Implications of China’s war exercises around Taiwan

Members of Taiwan’s military conduct routine exercises at Liaoluo Port in Kinmen on May 24, 2024. On May 23, China surrounded Taiwan with warships and military aircraft in war games aimed at punishing the self-ruled island after its new president promised to defend democracy. (Photo by I-HWA CHENG/AFP via Getty Images)

I-hwa Cheng | afp | fake images

China’s latest military exercises around Taiwan risk raising cross-Strait tensions, but war remains unlikely, political observers say.

Beijing warned that the two-day exercises, which continued on Friday, were aimed at punishing the island’s new president, Lai Ching-te, for his “hostility and provocations.”

The escalation comes just days after Lai was sworn in on Monday. In his inaugural address, Lai strongly urged China to stop its political and military threats against the autonomous island.

China’s state news agency Xinhua said Taiwan’s new leader, in his debut speech, took “an even more risky and radical approach than his predecessors.” The exercises are “legitimate, timely and totally necessary,” as acts of “Taiwan independence” in any form “cannot be tolerated,” he added.

“This seems like a prelude to more and bigger military exercises to come,” Wen-Ti Sung, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, said in a post on X.

“This is a signal to shape international narratives. The real ‘punishment’ against Taiwan may be yet to come, because it takes time.”

Beijing considers democratically governed Taiwan part of its territory and Chinese President Xi Jinping has previously said reunification with the mainland was “a historic inevitability.”

The approach of China's military forces to Taiwan could cause a

China’s Ministry of National Defense said the exercises, called Joint Sword-2024A, were a “powerful punishment” for “separatist forces seeking ‘independence’.”

The exercises will focus on “the joint takeover of comprehensive control of the battlefield and joint precision strikes against key objectives,” he said.

The Eastern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also said it carried out maritime strikes, ground attacks, air defense and anti-submarine defense in the airspace and waters north and south of Taiwan island.

In response, Taiwan was on high alert and its coast guard sent patrol vessels to monitor Chinese military movements.

‘Irrational provocations’

Political observers note that the latest escalation sends a signal that Beijing’s attitude could harden toward Taiwan under the leadership of Lai, whom China has called a “stubborn worker for Taiwan independence” and a dangerous separatist.

While signs leading up to the inauguration pointed to a more moderate response, “Beijing appears to be shocked by Lai’s affirmative language on Taiwanese sovereignty and identity,” Eurasia analysts said.

In his speech on Monday, Lai said Taiwan’s Constitution makes clear that the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) and the People’s Republic of China “are not subordinate to each other.”

He added that all political parties should oppose “annexation and protect sovereignty.”

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, criticized Lai on Tuesday, saying that “no matter what tricks they play, they cannot prevent China from ultimately achieving complete reunification,” state media reported.

Taiwan's new president Lai Ching-te has been sworn in

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry condemned the Chinese exercises as “irrational provocations” that undermine regional peace and stability.

“This pretext for holding military exercises not only does not contribute to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, but also highlights its hegemonic nature,” the ministry said.

While the PLA drills have not reached the level of China’s response to former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August 2022, they do have coast guard patrols without precedents around several coastal islands controlled by Taiwan, Eurasia analysts noted.

“Fujian Coast Guard vessels patrolled up to 2.8 and 3 nautical miles of Wuqiu and Dongyin islands this week, respectively, entering their ‘forbidden waters’ for the first time,” they said.

Relations between the United States and China

Under Xi, China has increased diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan as the island strengthens informal ties with the United States.

Xi told US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the APEC leaders’ summit in November that Taiwan has always been the “most important and sensitive” issue in China-US relations.

U.S. politics will also influence cross-Strait relations, said Gabriel Wildau, managing director of Teneo Intelligence.

“Tensions will likely rise further if Republicans gain control of both chambers of the US Congress in the November elections, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential race,” he added.

Taiwan's new president must maintain a coherent strategy in cross-Strait relations: Professor

Furthermore, as Lai becomes more confident in his new role as president, he may become “emboldened” to further move away from the relatively cautious positioning of his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, and “act on his pro-independence instincts,” he noted. Wildau.

While a war over Taiwan remains unlikely in the next decade, the frequency and intensity with which Beijing deploys these well-known military tools will likely increase, observers said.

The latest exercises illustrate that cross-Strait relations have entered an “unstable period,” Eurasia analysts said.

But Beijing “is unlikely to take steps that jeopardize US-China stabilization efforts on the Taiwan issue, at least until the US elections,” they added.

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