China is readying itself for American and Japanese involvement in any Taiwan Strait conflict, with recent warplane exercises around the island aimed at displaying its ability to isolate Taiwan from potential support, according to analysts in Beijing and Taipei.
After 10 People’s Liberation Army aircraft, including fighter jets and reconnaissance planes, flew sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Monday, a senior defense official in Taipei noted the “offensive posture” of the military exercise. Deputy Defense Minister Chang Che-ping described the waves of Chinese aircraft as part of a naval and air force “joint operation.”
The gesture by Beijing was notable for its pincer-like flight pattern around Taiwan after the Japanese defense ministry reported two additional PLA warplanes crossing the East China Sea and Miyako Strait between the Japanese-controlled islands. One of the aircraft then headed southwest before turning north to fly parallel to Taiwan’s eastern coastline.
Flight patterns from the exercise appeared to show Taiwan surrounded on three sides, and the drill was a pointed message to the governments of Taiwan, Japan and the U.S., analysts said.
The Chinese military was “continuing to increase its combat preparedness by making its routine exercises more complex and realistic and taking possible U.S. and Japanese interventions into consideration,” Communist Party newspaper Global Times reported on Tuesday.
The additional sorties in the east showed the PLA was able to strike targets in eastern Taiwan, “but also lock down the island entirely from possible interventions by U.S. and Japanese forces,” according to the report from Beijing.
Recent Chinese warplane incursions into Taiwan’s defensive airspace amounted to “political signaling” by Beijing, said senior security analyst Su Tzu-yun, who is with Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
Monday’s noteworthy exercise coincided with the visit to Taipei by a U.S. diplomat. Beijing had also “expressed its fury” by sending 20 warplanes toward Taiwan after the signing of a U.S.-Taiwan coast guard pact last Friday, Su told Newsweek.
He said that the military significance of Monday’s pincer movement, which involved PLA anti-ship and anti-submarine aircraft, was “the PLA’s way of showing it has the capability to isolate Taiwan if the U.S. and Japan plan to assist” Taipei during a Taiwan Strait contingency.
Chinese spy plane sorties in the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan were also part of the PLA’s “anti access/area denial” strategy to impede the U.S. Navy from advancing into the area from the Western Pacific, he added.
It was the first time he had observed a Chinese warplane flying through the Miyako Strait in order to reach eastern Taiwan instead of using the Bashi Channel around the south of the island, said Su, who advises Taiwan’s defense ministry.
According to his analysis, the move therefore included additional signals for Japan, which would be obliged to support the U.S. as part of their mutual defense treaty if Washington were to intervene in a conflict over Taiwan.
China “wanted to show it could surround the Japanese islands, too,” Su said, noting the PLA overflight around the Japan-controlled islets administered under Okinawa Prefecture.
According to PLA flight patterns released by Japan’s defense ministry on Monday, one of the Chinese reconnaissance planes also made a run on the Japanese island of Yonaguni, which is less than 70 miles from the east coast of Taiwan.
The Japanese government is reportedly mulling over the possibility of increasing its troop presence on the island of roughly 1,700 inhabitants as military tensions in the region grow, according to Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.
China’s Military Preparing for U.S. Intervention in Taiwan Strait – Newsweek