Communist China’s military conducted drills in the South China Sea as President Joe Biden sent an unofficial delegation to the island nation of Taiwan as a “personal signal” of support. Ma Xiaoguang, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman, said that the military drills were aimed at sending the message that Beijing is determined to stop Taiwan from working with the United States and prevent the island from being recognized internationally. Though a democratically elected administration governs Taiwan, Beijing has dismissed the idea of the island’s sovereignty.
According to China’s communist government, Taiwan — which officially calls itself the Republic of China (ROC) — is a ‘wayward province’ that will eventually be annexed to create a unified China, something they intend to achieve either through diplomacy or force. The military drills were held very close to an island near Taiwan. In addition, Beijing also sent 25 warplanes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). According to the Taiwanese defense ministry, the Chinese incursion involved 14 J-16 fighter jets, four H-6K bombers, four J-10 fighter jets, two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft.
Ma blamed the current situation on Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who he accused of working with external powers to make Taiwan independent. “We do not promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures. We are aimed at the interference of external forces and the very small number of separatists and their separatist activities. We are definitely not aimed at compatriots in Taiwan,” Ma said in a statement.
Kang Lin, a research fellow at Hainan University in southern China, noted that the military drills are clearly a declaration of Chinese sovereignty, further strengthening Beijing’s claims over Taiwan and the South China Sea. It was also a warning for foreign nations not to intervene on these two issues. White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently stated that the U.S. was not looking for a confrontation with China. However, she accused Beijing of taking coercive action to harm democracy in Taiwan. She also labeled PRC activity in the Taiwan Strait as “potentially destabilizing.”
The live-fire People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drills came as Taiwan announced that it will be upgrading a runway in the Pratas Islands near which the Chinese military exercises are underway. The ROC Ministry of National Defense (MND) has mandated that the runway upgrade must be completed by February next year. Once ready, the runway can be utilized by the Taiwanese military to transport assets to support their troops. In addition, the defense ministry is planning to deploy 292 Kestrel anti-armor rockets on the Pratas Islands and Taiping Island, which is also located in the South China Sea. The Kestrel anti-armor rockets are capable of piercing armor and concrete.
The PLA’s 25 warplanes into Taiwan’s ADIZ was the biggest single-day recorded incursion in ROC history. It was also the 10th consecutive day that mainland Chinese aircraft breached Taiwan’s air defense zone. In total, Beijing has sent around 76 aircraft to Taiwan in April, compared with 81, 40, and 54 in January, February, and March, respectively. Chieh Chung, a research fellow at the Association of Strategic Foresight in Taipei, thinks that it is only natural for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to increase its military activities off the coast of Taiwan, and that Beijing was likely conducting a “simulated attack.”
For instance, the incursion with 25 planes was done when the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group was present north of the Philippines. The incident occurred after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated America’s support for Taiwan. He had warned China that trying to change the existing status quo with regard to Taiwan would be a “serious mistake.”
“Public ship-tracking data put the Theodore Roosevelt CSG north of the Philippine island of Luzon on Monday… the PLA Air Force likely took the opportunity to make a run on the aircraft carrier in a “simulated attack.” The data also shows the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group further in the South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy assets had conducted joint exercises,” a Newsweek article states.
Biden’s ‘personal signal’
Biden’s delegation to Taiwan consists of former Deputy Secretaries James Steinberg and Richard Armitage as well as former Senator Chris Dodd, who met with President Tsai. Xavier Chang, a spokesman for the ROC president, said that the visit is a sign that the US-Taiwan relationship was based on a solid foundation. The delegation’s visit to Taiwan coincides with the forty second anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act that Biden had backed while he was a senator.
“We are not even three months into the Biden administration and already we’ve seen a clear push to add greater depth and texture to the US-Taiwan relationship… In the long-termed ‘robust unofficial’ relationship, increasing emphasis is being placed on the ‘robust’ part of that phrasing,” Maggie Lewis, a professor at Seton Hall Law school who writes on Taiwan and China issues, told Al Jazeera.
The visit follows a new set of rules introduced by the U.S. State Department, regarding government contacts with Taiwan. The department stated that the Biden administration wanted to liberalize these rules so that they reflect the strengthening official relationship between the two nations. However, the new rules do not contain all the changes that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had implemented during the last days of the Trump administration.
Pompeo had allowed Taiwan military officers to display the ROC flag and wear military uniforms when meeting with American officials. The new rules do not speak of such changes but allow U.S. officials to meet with Taiwanese officials in federal buildings. The state department accused Pompeo changes of “impeding” Washington’s unofficial engagement with Taiwan. It said that the new rules would “rectify” such problems.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that their government has lodged “solemn representations” with the United States on the issue of Biden sending a delegation to Taiwan. He asked Washington to abide by Beijing’s interpretation of the “One China” principle and immediately cease all official interactions with the ROC.