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China's large military drills around Taiwan could become regular: Experts

05/25/2024 03:36 PM
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Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Administration
Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Administration

Washington, May 24 (CNA) The latest Joint Sword-2024A military exercise conducted by China around Taiwan showed Beijing has an intent to make large-scale military drills around the island a regular move with the China Coast Guard (CCG) to play a more important role in a blockade, U.S. experts said on Friday.

In an article published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank in Washington, Bonny Lin, head of the CSIC's China Power Project, and fellow researcher Brian Hart analyzed the two-day Joint Sword-2024A, which was launched on Thursday, only three days after President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was sworn in on Monday.

Joint Sword-2024A was the third round of large-scale military exercises China has staged around Taiwan in recent years, following the unprecedented exercises in August 2022, when then U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, and another round in April 2023, when former President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the DPP met with then U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during her transit stay in the U.S.

The Shenyang, a Chinese naval destroyer, is seen in this photo taken when Taiwan's armed forces monitored China's military exercises on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense May 24, 2024
The Shenyang, a Chinese naval destroyer, is seen in this photo taken when Taiwan's armed forces monitored China's military exercises on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense May 24, 2024

The two American experts said the latest military drills, which were linked with law enforcement operations, showed several different aspects of China's approach to Taiwan.

"First, China is likely to continue to employ large-scale military activities around Taiwan to signal its displeasure and punish Taiwan and the United States," the two experts said.

According to the two, some experts from Taiwan, the U.S. and China had argued since the military exercise in April 2023 that China's military drills faced diminishing utility in terms of advancing Beijing's interests against Taiwan.

They said the latest military exercise came after the statements made by Lai during his inauguration speech were unacceptable to China.

In his speech, Lai cited the constitution of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official name) as saying the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China are not subordinate to each other.

"Joint Sword-2024A shows that when China needs to demonstrate significant displeasure, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) and CCG are readily available actors and are best suited to attract international attention," the two experts said.

They said such a trend is expected to continue.

"There is a risk moving forward that China could lower the bar to justify exercises against lesser perceived transgressions, particularly if China is pessimistic about the future direction of Taiwan," they said. "These large-scale exercises also provide valuable opportunities for the PLA and CCG to train around Taiwan."

According to the two experts, the PLA and CCG operations are expected to improve China's ability to blockade the main island of Taiwan or any of its outlying islands -- steps which China could take to intensify pressure significantly on Taiwan in the future.

The article cited Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense as saying there was a total of 16 CCG vessels around Taiwan and its outlying islands on the first day of the exercises.

The CCG and other Chinese law enforcement actors are likely to play a bigger role in military and quasi-military operations against Taiwan, adding that greater military-law enforcement cooperation is expected to take place not only in the Taiwan Strait but also surrounding Taiwan, the two experts said.

They said China did not name the drills conducted in August 2022, but called the one in April 2023 "Joint Sword" and the latest one "Joint Sword-2024A."

"China appears to be routinizing future large-scale PLA exercises intended to punish Taiwan," they said.

"This most recent exercise was titled Joint Sword-2024A, using the same name as the prior exercise, but affixing a year and a letter," they added. "This indicates that Beijing has established a new series of exercises with the goal of punishing Taiwan and the United States and suggests China could engage in more than one large-scale exercise per year."

A Navy personnel onboard the Pan Chao frigate monitors Chinese military vessel, the Shaoxing. Photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense May 23, 2024
A Navy personnel onboard the Pan Chao frigate monitors Chinese military vessel, the Shaoxing. Photo courtesy of Ministry of National Defense May 23, 2024

The two experts suggested future Chinese measures to punish Taiwan could involve more geographically expansive operations and are likely to target Taiwan proper and its outlying islands.

"The larger geographic scope of the 2024 exercise allows China to train for a range of operations including gray zone activities, quarantine or blockade scenarios, and invasion," they said.

While China's Ministry of National Defense described Joint Sword-2024A as "integrated operations inside and outside the island chain," the two experts said Chinese operations in eastern Taiwan could be part of the description, and it remained to be seen what additional actions China could take beyond the first island chain.

(By Chung Yu-chen and Frances Huang)

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