PLA maneuvers in region driven by internal politics: scholars

09/25/2020 02:31 PM
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A PLA Y-8 anti-submarine airplane. File photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense
A PLA Y-8 anti-submarine airplane. File photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense

Taipei, Sept. 25 (CNA) China has been intensifying its military maneuvers in the region, including sending warplanes over the median line of the Taiwan Strait, because of political pressures being faced by the country's leadership, scholars argued Thursday.

Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University's Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, told CNA the Chinese regime has faced growing pressure from within, especially since initiating large-scale military reforms in 2016.

These reforms of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) led to the merger of several military units and the scrapping of others, Lin said, and the PLA needs to show its servicemen and the public that the reforms have succeeded in beefing up China's military might.

The Taiwan Strait provides a perfect venue for PLA forces to demonstrate the results of the reform campaign and ease the internal pressures the regime in Beijing and the military are facing, Lin said.

As Taiwan has tightened its engagement with the United States in recent months, China's military has intensified the frequency of its maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and surrounding areas.

On Thursday, a PLA Y-8 anti-submarine airplane entered Taiwan's ADIZ, the seventh time since Sept. 16. PLA aircraft have flown into Taiwan's ADIZ or crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, seen by Taiwan as provocative moves.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the Institute of National Defense and Security Research, agreed with Lin that the moves have had value domestically, and that having PLA aircraft cross the median line was an issue Beijing felt was worth exploiting.

It has enabled China to demonstrate its military strength but in a way that does not significantly increase the risk of an all-out war in the region because the median line is a gray area.

Beyond the air game, the PLA has engaged in several small-scale exercises in open seas or near China's coastline that are also intended to allay domestic political and military pressure and are more propaganda than genuine military threats, Su argued.

According to Lin, the crossing of the median line by PLA aircraft is also related to the United States' role in the region.

The concept of the median line is thought to have been established by the U.S. in 1954 to prevent further conflicts between the Communists in China and Nationalists in Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949.

China has never openly recognized the median line, but its military assets rarely violated it until recently when the United States and Taiwan stepped up their political and military engagement.

Lin said the two sides of the Strait and the U.S. have tacitly recognized the existence of the line, and the PLA's willingness to break this consensus is aimed at sending a warning to the U.S. that "Washington does not have a say in the cross-Strait issue," Lin said.

In this way, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) can show to his people that under his leadership China is able to stand up to the U.S. and not be subject to its constraints, Lin argued.

Yet the moves may not help China internationally, Su said.

Even though China wants to display its strength as a nation by showing off its military prowess, it is reinforcing global concerns that Beijing's emergence as an economic and aspiring military superpower is a threat to regional and global security, he said.

(By Wu Po-wei and Joseph Yeh)

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