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DEFENSE/Chinese aircraft carrier Pacific drills target U.S. more than Taiwan: expert

09/17/2023 05:47 PM
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The Keelung (front), the Navy's Kidd-class destroyer, sails not far away from Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong (left), to monitor the vessel in this recent photo. Photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense Sept. 13, 2023
The Keelung (front), the Navy's Kidd-class destroyer, sails not far away from Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong (left), to monitor the vessel in this recent photo. Photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense Sept. 13, 2023

Taipei, Sept. 17 (CNA) The recently concluded drills in the Western Pacific, conducted by the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong, were more aim at showcasing China's military capabilities to the United Sates, which was also concluding a joint exercise in nearby seas, rather than Taiwan, a Taiwanese defense expert told CNA Sunday.

Lin Yin-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, said the drills in the western Pacific involving the Shandong and dozens of warplanes held last week sought to test China's Anti-Access/Area Denial capabilities should the U.S. and its allies attempt to interfere in a cross-strait conflict.

He noted that the latest Chinese drills coincided with a joint maritime exercise conducted by the U.S., South Korea and Canada on Thursday in the Yellow Sea.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) did not make more details of the Shandong drill public.

According to Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND), the Chinese domestically-built aircraft carrier passed through the Bashi Channel 60 nautical miles southeast of Cape Elunabi, Taiwan's southernmost point, and headed east into the West Pacific for a long-range training session in the area on Monday, Sept. 11.

Meanwhile, Japan's Minister of Defense said several rounds of drills involving warplanes and helicopters landing and taking off were held on the Shandong on Sept. 13 and Sept. 14, before the aircraft carrier concluded its drills on Sept. 14 and Sept. 15 and headed to the South China Sea.

Asked if the two-day exercises in the West Pacific were cut short by the reported disappearance of Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu (李尚福), Lin told CNA he does not believe that to be the case.

Lin said although Li is a general, he is not responsible for combat missions as the position of defense minister mainly involves defense diplomacy.

The fact Li has not been seen in public for some time will not impact the PLA's long-term combat preparedness or strategy, though his disappearance could mean the PLA is undergoing a high-level official reshuffle that could negatively impact the morale of the Chinese military, Lin added.

Li, who was appointed defense minister in March, has been absent from public view for more than two weeks, fueling rumors about his fate after a series of unexplained personnel shakeups roiled the upper ranks of China's ruling Communist Party this summer.

U.S. media reports have quoted unnamed government sources as saying Li is under investigation for corruption and will likely be removed.

The Shandong is China's second aircraft carrier, and the first to be entirely built by the domestic shipbuilding industry. It was commissioned into the PLA Navy on Dec. 17, 2019 in Sanya, Hainan Province.

China launched its first aircraft carrier the Liaoning in 2012. The vessel was a refurbished Soviet Kuznetsov-class cruiser carrier purchased in an incomplete state.

Meanwhile, China's third and most advanced aircraft carrier, the Fujian, is expected to enter service after completing sea trials sometime next year.

Beijing launched the Fujian, on June 17, 2022. It is built to launch fighter jets with an electromagnetic catapult, a system on a par with the USS Gerald Ford, the U.S. Navy's most advanced carrier in service.

Taiwan's defense experts have previously warned that the Shandong's ability to conduct take-off and landing drills in the Pacific Ocean on the east side of the country indicates it is a serious threat to eastern Taiwan.

The region, protected by the central mountain range on the west, has traditionally been used to preserve and maintain Taiwan's combat readiness in the event of a full-scale invasion by the PLA.

Therefore, it is essential for Taiwan to enhance its air defense capabilities and introduce additional runways in the eastern counties of Hualien and Taitung, given that the PLA is now capable of launching attacks from waters east of Taiwan, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Chang Yen-ting (張延廷) told CNA.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)

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