On Aug. 17, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted military drills near Taiwan, with fighter jets, combat ships, and anti-submarine aircraft participating in the exercise. The drills were conducted near the southeastern and southwestern waters of Taiwan, in the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea as well as the Bashi Channel that connects them both. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regards Taiwan as a wayward province and intends to annex it to create a united China.
Shi Yi, a colonel, and spokesman for the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command stated that the drills are aimed at testing the joint operation capabilities of its various assets. He said that the drills were necessary to protect “national sovereignty.”
“Recently, the United States and Taiwan have repeatedly provoked and sent serious wrong signals, severely infringed upon China’s sovereignty and severely undermined the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, which has become the biggest source of security risks across the Taiwan Strait,” Shi said.
‘Rare’ amphibious assault drills
What makes the Aug. 17 drills different from regular ones carried out by the PLA was that these were assault drills. In an interview with The Epoch Times, Su Tzu-yun, director of Defense Strategy and Resources Division of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, called these drills a “threat” to Taiwan.
“It’s special and rare that the PLA performs a military exercise in both seas. In the military sense, the PLA wants to show that it can cut the U.S. Navy’s transportation line via the Bashi Channel to the South China Sea [from the Philippine Sea],” Su said.
According to China expert Michael Cole, the recent exercises were aimed at creating a psychological effect. The significance of such exercises is hyped up by the Chinese state media and officials “in order to send a signal.”
Just prior to the drills, 11 PLA airplanes entered Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. The Taiwanese air force sent jets to shadow the planes, monitored their activity, and issued radio warnings. In June, Beijing had sent 28 fighter jets towards Taiwan.
The Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) Defense Ministry stated that the country’s military had made a full assessment of the situation and is prepared for various responses.
According to Wang Zhen Ming, a Taiwanese defense commentator, the island nation was growing numb with the frequent incursions of Chinese aircraft.
“This is good and bad … China’s military drills don’t really have an effect on Taiwan, but from the bad side, and this may also be the purpose of PLA, Taiwan can lower its guard with the frequency,” Wang said to The Guardian.
Earlier in August, the U.S. State Department had approved the sale of 40 155mm M109A6 medium self-propelled howitzer artillery systems to Taiwan. The deal, worth $750 million, is Biden administration’s first approved arms sales to the island nation since he assumed power in January.
Last year, Washington had approved the sale of coastal missile defenders and drones to Taiwan in a bid to upgrade its defense capabilities against a potential Chinese invasion. Last week, officers from Taiwan and U.S. coast guards met to discuss ways to improve communication and cooperation.
American troops, Afghanistan propaganda
Meanwhile, a mistaken tweet by Republican Senator John Cornyn on Taiwan sent Chinese media into a frenzy. The senator had incorrectly claimed that the U.S. has 30,000 troops stationed in Taiwan. Cornyn later deleted the tweet. But by that time, it had grown into a major topic in the mainland.
State-backed media Global Times warned that if the senator’s claims were true, the PLA would soon “destroy and expel” American troops and forcefully annex the island. The existence of so many U.S. military personnel in Taiwan would violate agreements signed between Beijing and Washington, the outlet claimed.
“Those US troops must withdraw from the island immediately and unconditionally, and both the US government and the Taiwan authorities should publicly apologize for this. Otherwise, we believe that an all-out war across the Taiwan Straits will break out quickly, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will wipe out the US forces, liberate the island of Taiwan, and settle the Taiwan question once and for all,” the Global Times article stated.
The mainland Chinese media is also attempting to paint America as an unreliable power amidst the ongoing Afghanistan crisis. Biden administration’s decision to pull out troops has resulted in thousands of Americans and Afghan aides trapped in the country.
On Aug. 16, Global Times published an article in which it said that the incident is a “lesson for Taiwan’s DPP.” DPP is the ruling pro-democratic government of Taiwan. It suggested that Washington will repeat what happened in Afghanistan and not be there to defend the Taiwanese when China finally invades.
In an interview with CNBC, Rodger Baker, senior vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor, pointed out that Beijing’s military exercises near Taiwan come as China is attempting to project America as a weak power.
“So you look at this exercise, you put it in the context of the Chinese allowing state media to issue reports basically saying that the U.S. would abandon Taiwan just as fast as it would abandon Afghanistan… And the Chinese are able to try to use that to shape perceptions in Taiwan that there is no path forward for independence and they ought to rethink their relationship with the mainland,” Baker said.