June 5, 2023

The four-day exercise around Taiwan has provided a rare glimpse into the progress China has made towards its goal of victory in any major conflict, including a potential war against the United States over Taiwan.

Years ago, President Xi Jinping promised to build the Chinese military into a world-class fighting force that could dominate the Asia-Pacific region. The just-completed exercise gave the world a glimpse of how far China’s military has come from its last war — a failed attempt to defeat Vietnam in a three-week border conflict in 1979. Although the Chinese military participated in the exercise this time, not the actual conflict, the exercise is a large-scale dress rehearsal for any combat operation.

The exercise, which featured fighter and bomber dispatches and naval exercises, showcased what is believed to be the first time China has launched a missile over the island of Taiwan. The People’s Liberation Army said on Sunday that it had conducted joint training in the waters and airspace around the island to test its ability to strike ground targets and conduct long-range air combat.

A Chinese warship was seen near Pingtan Island in Fujian province on Friday.


Hector Retamar/AFP/Getty Images

Taken together, the drills show how China will respond to an invasion of the Taiwan Strait, one of the most dangerous flashpoints of the 21st century, and signal a new seriousness in Xi’s plan, military analysts said. Turn the situation around. The country’s huge military-industrial complex became a cohesive fighting force.

“The ability to conduct joint operations in Taiwan has been a driving force in China’s military strategy and force modernization for more than two decades,” said M. Taylor Fravel, a Chinese military expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who also noted that the exercise is China’s One of the few drills that provides so much drill detail. “We shouldn’t be surprised by what the PLA is doing, how it’s doing it or what it has achieved.”

Mr Flaville added that the first signs that Beijing could coordinate the different branches of the military were the success of the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, the main regional command responsible for Taiwan, which was established in 2016 as part of a military reorganization to Joint actions in enhancing executive capacity.

The drills began earlier last week after an angry Chinese government protested against U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.

A Hong Kong TV broadcast of the missile launch during the military exercise.


Isa Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

The drills began at noon on Thursday in the six areas effectively encircling Taiwan. Several of these areas face Taiwan’s largest commercial port and overlap with Taipei’s claimed territorial waters within 12 miles of its coastline, which some military analysts liken to a temporary blockade.

According to Chinese media reports, all major military services participated in the exercise, including the army, navy, air force, rocket force and logistics support force.

The United States is Taiwan’s long-term security partner and is legally obligated to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. For decades, the United States has maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity, without saying whether it will directly intervene in the conflict. While the White House has said the policy has not changed, President Biden has said the United States will defend Taiwan if China tries to invade. As far as Beijing is concerned, Mrs. Pelosi’s visit is another sign that the United States is backing away from previous commitments to limit ties with Taiwan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei last week.


Wang Yuqing/Taiwan Presidential Office/Zuma Publishing House

The Pentagon said PLA officials had not returned calls from their counterparts in the Pentagon since last weekend.

“The People’s Republic of China has chosen to overreact and use the Speaker’s visit as an excuse to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait,” acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said in a statement. “Part of this overreaction has been to severely limit its defense activities when any responsible nation recognizes that we need them most now.”

U.S. defense officials have said they are still weeks away from analyzing all the information they have learned while watching the Chinese exercises, especially how the Chinese navy maneuvers and commands ships in joint operations with the air force.

In addition to aerial surveys, the United States has retained an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, and its entourage in the region throughout the exercise.

The Beijing-backed South China Sea Strategic Situational Exploration Initiative said on its Twitter account that the U.S. has deployed surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in the region, including RC-135s, P-8s and E-3s, with KC-135 tankers refueling in the air. hand. The Pentagon declined to comment.

The CCTV news broadcast in Beijing included a map of the locations of military exercises around Taiwan.


Thomas Peter/Reuters

Military analysts said that while China deployed some of the latest weapons for the exercise, there appeared to be no unknown military hardware. Some say China is not using enough ships to show that they can prevent ships from reaching Taiwan.

Instead, it used ships such as destroyers and cruisers in the exercise, which are not ideal for conducting a blockade, naval observers said. Brian Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said that while the Chinese navy used as many as 50 ships for exercises, it did not use enough smaller, more flexible vessels, such as frigates, to better sustain Taiwan. Blockade around. .

“What we’ve seen in the exercise is that China is not using enough ships to divert those who come in, to inspect or detain them, and to cut off access to Taiwanese ports. They have enough capacity to quickly inspect incoming ships and slow down Taiwan’s economy. ,” Mr Clark said. “It’s more of a demonstration of quarantine than a show that they can cut off Taiwan. But it would be a good first step for China.”

China continued its second day of military exercises near Taiwan on Friday. The drills were in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called China’s actions in the region a “major escalation.”Photo: Aly Song/Reuters

Potentially useful intelligence that could be gleaned from the exercise includes assessing how the missile brigades are coordinating with each other, and assessing what comes from strikes, said Christopher Twomey, an associate professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Graduate School in Monterey, California. The information can be obtained from intercepted communications, he said.

“Presumably, the U.S. intelligence community has obtained substantial material on ‘Overgrown’ capabilities and operational practices from these activities from classified sources,” Mr. Twomey said.

Several close observers of the Chinese military noted that the exercises were far from a full-scale rehearsal of an invasion of Taiwan, an autonomous island that Beijing said it would place under its control. Attempts to seize and control the island would involve an amphibious invasion across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait, but there has been no sign of mobilizing amphibious forces in recent exercises.

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Thomas Shugart, a former U.S. submarine warfare officer and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the Chinese exercises may have been pre-planned as Beijing wanted to demonstrate its resolve to go to war over Taiwan.

Shugart said China’s decision to conduct exercises in waters that Taiwan considers its territorial waters for the first time showed Beijing’s increased military risk appetite, but only in the face of a response from Taiwan or U.S. forces.

“Overall, what we learned was mostly political intent: the Chinese were concerned about trends in U.S.-Taiwan relations and what they believed we were reneging on commitments made in the 1970s, and every administration since then has reiterated that we will not support an independent Taiwan,” Mr Twomey said. “They are using military tools to communicate that these shifts in U.S. policy have a military price.”

write to Alastair Gale (alastair.gale@wsj.com) and Nancy A. Youssef (nancy.youssef@wsj.com)

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