contend that Chinese air forays into Taiwan’s ADIZ have had the United States in their sights more often than Taipei,” they write.
They point to Beijing’s “dissatisfaction” with Washington’s improved diplomatic relations with Taipei. This is increased surveillance of the strategic Bashi Canal between Taiwan and the Philippines. It is a counter-foot to the American demonstrations of force. And he is trying to establish a “new normal” for the expansion of the activities of the People’s Liberation Army.
“These large-scale, high-profile forays are rare occurrences,” said Drs U-Jin and Suorsa. “90% of incursions involve no more than four sorties (aircraft), 3.5% involve five to nine sorties and less than 3% involve 10-14 aircraft.”
But what’s also evident in the data, they say, is the continued increase in the amount and intensity of activity. And this activity is usually in direct response to American acts – such as diplomatic visits to Taipei.
Deciphering Beijing’s belligerence keeps a multitude of experts in international affairs awake.
His contradictory messages don’t make things any easier.
“Any change in Chinese diplomacy as a result of Xi’s speech will be in tone – not in substance,” Dr Wakefield said. “Beijing understands that there are a multitude of issues for which it must cooperate with other powers, and its recent wolf warrior diplomacy is not conducive to that. Beijing also realizes that the tone is being set from above.
While President Xi may have approved of the tone in the past, diplomatic tirades were less likely to be coordinated. Instead, they were “a response from individual diplomats playing what they think Beijing wants.”
“It is clear that the regime is realizing that the uncontrollable excesses of blunt Chinese diplomats have damaged China’s standing in the international community,” said Dr Wakefield.
But Beijing will never be slow to assert its interests.
“We will resolutely defend our national sovereignty, our security and our development interests, and resolutely fight against all kinds of injustices and offenses imposed on China,” retorted the Beijing Embassy in London after the G7 statement.
It is a position that leaves little room for compromise.
Especially with equally resolute comments from the opposition.
“China’s growing military activity near Taiwan is destabilizing and increases the risk of miscalculation,” a Pentagon spokesperson said. “Our commitment to Taiwan is unwavering and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region. In response to the growing threat from the PRC, we will continue to deepen our informal security relationship to ensure that Taiwan has sufficient capacity to defend itself. “
It’s a storyline that will continue to play out in the airs and waters of Southeast Asia.
“China will continue to push the boundaries in the South China Sea, and while the United States and others make statements about its behavior, ultimately its behavior is likely to be tolerated,” Dr Wakefield said.
But, he said, the main concern is the increase in airline activity in the South China Sea.
“Given the dynamics of maritime operations, there is usually more time to assess a military accident or provocation, which means rapid escalation is less likely and a cool head may prevail. With Beijing’s increased use of landing flights, there is a greater risk that an accident or provocation will get out of hand. “
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel