by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook

CHINA HAS AGAIN set records with drills directed at Taiwan, carrying out “strike drills” around Taiwan in the past week. This is in response to US president Joe Biden signing the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act into law. Part of the provisions of the law authorized 12 billion USD in loans for Taiwan to purchase arms across six years, between 2023 and 2027, with 2 billion USD per year. 

In particular, in a 24-hour period from 6 AM on Sunday to 6 AM Monday, 78 Chinese military craft were in waters or airspace around Taiwan. The Chinese military craft consisted of 71 aircraft and 7 naval vessels. 

This was the most Chinese military craft detected near Taiwan in a 24-hour period this year, even surpassing the live-fire drills that China conducted in August. The live-fire drills took place closer to Taiwan than during the Third Taiwan Straits Crisis and were a reaction to the historic visit to Taiwan of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi was the first US Speaker of the House to visit Taiwan in 25 years. 

China clearly aimed to register its displeasure with the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, then. This proved a strong reaction after a relatively quiet period. China did not significantly increase drills around Taiwan in the timeframe around Chinese National Day on October 1st and around when Taiwan commemorates National Day on October 10th.

Last year, China escalated its military threats in this timeframe by increasing intrusions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone to a daily basis. That this did not occur this year is probably because of China’s 20th National Congress, scheduled for October, with the CCP hoping for stability ahead of the Congress. It was expected that Xi would be confirmed for an unprecedented third term at the Congress–which did eventually occur. Indeed, the timing of

Pelosi’s visit made it so that China’s ability to respond would be limited ahead of the 20th National Congress. 

At the same time, reactions in Taiwan to the drills were muted. This, too, was the case with the Chinese live-fire drills that took place after the Pelosi visit, in which even as international headlines crowed about the potential for World War III, Taiwanese who would directly be in the line of fire in the event of conflict did not react. 

It may be that Taiwanese have grown accustomed to Chinese threats that have persisted for decades. Likewise, one notes that China has largely failed to establish a narrative of progressively escalating threats with its military displays, with such threats instead coming off as repetitive in nature. 

Correspondingly, there has not been much discussion of the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act in Taiwan. The act authorizes not only 2 billion in loans for defense spending per year, but for the US president to divert up to 1 billion USD worth of military equipment to Taiwan, the building of a regional contingency stockpile that Taiwan could potentially draw on for military conflict, and expediting arms shipments to Taiwan. The bill also calls on Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the 2024 Rim of the Pacific exercises, the establishment of a program for scholars, and supports Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations. 

But, to this extent, it is also to be questioned if China’s most recent spate of military threats was primarily intended to send a signal to Taiwan or to the US. Certainly, if China hoped for more international attention, particularly from western countries, it might have been prudent to time the drills for a different occasion than Christmas Day. 

Shortly after the drills, on Tuesday afternoon, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen announced the re-extension of the military draft from the current four months to one year. This was not in reaction to the recent drills, with Tsai anticipated to make such an announcement before the end of the year. Nevertheless, it is possible that China inadvertently added weight to the capacity of the Tsai administration to make this shift–which might prove electorally unpopular for the Tsai administration–through its recent drilling. This would be another way in which Chinese military drills aimed at intimidating Taiwan can have the opposite effect, in making it more expedient for the DPP to take measures aimed at deterring China. 

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