NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China’s recently concluded large-scale military exercises near Taiwan included at least a dozen missile firings that landed in areas around the self-ruled island state.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said the roughly dozen Chinese missiles that were fired during the exercises to protest House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taipei “bracketed the island.”
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter Tuesday that 10 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warships and 45 warplanes were detected around the island, prompting responses from interceptor aircraft and naval vessels and placing “land-based missiles” on alert. On Wednesday, the number of warships remained the same but the number of warplanes was down to 36, including Su-30 and J-11 fighters, the ministry said.
Retired Navy Capt. Carl O. Schuster, a former intelligence officer, said the military drills were carried out in six locations in the waters surrounding Taiwan over several days. The size, area and complexity of the drills reflected months of planning, with expanded aircraft involving likely recent additions to the Chinese air forces, he stated in a report on the website American Free News Network.
The exercises had two goals: Intimidate Taiwan and warn Japan and the United States not to aid Taiwan in a conflict, and rehearse key elements of the Chinese war plan for a future conflict against Taiwan.
“As such, it marked the largest PLA air-missile-maritime exercise ever conducted,” said Capt. Schuster, former director of operations at the Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii.
At its peak, China’s military demonstration included 14 warships and 59 aircraft, including 20 aircraft that crossed the China-Taiwan median line down the Taiwan Strait. A nuclear attack submarine also took part in supporting an aircraft carrier task force led by the Shandong.
Capt. Schuster said 11 missiles were fired from three PLA Strategic Rocket Force brigades. Three of the missiles passed over Taiwan, and two missiles landed within Japan’s economic exclusion zone around 50 miles from Japan’s southernmost islands.
The missile launches prompted a halt to aircraft flights and shipping in the area.
The exercises also served as a practice blockade of the island using both land-attack and anti-ship missile targeting, along with battalion-sized amphibious operations on the Chinese coast opposite Taiwan. Military drones also took part in penetrating offshore Taiwanese islands and the northwest and southwest corners of Taiwan’s air defense zone.
The Taiwan Ministry of Defense and other government networks came under cyberattacks during the war games.
“The exercise provided some insights into China’s potential courses of action and preferences in a Sino-Taiwan conflict,” Capt. Schuster said. “It suggests Beijing would first isolate Taiwan and resort to air and missile strikes in hopes of breaking Taipei’s political will. A costly invasion probably is a last resort.”
The exercise, and missile firings, also showed the PLA is improving its ability to conduct joint operations, a past weakness. “These are incremental steps, but they represent an enduring commitment to mastering joint operations,” Capt. Schuster said.
The PLA avoided sending newer J-20 or Russian-made Su-35 jets, probably to deny Taiwan and Western intelligence agencies a close look at the aircraft, he said.
“This exercise marks the latest escalation in China’s expanding military exercise and Taiwan-intimidation campaign,” Capt. Schuster said.
China renews vow to retake Taiwan by force
The Chinese government on Wednesday issued a report that vowed to retake control of the island democracy either peacefully or with military force, while accusing the United States of seeking to “contain China” in supporting the Taiwanese government and stepping up arms sales.
The major white paper on Taiwan — only the third produced since 1993 — states that under Chinese President Xi Jinping new steps are being taken to speed up efforts to absorb Taiwan into the communist-ruled mainland.
“We will work with the greatest sincerity and exert our utmost efforts to achieve peaceful reunification. But we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures,” the white paper states.
The threat of force comes amid increased tensions between the United States and China and followed large-scale Chinese military exercises and missile firings near the island. The tone of the white paper suggests Mr. Xi has grown impatient waiting for Taiwan to accept Beijing’s terms for absorption.
The white paper states that China will not allow the problem of Taiwan’s status “to be passed down from one generation to the next.”
That policy is called “one country, two systems” and was offered to democratic-ruled Hong Kong but abandoned under a crackdown by Chinese authorities that began two years ago.
The white paper repeatedly states that Beijing favors peaceful reunification and is offering the island a degree of autonomy under communist rule. But the threat of military action overshadowed the calls for a non-military solution.
The white paper states that the threat to use military force is aimed at preventing “external interference” by the United States, which came under harsh criticism in the report.
“In no way does it target our fellow Chinese in Taiwan,” the white paper said of using military action.
“Use of force would be the last resort taken under compelling circumstances. We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines.”
Foreign intervention or “radical action” by Taiwan independence forces will result in the use of force or other means to bring Taiwan under mainland control.
According to the report, unspecified “forces in the U.S.” are inciting groups in Taiwan and using the Taiwan issue to oppose China’s ruling Communist Party. The white paper accused Washington of engaging in “hegemony” and a “Cold War mindset” by identifying China as a strategic adversary and long-term threat.
CIA Director William Burns warned in a speech last month that Mr. Xi is studying the Russian military operation in Ukraine for lessons that could apply to a Chinese strike against Taiwan.
“I think the risks of [an invasion] become higher, it seems to us, the further into this decade you get,” Mr. Burns said at the recent Aspen Security Forum.
CIA analysts say an assault on Taiwan is “less the question of whether the Chinese leadership might choose some years down the road to use force to control Taiwan, but how and when they would do it.”
Defense policy faults China on Taiwan ‘crisis’
Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s senior policy official, said this week that China manufactured the crisis over the recent visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by conducting large-scale military exercises near the island.
Mr. Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, also was asked whether the Pentagon adopted a new assessment on whether China will attempt to take Taiwan by force in the next two years. He replied curtly: “No.”
U.S. intelligence agencies believe China will move against the island located about 100 miles from the Chinese coast by the end of the decade.
“Nothing about the visit changed one iota of the U.S. government’s policy toward Taiwan or towards China,” Mr. Kahl told reporters on Monday. “We continue to have a one-China policy and we continue to object to any unilateral change in the status quo, whether that be from [China] or from Taiwan,” he said. “So really, China’s reaction was completely unnecessary.”
Mr. Kahl said the show of force by the Chinese military is an attempt to coerce Taiwan and the international community.
China is attempting to erode the current status quo policy that has kept the peace across the Taiwan Strait since the 1970s, when the U.S. government shifted diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to mainland China.
“All I’ll say is we’re not going to take the bait and it’s not going to work,” he said. “So it’s a manufactured crisis. That doesn’t mean we have to play into that. I think it would only play to Beijing’s advantage.”
The U.S. military insists it will continue to conduct operations near China that challenge Beijing’s claims to control international waters. That could include sailing warships through the Taiwan Strait.
The aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Reagan, currently conducting operations in the nearby Philippines Sea, is expected to make a pass through the Taiwan Strait in the coming days, according to defense sources.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.