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The Liaoning aircraft carrier took part in last week’s naval parade off the coast of Hainan. Photo: Xinhua via AP

China’s live-fire Taiwan Strait drill scales down as both sides reduce tensions

Beijing and Taipei authorities shun confrontation after military exercises are scaled back or cancelled 


China scaled down a planned naval drill near Taiwan on Wednesday after both sides appeared to have decided to reduce tensions.  

Taiwan’s defence ministry said that the People’s Liberation Army activities were just regular artillery exercises, and no warships were believed to have taken part in live-fire exercises.

Mainland military sources said that the exercises had been meticulously planned to avoid triggering strong reactions.

The Taiwanese military also cancelled a scheduled cannon drill.

There were no reports from the mainland defence ministry or state media about the drill, but a source close to the People’s Liberation Army said it had been a relatively low-key affair.

The source added: “It was relatively small-scale because Beijing wanted to send a warning to the separatists and the independence-leaning [Taiwanese president] Tsai Ing-wen administration, not provoke ordinary people’s emotions.”

Mainland officials had previously stated that Wednesday’s Taiwan Strait exercise had been designed to show that Beijing would not tolerate any moves by separatist forces to divide its territory.

Last week the maritime office in the coastal province of Fujian announced that restrictions would be imposed on a 200-square kilometre zone about 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the island of Quemoy, which is controlled by the authorities in Taipei. The zone in question was roughly 175 kilometres from Taiwan island itself. 

But a local resident in Shishi, a coastal city in Fujian close to the area where the drill was carried out, said that the situation had been quiet on Wednesday.

A Taiwanese anti-submarine helicopter pictured taking part in exercises last week. On Wednesday the island’s authorities stated they were confident they could ‘safeguard their territory’. Photo: EPA-EFE

The Taipei authorities confirmed that they had cancelled a cannon drill that was scheduled to take place the same day and restricted themselves to verbal salvoes against the mainland. 

The island’s armed forces released a promotional video, which stated they were combat-ready and confident enough to “safeguard their territory and protect the Taiwanese people”.

“The Chinese communists have been using cheap verbal intimidation and sabre-rattling … in the hope of affecting our morale or creating social unease,” Taiwan’s defence ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.

Chen said that Taipei had been collecting intelligence about the PLA’s drills over the past decade, and accused the mainland authorities of “playing up an exercise into the unification of Taiwan by force”.

Chen confirmed that the cannon drill, which had been scheduled for the outlying island of Penghu on Wednesday, had been cancelled. However, he said, this was because exercises that started earlier this month had finished ahead of schedule.

Despite the scaling down of Wednesday’s operation, Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, said that Beijing was likely to have its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, tour the Taiwan Strait on its way to its home port of Dalian following its participation in the PLA’s biggest-ever naval parade off the coast of Hainan province last week.

On Tuesday the PLA Navy’s website published a report that the Liaoning had been conducting extensive drills since the parade on Thursday. 

Pictures published by the navy showed there were more than nine J-15 fighters on the deck of the carrier. 

The Navy said that the Liaoning carrier battle group had conducted air-to-air, ship-to-air and other strikes, including a successful submarine ambush exercise as part of the drills.

“It is the first time the Liaoning has engaged in such a systematic real battle and full-voyage drills since its launch six years ago,” Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said. 

Li added that the exercises indicated “the PLA Navy has finally set up a practical and systemic joint operational system for its future carrier strike groups”. 

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Cross-strait tensions ease as military drills scaled down