China’s latest military drills around Taiwan, which included practising precision strikes and blockading the island under actual combat conditions show Beijing is trying to get ready for war, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told CNN on Tuesday.
“Look at the military exercises, and also their rhetoric, they seem to be trying to get ready to launch a war against Taiwan,” Wu said, adding that the island “condemns” the “Chinese military threat”.
“Chinese leaders will think twice before they decide to use force against Taiwan,” Wu said when asked about the potential timing of such an attack.
Analysts say the three days of military drills, held from Saturday to Monday, show Beijing is serious about being able to cut off the democratically ruled island in a conflict. Beijing has said its aircraft carriers could “shatter” defences from the east.
Although the three-day exercises, which ended Monday, were not as intense as those that unfolded in August 2022 in protest of then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, China used them to show off its capabilities in the air and sea – both of which it would need to control if it attempted a blockade.
A blockade of Taiwan could have serious consequences for supply chains around the world, with the island being home the world’s largest contract chipmaker, TSMC.
Described as “possibly the most important company on the planet”, TSMC produces the majority of the advanced chips that power almost every leading-edge device and weapon across the world.
The Chinese navy continued with “actual combat training” around Taiwan on Tuesday, state media said, a day after Beijing announced the end of drills and as Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen criticised China for its “irresponsible” behaviour.
Many analysts noted the jets flying off the Shandong aircraft carrier, which took up position east of Taiwan, about 230 kilometres (143 miles) south of Japan’s Miyajima island.
The carrier’s presence there meant China “can shatter Taiwan’s so-called eastern shield”, Zhao Xiaozhuo, a senior colonel and researcher with People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, told state news agency Xinhua.
Beijing could not operate carriers with impunity in that area during a conflict, analysts said, especially if nations friendly to Taiwan were involved, but added that Taiwan would struggle to deal with such a threat on its own.
Chieh Chung, a military researcher at the Taipei-based National Policy Foundation think tank, said in the event of an attack, Taiwan would likely withdraw its military assets from the west to bases in the east, shielded by the island’s high mountains and equipped with underground tunnels.
But an unfettered, more coordinated attack from the east would mean “the whole situation will turn very unfavourable,” he said.
Deterring foreign help
Videos of the exercise released by the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command showed its vessels and planes came within 24 nautical miles of Taiwan on all sides of the island, which Beijing claims as its own.
The aim of the drills was to show that they could encircle Taiwan in a blockade and deter foreign powers from intervening, Zhao said.
That would be crucial if a conflict erupted.
“An invasion by China would require the PLA to carry out joint counter-intervention operations against the United States, which Beijing believes will almost certainly intervene, and now possibly with allies like Australia and Japan, maybe even the Philippines,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defence analyst at RAND Corporation.
Although the United States has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan, US President Joe Biden has said he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan.
The PLA also said it carried out virtual simulations showing how its forces could execute targeted missile attacks on Taiwan.
Zhang Chi, a senior colonel and assistant professor with National Defence University, told Xinhua that the simulated precision attacks meant that China could eliminate Taiwanese leaders in a “Zhanshou” operation, which translates as “beheaded”. In Western military parlance, such attacks are referred to as “decapitation strikes”.
The drills were a response to a recent meeting in California between US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, whom China views as a separatist.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena