China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has launched a six-day, live-fire military exercise in the East China Sea in a region that simulates an invasion of Taiwan, a move military strategist believe will send a powerful message to the United States over relations with Taipei.
Geopolitical intelligence analysts told the South China Morning Post that the exercise is part of Beijing’s effort to increase military readiness and defend the “one China” policy, under which leaked documents specify Beijing has a secret plan to invade Taiwan by 2020.
The exercise began on Wednesday at 8:00 am and is expected to conclude at 6:00 pm on July 23. All non-military vessels are prohibited from entering the designated live-fire drill area and must follow the guidance of guard ships to ensure safety, stated a public notice released by Zhejiang Maritime Safety Administration on Monday.
The exercise’s coordinates below provided by the administration shows the drill spans from the shores of Zhoushan, East China’s Zhejiang Province to sea areas east of Wenzhou, also in Zhejiang Province.
The exercise is intended to warn the “Taiwan independence” forces, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
“The drill’s main objective is to send a serious warning to Taiwan separatists,” Song said.
An unnamed military expert also told the Global Times on Tuesday that parts of the East China Sea will be “the main battlefield” if a conflict breaks out in the future.
“The PLA Air Force and Navy have been frequently conducting island encirclement exercises. The drill this time will add up and form a military deterrence of high pressure against the Taiwan separatists,” according to Song.
Comments from the military experts above are in sharp contrast in tone to President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Lien Chan, former chairman of Taiwan’s mainland-friendly Kuomintang, in Beijing last week, when the Chinese president said “we have the confidence and ability to … work for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, and advance the process toward the peaceful reunification of China”.
Earlier this month, Taiwan’s Army considered making a new round of arms purchases from the Pentagon and could likely purchase two tank battalions with 100 M1A2 battle tanks.
The drill also started several days after Taiwan deployed its second squadron of Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Maritime Security Programme at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told the South China Morning Post that the drill was strategically placed to send signals to “players in the Taiwan Strait situation” while not causing tension elsewhere.
A few weeks back, USS Mustin (DDG-89) and USS Benfold (DDG 65) guided missile destroyers sailed through the Taiwan Strait, becoming the first American warships to do so in a year.
Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming told the South China Morning Post: “The passage of US warships has worsened Sino-US relations and bolstered the separatists’ forces in the island. The Chinese military should respond in a timely manner to the situation.”
Are the US and China headed for a shooting war over Taiwan? If the progression of events below serves as a benchmark — the answer is yes.