Navy and ground troops to join air force in drills around Taiwan as China increases pressure on President Tsai Ing-wen

Military analysts say increasingly aggressive ‘island encirclement’ exercises are designed to send message to independence-leaning leadership

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 7:40pm

Mainland China’s military will step up the pressure on Taiwan with more military exercises designed to send a warning to the island’s independence-leaning president, defence experts have said. 

Their comments follow the People’s Liberation Army’s increasingly aggressive “island encirclement” drills over Taiwan, which on Friday saw the air force sending its planes in opposite directions around the island for the first time.  

Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA’s second artillery corps, the rocket wing’s predecessor, said that to reinforce the warning to Tsai Ing-wen’s administration, the mainland military would conduct targeted joint operational drills involving ground forces, the navy and the air force to strengthen its presence in the Taiwan Strait. 

Experts said Beijing was likely to showcase “precision strike” exercises as a warning against moves towards independence. 

They also argued that the message the PLA air force wanted to send was one of “upgraded deterrence” to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The mainland and Taiwan have been separated since the beaten Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese Civil war in 1949, but Beijing has never wavered in its belief that it remains an integral part of China and has refused to rule out the use of force to bring this about. 

“Taiwan is not like the two Koreas issue, with both sides being seen as equals and allowed to coexist. The message [the air force] wants to send to Taipei is that Taiwan is part of China and should be reunified with Beijing one day,” Beijing-based military expert Zhou Cheming said.

“The increasing encirclement flights around Taiwan have warned the island’s independence-leaning forces that if they are going to make trouble, the mainland will take more radical moves to take them out.”

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Propaganda footage released by the PLA air force on Sunday showed a variety of warplanes, including its new Su-35 fighter jets, H-6K strategic bombers and the advanced KJ-2000 airborne early warning aircraft crossing the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the northern islands of the Philippines for an “innovative joint operation” on Friday.

Taiwan’s air force command headquarters said it had deployed F-16 fighter jets to monitor the PLA adding that the island would take measures to protect the safety of its people. 

Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, a spokesman for the PLA air force, said the increasing encirclement drills around Taiwan showed the mainland’s determination to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity. 

Song said the PLA air force’s footage showed the H-6K bombers carrying CJ-20 or long sword cruise missiles – a long range weapon that can hit precision targets on land and sea from a distance of over 2,000km (1,200 miles). 

“The CJ-20 is one of the options the PLA might use in the event of war … because it has several purposes, including destroying Taiwan’s key military facilities or decapitate important human targets like Tsai and [Prime Minister William] Lai,” Song said.

“This cruise missile could also threaten the US’s naval base in Guam [if Washington wants to intervene] when the mainland decides to attack Taiwan.”

An earlier version of the missile, the CJ-10 which had a range of more than 1,000km, was tested more than 10 years ago, Zhou said, by targeting a specific window on a specific floor of a building at a time when the mainland was drawing up plans to “decapitate Tsai’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian”.

Beijing again flexes military muscle, sending fighter jets, bombers around Taiwan

But so far the PLA air force has refrained from entering Taiwan’s airspace because such a provocative move risks immediate conflict with the island’s forces. 

“Beijing has reinforced its ‘carrots and sticks’ approach to dealing with Taiwan’s ordinary people and independent forces, with the air force’s intensive island encirclement drills reflecting its coercion policy against the ruling party,” Song, now a Phoenix TV military commentator, said.

Beijing suspended talks and exchanges with Taiwan when Tsai took office in May 2016 and refused to accept the “1992 consensus”, which accepts the notion of “one-China” without specifying what that means. 

Meanwhile the “carrots” have taken the form of economic sweeteners, including 31 measures announced to February to deepen integration between the island and the mainland, such as the offer of better paying jobs, access to bigger markets and equal treatment for Taiwanese on the mainland.

Zhou said conflict was still unlikely because Beijing wanted to preserve the island’s economic development. 

Taiwan’s gross domestic product was nearly US$530 billion last year, compared with US$510 billion in Fujian, the province on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait despite the fact that the island’s population of 23.5 million is smaller than the 37 million in Fujian. 

“President Xi Jinping knows the Taiwan issue very well, he doesn’t want to ruin the island’s energetic economy,” Zhou said.