Chinese Navy Stretches Sea Legs, Encircles Taiwan With Carrier Group, Warships and Jets: Report
US-China tensions over Taiwan have escalated steadily in recent years, particularly after President Biden announced last year that Washington would step to the island’s defence in case of a Chinese invasion. Beijing sees Taiwan as an integral part of China, and has slammed both “separatist” politicians on the island and the US for its meddling.
The People’s Liberation Army has wrapped up three days-worth of intensive naval and air exercises east and southwest of Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command announced on Monday.
“The training, involving sea, air and conventional missile forces, aimed to further test and enhance joint warfare capabilities,” the command wrote in a brief post on its official WeChat account.
The Global Times provided additional details on the drills, saying they involved the Liaoning aircraft carrier strike group, with the aircraft carrier itself, five destroyers, a frigate and supply ship setting sail for the Philippine Sea east of Taiwan last week.
Simultaneously, the People’s Liberation Army Navy and Air Force dispatched warships and aircraft to the west of Taiwan, “effectively surrounding and enclosing the island under the watch of US and Japanese aircraft carriers, which are serving as ‘perfect practice partners’ for the PLA drills,” according to the Global Times report.
Taiwan’s air defence forces confirmed that they had scrambled fighter jets on Thursday, Friday and Sunday after the PLA flew 31 aircraft into its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). China does not recognize the ADIZ’s legitimacy and regularly sends fighters, bombers, electronic warfare aircraft and anti-submarine planes and helicopters into the area.
Japan’s Defence Ministry Joint Chiefs monitored the Liaoning-led group’s activities between Wednesday and Sunday, saying the strike group’s operations included night and day aircraft training, with the warship group gradually pushing closer to Taiwan as the exercises dragged on.
Shi Hong, executive chief editor of Shipborne Weapons magazine, told Global Times that the Liaoning’s drilling occurred in a part of the Philippine Sea which would be “vital” in a “reunification-by-force” scenario by the PLA, with the carrier group serving to “completely cut off the routes foreign forces may take if they militarily interfere with the Taiwan question.”
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu called China a continued “threat” at parliamentary question time Monday, but assured that Taipei has “the determination to defend our country.”
Chinese officials do not consider Taiwan to be a “country,” but a part of China destined for eventual formal reunification, by peaceful means, if possible, under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model applied to Hong Kong and Macau. However, officials and media have also warned of the possibility of a “reunification by force” scenario should Taiwan’s leaders stake a formal independence claim.
The escalation of the security crisis between Russia and the West over Ukraine has prompted “Chinese aggression”-obsessed officials in the US to warn that Beijing may be planning to “invade” Taiwan sometime in the near future. The US and British ally recently engaged in “crisis planning” on the matter, and Washington has encouraged Taipei to buy more “American-made weapons,” even as the island faces a severe bottleneck for equipment already bought and paid, bought not yet delivered, going back as far as 2019.
Taiwan, officially the ‘Republic of China’, broke off from the mainland in 1949, following the victory of communist forces in the Chinese Civil War. Beijing and Taipei spent the next several decades after that bickering over which has the right to call themselves ‘China’, with Taiwan losing that battle in the 1970s when the majority of the world, including the US, recognized the People’s Republic as such. In the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwan and the PRC gradually improved informal diplomatic contacts, as well as economic ties, with trade hitting an all-time high of a whopping $188.9 billion in 2021. However, warming relations between Beijing and Taipei under the conservative nationalist Kuomintang Party took a turn for the worse in 2016 after Tsai Ing-wen’s liberal-left-leaning Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections and proceeded to pursue a cautiously pro-independence policy. Beijing has slammed this approach and has warned repeatedly that it will not tolerate any effort by Taipei or its foreign allies to pursue “independence.”