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ANALYSIS/Chinese military drills around Taiwan could be first in series: Expert

05/23/2024 09:36 PM
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Defense ministry spokesman Major General Sun Li-fang talks about the information the armed forces have gathered regarding China's military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, during a press briefing in Taipei Thursday. CNA photo May 23, 2024
Defense ministry spokesman Major General Sun Li-fang talks about the information the armed forces have gathered regarding China's military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, during a press briefing in Taipei Thursday. CNA photo May 23, 2024

Taipei, May 23 (CNA) China's military exercises around Taiwan, launched just three days after the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te (賴清德), whom Beijing has labeled a "separatist," could mark the beginning of a series of such drills, a military expert said Thursday.

The Chinese military announced earlier Thursday the immediate start of two days of military drills around Taiwan, and the Taipei-controlled islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, in what it said was "powerful punishment" for those who promote Taiwan independence.

The drills, code-named Joint Sword-2024A, involve the army, navy, air force and rocket force, China's Eastern Theater Command said on a series of social media posts.

Delving deeper into the matter, Chieh Chung (揭仲), a researcher at the Taipei-based Association of Strategic Foresight, told CNA that given the code name and its use of the letter A, the drills could open the door to potential follow-ups this year.

According to Chieh, the scheduled areas for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) exercises mark the first time in recent years that Taiwan's outlying islands have been included. He said that this inclusion is intended to simulate a full-scale Chinese armed invasion of Taiwan.

The locations of the two previous Chinese military drills around Taiwan in August 2022 and April 2023 did not include the outlying islands, according to Chieh.

Commenting on Chinese ships' entering "restricted waters" around the Taiwan-controlled outlying islands of Dongyin in Matsu and Wuqiu in Kinmen on Thursday morning, Chieh said it is possible that Beijing is using Lai's inaugural speech as an excuse to break a long-standing tacit agreement with Taiwan not to cross into the restricted waters of Dongyin and Wuqiu.

China could be planning to sail into the waters on a regular basis in an attempt to establish its jurisdiction over the area, he added.

China's move is an apparent response to Lai's inaugural speech and aims to place pressure on Washington to take action to help avert crisis or conflict in the Taiwan Strait, he said.

In his inaugural address, Lai called on Beijing to "face the reality of the Republic of China's existence" and cease its political and military intimidation against Taiwan, saying the Republic of China (Taiwan's official title) and the People's Republic of China "are not subordinate to each other."

● Lai urges Beijing to recognize ROC, calls for dialogue at inauguration

● Full text of President Lai Ching-te's inaugural address

Meanwhile, Chen Shih-min (陳世民), an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University, said that Beijing is using the military exercises to express its dissatisfaction over Lai's inaugural speech.

Chen believes that the military exercises are primarily a political move to declare the Chinese Communist Party's "dissatisfaction" and "warning" to the outside world.

Through this grand gesture and the news coverage by international media outlets, China is once again asserting that "Taiwan is a part of China," Chen said.

Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at Tamkang University, also said China's move is absolutely a reaction to Lai's inaugural address.

Lin said he believed the Chinese military exercises will focus on joint sea-air combat readiness and no missiles will be launched.

Also Thursday, in an interview with CNA, Shu Hsiao-huang (舒孝煌), an associate research fellow at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research, described the drills as blatantly provocative given that the designated areas of the drills are within Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and close to the island's contiguous zone, which is 24 nautical miles (44 km) off its coast.

An ADIZ is a self-declared area in which a country claims the right to identify, locate and control approaching foreign aircraft but is not part of its territorial airspace as defined by international law.

In addition, Taiwan's deputy defense minister Po Horng-huei (柏鴻輝) said the drills are China's attempt to claim control of the region.

However, the international community is not happy to see such irrational actions that unilaterally challenge regional peace and stability, Po added.

In August 2022, China conducted large-scale live-fire military exercises around Taiwan immediately after a visit by then-U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi. During the series of exercises, the scale of which was unprecedented, China declared six zones as no-go areas for other ships and aircraft.

However, no such zones were declared this time around, which demonstrates Beijing's intention to gain recognition of its control over the region, according to Po.

(By Lee Ya-wen, Wu Shu-wei, Lai Yu-chen and Evelyn Kao)


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