by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Public Domain

IT REMAINS OPAQUE as to whether military drilling by China around Taiwan will continue in the coming days. Namely, although the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) initially announced that its four days of live-fire drills would end on Sunday, yesterday it announced that military exercises in the area would continue. The drills are an escalation for the Chinese military, seeing as they take place closer to Taiwan than took place during the Third Taiwan Straits Crisis. Today’s drills will see an emphasis on anti-submarine warfare and sea raids. 

The announcement did not specify when or where any upcoming drills would take place, while areas around Taiwan in which live-fire exercises would take place were specified for previous drills. National militaries normally announce 24 hours in advance when planning live-fire exercises. That being said, China changed its original specifications for drilling, adding a new location to its original, which Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau added to its list of areas that Taiwanese fishing vessels or commercial vessels should avoid on Thursday morning. Drilling in this area was to continue on Monday. 

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has taken an increasingly proactive role respond to disinformation during present tensions

Some experts have warned of the possibility that the PLA intends to regularize drilling east of the median line of the Taiwan Straits. Chinese state-run media outlets have also suggested that this might take place. 

In particular, China framed its drilling around Taiwan as a blockade, while the Taiwanese government also framed the drills as being a de facto blockade. Despite it continuing to be unclear whether drills are, in fact, over, maritime traffic through affected areas has resumed. During the drilling, the Taiwanese government warned fishing vessels not to pass through the area, to maintain communications, and to notify authorities if they encountered any Chinese vessels. 

Nevertheless, the Chinese government has stepped up its efforts to militarily intimidate other powers in the region, not just Taiwan. During the course of the four-day drilling, China lobbed missiles over Taiwan, the first time that China has done so, with missiles fired from Pingtan passing over Taipei and into the drilling area to simulate an assault on Taipei. 

Yet some missiles also landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which Japan’s Ministry of Defense believes was deliberate. Chinese vessels were also reported to have approached the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands before being warned off, something which also took place before the Pelosi visit. 

China’s efforts at intimidation have not only targeted Japan, however, with plans to conduct drilling in the Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea, near South Korea. It is unclear why China has decided to preemptively lash out all at once with a show of force directed against regional powers with close military ties to the US, when this might lead to their aligning together against it. Indeed, a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the president of the Philippines, “Bongbong” Marcos, served to reaffirm US-Philippines military ties in this backdrop. 

Taiwan intends to carry out military drills this week in Pingtung, in light of recent events. However, this will take place inland, so as to avoid inflaming regional tensions. If China intends to carry out a blockade of Taiwan, it is unlikely that the Taiwanese military would not react to it in some way. Today, the Ministry of National Defense reported on Chinese information warfare, stating that it had found 272 disinformation messages this month. 

Tweet by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about his meeting with Philippines president “Bongbong” Marcos

Indeed, the possibility for escalation remains high. The US has announced that it will sail vessels through the Taiwan Strait, which the Chinese government has begun emphasizing claims over, in the near future, and retains forces on stand-by regionally. The US and India will also conduct joint military exercises near the disputed border with China in the coming days, as well. 

At the same time, despite clearly heightened tensions, it bears reminding we are still far from anything like a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, which would be telegraphed in advance through soldiers massing on the coasts of China and is complicated by China’s lack of sufficient ships to bring troops over to conduct a long-term occupation of Taiwan. Nor is it as though the US and China are on the verge of nuclear war over Taiwan; if Ukraine is to serve as any example, the US would be highly cautious of direct involvement in a conflict, in spite of the high-level ties that the US and Taiwan currently enjoy. Though the risk of escalation is certainly there, it is also important to avoid unrealistic, hyperbolic views of the present outlook as well. 

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