China announces surprise live-fire Taiwan Strait drills after massive navy parade
Beijing springs announcement of exercises ‘in message to Taipei and show of support to Russia’
Beijing announced suddenly on Thursday that it would hold live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait next week, revealing the decision just hours after staging the biggest naval parade in the country’s history.
Military observers said the drills sent a message to Taipei and were also a show of support for Russia to put pressure on the United States.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said military conflict between the US and Russia in Syria could “break out at any time” and the drill in the Taiwan Strait was meant to be a show of support to China’s strategic partner Russia, diverting attention from the crisis in Syria after US President Donald Trump threatened a strike against Syrian forces.
“It’s very likely that as Russia’s strategic partner, China [is using its] navy to show its political support to Russia at such a sensitive moment,” Wong said.
“The People’s Liberation Army Navy was ordered to move their drills to the Taiwan Strait to test their emergency response in combat.”
The live-fire drill is expected to take place on April 18, making it the first naval exercise in the waters since September 2015, which occurred in the lead-up to the self-ruled island’s presidential election.
The election was won by the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, who has yet to recognise the “1992 consensus”, which Beijing says is the foundation for cross-strait dialogue.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also chairs the powerful Central Military Commission, was on the southern island of Hainan to inspect the naval parade, which involved China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, about 50 other warships as well as more than 10,000 troops and nearly 80 aircraft, including jets, bombers and early-warning planes.
On board the Liaoning for the first time since the vessel was declared combat-ready, Xi urged the troops to stay vigilant and be ready to defend China’s sovereignty and national interests, as well as safeguard regional peace and stability, according to the defence ministry.
The display in the South China Sea followed exercises by Chinese and US strike groups in the contested waters.
On Tuesday, the USS Theodore Roosevelt staged what it described as a routine training exercise en route to the Philippines in the waters, with 20 F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets performing a take-off and landing exercise.
Miliary experts said the parade, which involved most of the Chinese navy’s advanced warships and aircraft, sent a strong message to the outside world that the PLA was on alert for growing challenges in the waters, where China has territorial disputes with several neighbours.
Song Zhongping, a former member of China’s Second Artillery Corps, said all branches of the military had ramped up live-fire drills since Xi presided over another large-scale military parade at the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base in Inner Mongolia last year.
“The drill near the waters of Sanya in the South China Sea also declare the PLA’s firm determination to defend its sovereignty in the contested area, and the navy’s capacity to protect China’s interests along the belt and road,” Song said, referring to the country’s ambitious international infrastructure and energy initiative.