China fires ballistic missiles into sea off Taiwan

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Unprecedented Chinese maritime live-fire exercises kicked off Thursday with ballistic missile launches in the waters around Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Taiwan’s defense ministry said.

The Chinese military “launched 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles this afternoon in the northern, southern and eastern surrounding waters of Taiwan from 1:56 pm to 4:00 pm,” the ministry said without specifying range.

Matsu, Wuqiu, Dongyin and some other outlying islands have been placed on a heightened state of alert after the PLA fired long-range missiles into surrounding areas, the ministry added.

Before launch, the PLA threatened to fire missiles over Taiwan and enter the island’s territorial waters for the first time, in a scenario analysts describe as “Taiwan’s Fourth Strait Crisis.”

Chinese military helicopters will fly past Pingtan Island, one of the closest points in mainland China, on Aug. 4, 2022, ahead of massive military exercises near Taiwan. CREDIT: TBEN

China’s ‘irrational action’

Chinese international state broadcaster CGTN said that “military drills and training activities, including live fire drills around the island of Taiwan” have begun.

The PLA “conducted long-range shooting training in the Taiwan Strait around 1 p.m. Thursday and conducted precision strikes on specific areas in the eastern part of the Taiwan Strait,” CGTN added.

The state-backed Global Times said the Chinese military “conducted long-range artillery firing drills in the Taiwan Strait, hit targets on the eastern side of the Strait and achieved the expected result.”

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it has activated relevant defense systems and strengthened combat readiness.

“The Defense Ministry condemned this irrational act that undermines regional peace,” it said in a statement.

The maritime exercises at six locations in Taiwan, which began Thursday and will last until Sunday, are expected to be larger than those in 1996 during the Taiwan Third Strait Crisis, and unprecedented in many ways as well.

For the first time, Chinese forces are expected to enter 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of waters around Taiwan, which serve as the island’s sovereign territorial waters under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

According to the PLA Eastern Theater Command, conventional missiles are expected to be launched from naval vessels sailing to eastern Taiwan and from the mainland.

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Chinese analysts, quoted by state mediasaid the missiles would “fly over the island”.

“We must recognize that we are in a major militarized crisis, and start calling it by its name: the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis,” said Christopher Twomey, a Chinese military expert at the US Naval Postgraduate School, who wrote in a statement. personal conversation with RFA. capacity.

“What will get the most attention is missile tests, especially if they land near Taiwanese claimed waters or fly over Taiwanese territory,” he said.

2022-08-03T095220Z_719812395_RC2WOV9XGBIN_RTRMADP_3_ASIA-PELOSI.JPG
Newspapers in Beijing on Wednesday, reporting on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and showing maps of locations where the PLA will conduct military exercises and training activities, including live fire drills. CREDIT: Reuters

High level of attention

During the Third Strait Crisis in Taiwan (1995-1996), a series of missile tests were conducted by the PLA in the waters around Taiwan, and the PLA live-arms exercises led to US intervention, which was the greatest display of US military might in Asia since the Vietnam War.

“The six areas where the PLA will conduct its live fire exercises until Sunday clearly outline a military encirclement of Taiwan. To me, it seems like a prelude or preparation for a future scenario that focuses not primarily on amphibious assault, but on blockade,” said Nadège Rolland, senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), an American private thinker. -tank.

“If this is the case, it will not only stifle Taiwan, but also have a direct impact on Japan’s security and civil transit in the region, as several Asian airlines have already canceled their flights over the greater area,” Rolland said. , previously as a senior advisor on Asian and Chinese strategic issues at the French Ministry of Defence.

“The exercises will generate a lot of attention from both the Taiwanese military and the United States. Both will want to ensure that the exercises are not a cover for even more offensive action, but will also want to learn about Chinese capabilities and operational practices,” said Christopher Twomey.

The naval exercises involving PLA troops entering an area within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan were announced Tuesday evening when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taipei for a brief but highly symbolic visit.

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Pelosi is the most senior US official to visit the Democratic island in the past 25 years.

Beijing has repeatedly condemned the visit as a “serious violation” of China’s sovereignty and integrity and threatened the “strongest countermeasures”.

‘Irresponsible exercises’

Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement that by announcing live air force fire drills around the island, Chinese leaders “made it obvious that they are seeking a solution to the strait by force rather than peaceful means”.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in a media interview on Wednesday called the drills “irresponsible” and said they would “make the chance of an incident real”.

“The actors involved are certainly the same as in the three crises in 1954, 1958 and 1995-96, but the geostrategic context is very different,” says Nadège Rolland of NBR.

“In each of the three previous crises, the US intervened militarily and the military tensions between the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and the ROC [Republic of China] became prolonged but diffused after a rapid initial escalation,” Rolland said, referring to China and Taiwan by their official names.

“It remains to be seen whether the US will be involved this time,” she said, pointing out that if the survival of Taiwan and Japan is at stake, “it will be impossible for the US not to intervene minimally.” to safeguard the freedom of the sea lanes over which the bulk of international trade is carried.”

On Thursday morning, the US Air Force sent an RC-135S reconnaissance plane to observe the exercises, but the USS Ronald Reagan, the US Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, appears to be Think Tank in Beijing which has followed regional military movements.

“USS Ronald Reagan and her assault group are en route in the Philippine Sea, continuing normal, scheduled operations as part of its routine patrol in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a US Navy spokesman for the 7th Fleet said. Reuters.

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“The US needs to monitor to ensure there is no greater escalation and to learn more about the PLA’s practices and capabilities. In addition, it is important to coordinate with other regional allies,” said Christopher Twomey.

“It will be important to signal also to allies and partners that the US would be a reliable ally if Beijing were to engage in military aggression,” the analyst said.

In his opinion, the latest developments will “have a legacy of deepening the militarization of the relationship between the straits and Chinese-American competition”.

Meanwhile, Nadège Rolland warned that in past crises involving the US and China, tensions eventually eased due to a combination of factors, including US military superiority over the PLA and Beijing’s overarching strategic priorities such as joining the World Trade Organization. .

“Today both have changed dramatically,” she said.

Reunification by force

The blockade-style operation seen in current military exercises “could be one of the action plans taken in the future to achieve reunification by force,” Herman Shuai, a retired Taiwanese general, was quoted as saying by China’s Global times as said on Wednesday.

China views self-governed Taiwan as a Chinese province that must be reunited with the mainland at all costs.

The PLA’s Eastern Theater Command has already conducted a number of military exercises around Taiwan upon the arrival of the US House Speaker.

The joint naval air exercises, which began Tuesday and continued Wednesday, were conducted in northern, southwestern and southeastern waters and airspace off the coast of Taiwan. PLA daily.

maj. Gene. Gu Zhong, deputy chief of staff for the PLA Eastern Theater Command, was quoted by the paper as saying that Chinese troops are conducting “targeted joint blockade training exercises, strikes on land and maritime targets, airspace control operations and the live firing of precision-guided munitions.”

“This round of joint military operations is a necessary response to the dangerous step taken by the US and Taiwanese authorities over the Taiwan issue,” Gu said.

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