From the South China Sea to the Himalayas, Beijing has shown a willingness to seize on perceived missteps by its rivals to tighten its grip over disputed territory.
That’s now playing out around Taiwan. In recent days, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sought to establish a new status quo on Taiwan with a series of exercises in the wake of United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.
The moves, including frequent trips across the US-defined median line in the Taiwan Strait and likely firing missiles over Taipei, have shrunk a vaguely defined buffer zone that has kept the peace for decades.
While the most provocative exercise areas closest to Taiwan had expired by Monday (Aug 8), Chinese President Xi Jinping has laid out a template for operating ever closer to the democratically governed island.
The Taiwanese Defence Ministry again reported spotting Chinese warships and warplanes nearby Monday, after more than 120 aircraft crossed the median line from Wednesday to Sunday.
“We will probably see different elements of what China has been doing this week become a much more regular occurrence,” said Taylor Fravel, professor and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Programme. “There is a new normal, or a new status quo, in terms of kind of the military presence that China will have around Taiwan.”
The strategy places greater pressure on the US to craft a response that encourages China to pull back without escalating tensions further, like when then-President Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier groups into the area during the last Taiwan Strait crisis.
These days, President Joe Biden faces a China that commands the world’s largest navy and a vast arsenal of anti-ship missiles, increasing the risk to American vessels operating close to its coasts.
Beijing’s message is that Washington needs to stop boosting ties with Taiwan, and restore the diplomatic understanding that discouraged any House speaker from visiting for the past 25 years.
If not, China could start to restrict Taiwan’s freedom to operate off its shores in the same way that it has restricted the island’s ability to participate in global organizations since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s election in 2016.
China’s drills last week were larger and closer to Taiwan than a similar show of force in the mid-1990s.
For the area farthest east from the mainland, the PLA could “launch attacks on Taiwan’s eastern shores and bases and help deny the United States and other countries from flowing forces into Taiwan from the east,” it added.
Zones in the north and southwest could be launching points for future blockades of key ports, the analysts noted.
“China’s attempt to deny the strait as an international waterway by sending warships into the area and crossing the median line represents another attempt to change the status quo,” said Kuo Yu-jen, director of Taiwan’s Institute for National Policy Research. “It will have a grave impact that the international community will find hard to tolerate.”
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the drills had given the military the chance to do “practical training against combat scenes.”
It added that no Chinese warships or military planes entered Taiwan’s air space or territorial sea since Pelosi’s visit, even though China’s exclusion zones partly crossed into those areas.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES