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China says military exercises surrounding Taiwan are designed to test its ability to ‘seize power’



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China’s military exercises around Taiwan are designed to test its ability to “seize power” over the island, the People’s Liberation Army said on Friday as its forces began a second day of large-scale exercises around its democratic neighbor. .

The exercises are the largest in more than a year and come just days after Taiwan swore in its new president, Lai Ching-te, who is openly hated by Beijing for defending the island’s sovereignty and distinctive identity.

Beijing has denounced Lai as a “dangerous separatist” and criticized his inauguration speech on Monday, during which he called on China to end its bullying of Taiwan, which has become much more pronounced under Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The PLA, which dwarfs Taipei’s outgunned military, began the exercises Thursday morning, sending warships and fighter jets around Taiwan and its outlying islands in what it called “strong punishment for separatist acts.” of the Taiwanese independence forces.”

On Friday, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command said it was continuing exercises on both sides of the Taiwan island chain to “test the ability to jointly seize power, launch joint attacks and occupy key areas.”

China’s ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan part of its territory, despite never controlling it, and has vowed to take the island by force if necessary.

The vast majority of Taiwanese do not want to live under Chinese rule. But Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation, has made clear that the island’s “inevitable reunification” with the mainland cannot be postponed indefinitely.

The two-day exercises, involving joint operations by China’s army, navy, air force and rocket force, are taking place in the Taiwan Strait – a narrow body of water that separates the island from mainland China. , as well as in the north, south and east of China. Taiwan, according to the PLA.

For the first time, the PLA exercises also involved the Chinese Coast Guard, which operates in areas around the outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, located off China’s southeastern coast.

CCTV broadcast footage on Friday showing PLA soldiers moving mobile artillery and missile systems into position, although it did not show any actual fire.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry condemned China’s military exercises as “irrational provocations” and sent its own sea, air and land forces in response.

Between 6 a.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday, the ministry detected 49 Chinese planes, including 35 that crossed the Median Line, an informal demarcation point in the Taiwan Strait that Beijing does not recognize but recent years had greatly respected.

According to the ministry, a total of 19 Chinese warships and seven coast guard vessels were detected near the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s presidential office said Thursday that it is “regrettable to see China threaten Taiwan’s democracy and freedom and regional peace and stability with unilateral military provocations,” adding that Taiwan has the “confidence and ability to protect security national”.

Kyodo News/Getty Images

A large screen in Beijing shows a Chinese fighter jet participating in China’s two-day military exercises in Taiwan on May 23, 2020.

Lai has had a busy and politically turbulent start to his presidency after taking over from two-term leader Tsai Ing-wen to begin a historic third consecutive term for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The PLA exercises represent the veteran politician’s first real test in managing tensions with Beijing, which has rejected his offer to talk and resume cross-Strait tourism and student exchanges.

Domestically, he faces chaos in the legislature, where opposition parties that favor closer ties with China hold a majority and have pushed to subject his administration to stricter scrutiny.

Thousands of people, mostly young people, have taken to the streets to protest against the opposition’s attempt to fast-track proposed bills to give more power to parliament.

But despite Beijing’s major show of force, life continued as normal in Taiwan, whose 23 million people have become accustomed to China’s military threats, even as they have become more regular and prominent in recent years.

“We are not afraid of the Chinese Communist Party and we are confident,” an 88-year-old retiree, who gave his surname Liu, told CNN.

“If the Chinese Communist Party attacks Taiwan, it will not be easy for them to take Taiwan. “The Taiwanese people are not afraid of war.”

A 42-year-old mother, who gave her last name Tsai, said she was not even aware that PLA drills were taking place.

“I think leaders will prioritize people’s happiness, so I’m not worried. I believe the peace will be maintained,” she said.

China Coast Guard/Weibo

China Coast Guard exercise near Taiwan.

China’s military exercises are often aimed at both attracting a domestic audience and signaling intentions internationally, and state media has increased coverage of the exercises.

Zhang Chi, a Chinese military expert, told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that the PLA exercises focused on “practicing a new way of blockading Taiwan.”

“Taiwan is an isolated island, suspended in the sea and with weak self-sufficiency. Taiwan’s economy is export-oriented and most of its energy consumption depends on imports. Once besieged and blocked, it can easily lead to economic collapse, turning it into a dead island,” he stated.

The exercises south of Taiwan are crucial to the blockade and target the port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s largest port and a major base for the island’s navy, Zhang said. Meanwhile, the exercises east of Taiwan are designed to practice cutting off the island’s energy imports, escape routes for “Taiwan independence” forces and the support line of the United States and its allies, he added.

The United States maintains close but informal relations with Taiwan and is required by law to supply the island with weapons to defend itself.

Zhang also noted that the drills had achieved “a new breakthrough” by entering waters near Wuqiu and Dongyin, which have significant geographical importance.

“The Taiwanese military considers them outposts for Taiwan Strait defense operations. “This exercise further reduced the activity space of the Taiwanese military,” he said.

Analysts said the movement of China’s Coast Guard near and around outlying islands was an important new aspect of the current drills, which follow previous encirclement exercises in August 2022 and April 2023.

“The pressure from the Coast Guard and other forces in waters near those islands is provocative,” said Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

He said he hoped such Chinese activities would continue and “become the norm,” and that at any time Beijing could turn an exercise into a real military operation.

Craig Singleton, senior China researcher at the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said China’s pattern of exercises around Taiwan does not indicate an imminent invasion threat.

“These exercises help blur the line between peace and war, to the point that future exercises could be used as a pretext for an actual invasion,” Singleton said.

But Singleton and others say the exercises are sending a more important political message than a military one.

“Joint Sword – 2024A aims to reactivate the lever of military pressure to exert a certain degree of influence on the new administration (Taiwan) and its narrative,” said Lionel Fatton, assistant professor of international relations at Webster University in Geneva, using China’s name for this. drills of the week.

Beijing will use pressure from the exercises to try to increase divisions within Taiwan, which could “weaken” the island from within, he said.

“Constant and visible military pressure on the island will also help polarize the political apparatus, if not the social fabric itself,” Fatton said.

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