June 6, 2023

HONG KONG — China wrapped up a four-day live-fire and combat exercise that showcased its growing offensive capabilities against Taiwan and updated Beijing’s toolkit to terrorize island democracy.

On Sunday, the People’s Liberation Army said it would conduct joint training in the waters and airspace around the island to test the PLA’s ability to strike ground targets and conduct long-range air combat. China Central Television broadcast footage of the exercise on its evening news program, showing jet fighters and strategic bombers, the latter armed with air-to-surface missiles, carrying out what the state broadcaster said was a simulated attack.

The drills, announced in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on Tuesday, are China’s most high-profile show of force in decades near an autonomous island that Beijing claims as its territory. The drills also provided clues to how China’s attack on Taiwan unfolded, demonstrating the PLA’s ability to impose an air and sea blockade of the island ahead of an amphibious landing.

“China now clearly has the confidence and capability to conduct exercises from all directions near Taiwan,” said M. Taylor Fravel, a professor and director of the Security Studies Program at MIT.

“These exercises show that China may now be able to carry out certain actions that it may not have been able to carry out in the past, such as a physical blockade of Taiwan’s ports, perhaps closing the Taiwan Strait,” Mr Flaville said, adding that Beijing may continue to do so in the future A similar exercise to put pressure on Taipei.

Beijing responded to Mrs. Pelosi’s (Calif.) visit by combining military exercises with diplomatic tactics and suspending some cooperation with Washington, which could also prevent some countries from getting closer to Taipei.

Bilahari Kausikan, a former senior Singaporean diplomat, said that while China cannot stop the United States and Japan from supporting Taiwan, other governments in Asia and Europe may become more cautious. He noted, for example, that the South Korean president refused to meet Mrs. Pelosi when she was passing through Seoul after a stop in Taipei.

After the dust settles, it remains an open question whether Mrs. Pelosi’s visit will bring net benefits to Taiwan, Kauskan said.

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees forces near Taiwan, has not officially announced the end of the four-day exercise. On Sunday, Taiwan said it would gradually lift flight restrictions over its airspace as the deadline for China to conduct live-fire exercises in six declared areas has passed. Taiwan’s transport ministry said Taiwanese authorities would continue to divert ships and planes from a seventh area on the island’s east coast — an area not yet recognised by China — until Monday morning.

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

Beijing revealed on Saturday that the Chinese military will conduct new exercises in waters off China’s northeastern coast near the Korean peninsula over the next month, expanding the PLA’s series of exercises in the region.

Since the drills began near Taiwan on Thursday, Eastern Theater Command surrounded the island with rocket and ballistic missile fire and sent warships and planes within the confines of Taiwanese military bases and major commercial ports — exercises Chinese military officials say Demonstrated the ability of the PLA to blockade the island. China’s two operational aircraft carriers also exercised jointly for the first time.

The People’s Liberation Army has flown drones over the Taiwan-controlled islands of Kinmen and Matsu, which are located near mainland China. Taiwanese troops fired flares at drones, a symbolic gesture that poses little threat, although the drills have sparked some debate among Taiwanese over whether their military should have responded more forcefully, such as shooting down drones. Man-machine or electronically disable it.

It was not possible to determine whether Chinese troops conducted live fire during all four days of the exercise. No live ammunition was fired during the drills carried out by the PLA and state media from Friday to Sunday.

People’s Liberation Army officials said the drills demonstrated China’s improved ability to deter U.S. military intervention in Taiwan’s defenses. Major General Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, said on state television that the USS Ronald Reagan retreated hundreds of kilometers after Beijing announced it would launch missiles into the waters east of Taiwan.

General Meng also cited the circuitous flight path that Mrs. Pelosi’s plane traced to Taipei as a sign of how the PLA can build an effective deterrent around Taiwan. On Tuesday, Mrs. Pelosi’s plane circled east of the Philippines as it flew from Malaysia to Taiwan, offering a wide berth toward the South China Sea, where Beijing has established a significant military presence.

A spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command declined to comment on Meng’s claims. White House officials have said U.S. forces will continue to operate in the Western Pacific as before, with the USS Ronald Reagan ordered to remain in general areas near Taiwan “to monitor the situation.”

During the exercise, Chinese state media also released images that appeared to show the People’s Liberation Army operating within sight of Taiwan’s coastline and its troops. For example, the official Xinhua News Agency released photos and footage of what appeared to be Taiwanese warships and Taiwan’s east coast on Chinese naval vessels.

The Chinese images were mocked by some Taiwanese analysts and social media users who claimed they had been doctored. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense fought back, posting a photo of what appeared to be a Taiwanese frigate tracking a nearby PLA warship, along with the caption “Absolutely real! No Photoshop required!”

As the PLA drills unfolded, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials assured residents that Taiwan’s military was capable of repelling any Chinese threat, while accusing Beijing of undermining regional peace and stability.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense also issued a statement suggesting that China’s claims should not be accepted. For example, the Defense Department insists that a ballistic missile China fired into the waters east of Taiwan on Thursday overflew Taiwan’s altitude, beyond the airspace defined by Taipei.

“China has been ranting and threatening since the news that Pelosi was planning to visit Taiwan some time ago, but all the rants and threats have failed to stop her from visiting,” said Mr Koskan, a former Singaporean diplomat. “So to save face — both internally and externally — Beijing had to respond in a dramatic way, and it did.”

Still, China has avoided taking a tougher stance to protest Mrs. Pelosi’s visit, such as starting combat drills while Pelosi was in Taiwan or recalling its ambassador to Washington. Some users on Chinese social media expressed dismay at the lukewarm response they saw, but many others were excited to see footage of the PLA exercises appearing on military and state media accounts.

“U.S.-China relations are always going to be complicated,” Mr. Coscan said. Even so, “both sides are not asking for trouble, and Beijing’s interest is to have a stable external environment ahead of the party’s 20th National Congress,” he said, referring to the biannual Politburo meeting later this year. . Xi Jinping is expected to be re-elected as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China.

write to Chun Han Wong Email: chunhan.wong@wsj.com

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