PLA sends in 100+ warplanes on day 1 of military drills near Taiwan
- Beijing steps up extensive exercises in an unprecedented war game deemed a de facto blockade of the island
- Taiwan’s armed forces say an unidentified aircraft was found flying over Quemoy and troops fired flares to warn the drone away
More than 100 PLA warplanes including fighters and bombers were sent on a range of reconnaissance and support missions on Thursday, the first day of a massive exercise by Beijing around Taiwan, according to the Eastern Theatre Command.
According to footage from state broadcaster CCTV, the aircraft included the People’s Liberation Army’s most advanced stealth fighter, the J-20, and the newly introduced aerial oil tanker, the Y-20U.
In addition, more than 10 destroyers were sent in, blocking access to the areas and helping coordinate tests, CCTV reported.
DF missiles launched
The island’s defence ministry said the 11 DF series missiles were fired between 1.56pm and 4pm. It is the first time mainland missiles have flown over the island.
“The defence ministry condemned the irrational actions to undermine regional peace,” it said.
Mainland state broadcaster CCTV posted footage of the launches online.
Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence, said one of the missiles was a DF-15B, a short-range ballistic missile with a range of up to 700km.
In two short statements, the mainland’s PLA Eastern Theatre Command said it conducted precision strikes in specific areas over the east of the Taiwan Strait on Thursday and multiple conventional missile launches that afternoon.
“All the missiles hit the target accurately, testing the precision strike and area denial capabilities. The entire live ammunition launch training mission has been successfully completed, and the relevant sea and airspace control has been lifted,” it said.
CCTV footage showed several Dongfeng series ballistic missiles were launched from unknown bases on the mainland, and launched at targets in waters off Keelung port, Hualien and Taitung counties.
PCL-191 rockets landed in waters near Pingtan, an offshore island of Fujian province opposite Taiwan, on Thursday afternoon. The PCL-191 can carry eight 370mm rockets to hit targets up to 350km or two 750mm Fire Dragon 480 tactical ballistic missiles capable of flying up to 500km.
Chinese defence ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said the drills were clearly targeting collusion between Taiwan and the United States.
“The Chinese military will do what they have said,” Tan said in a statement. “The collusion between Taiwan and the US will only plunge Taiwan into a deep disaster and bring serious harm to Taiwan compatriots.”
A report by the Global Times said the ongoing drills would include long-range rocket launches and conventional missile tests.
Japan condemns launches
The Japanese government said five Chinese ballistic missiles fell withing Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said it marked the first time a ballistic missile belonging to the Chinese military had landed within the waters.
“This is a grave issue that concerns our country’s national security and the safety of the people,” Kishi said. The Japanese government also lodged a diplomatic protest with the Chinese government.
Massive drill kicked off
The exercises indicate that Beijing is ramping up its intimidation campaign targeting Taipei in the wake of the American congresswoman’s visit, after the mainland repeatedly warned it would respond with “the fiercest countermeasures”.
It’s the first time the PLA has staged such a massive and complicated war game in what it deemed a de facto blockade of the island with almost all the PLA drill areas taking place across the median line that divides the Taiwan Strait and also covering the sensitive eastern coast of Taiwan.
Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province to be brought under mainland control, by force if necessary. Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent country and acknowledge Beijing’s one-China principle. But Washington is against any attempt to change the status quo by force.
Besides live-drill exercises involving ground troops, the navy and air force, the Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct conventional missile tests to hit waters off the island’s eastern coast, the home of Taiwan’s air force.
US and Taiwan step up deployment
A US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol plane and American MH-60R anti-submarine helicopter Seahawk entered an area to the southwest of Taiwan where the PLA is conducting drills close to Kaohsiung around noon when the war games were getting started, according to photos posted to Twitter.
Taiwanese media reported that the Taiwanese air force was scrambling Mirage 2000 and F-5 fighter jets early on Thursday to monitor the situation before the PLA started its war games.
Taiwan on alert
Taiwan’s defence ministry said it was closely watching the drills.
“The Ministry of National Defence stresses that it will uphold the principle of preparing for war without seeking war, and with an attitude of not escalating conflict and causing disputes,” it said in a statement.
Reuters, citing an unnamed Taiwan source, reported that mainland navy ships and military aircraft briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line on Thursday morning.
Around 10 mainland military ships crossed the median line and remained in the area from Wednesday night through midday on Thursday, and multiple PLA aircraft briefly crossed the median line on Thursday morning, said the person, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Taiwan deployed missile systems to track PLA Air Force activity near the median line and Taiwanese navy ships remained close to the median line to monitor PLA Navy activity, the person said.
Taiwan has revoked a notice asking vessels and planes to avoid an additional area that it thought would be included in the mainland war games.
In a notice on Thursday morning, Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau identified the site as near the eastern county of Hualien, taking the total number of site to seven. It also said the exercises would continue until Monday.
But the notice was recalled in the afternoon when the PLA did not increase its drill areas.
Neighbours warn against ‘provocative action’
“The US plot of ‘using Taiwan to contain China’ will never succeed, and it will not change the historical trend of Taiwan’s inevitable return to the motherland.”
On Thursday, Asean foreign ministers warned against “provocative action” over the Taiwan Strait. The situation “could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers,” the ministers said in a joint statement published on Thursday.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it would continue to follow the “one-China policy” and called on all parties not to escalate tension in the Taiwan Strait.
Mainland drone flies over Quemoy
Taiwan’s armed forces said an unidentified aircraft flew over Quemoy, and later identified it as a drone.
No mainland military aircraft, including drones, have conducted a flyover of Quemoy since the 1950s.
Troops in Quemoy fired flares to warn the drone away and maintained combat readiness, the ministry said in a statement.
The Quemoy archipelago is just 3.2km off the coast of mainland China, but is controlled by the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
Taiwan armed forces said they used joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to “fully grasp” the situation.
The Taiwan military said it could “respond to emergencies immediately”.
PLA exercises encircle island
Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the National Defence University, said the exercises cover areas including an area to the east of Pingtan Island in mainland Fujian province, and off the coast of Keelung Port in northern Taiwan. The eastern area covers two Taiwanese military bases at Hualien and Taitung. He said the exercises would also target blocking the Bashi Channel and the airspace over Kaohsiung.
“The six major areas of this military exercise are the training areas closest to Taiwan island,” he told mainland state broadcaster CCTV. “It has formed an encirclement of Taiwan island.”
Destroyer east of Taiwan
Defence analyst HI Sutton said a mainland Chinese missile destroyer, likely to be a Type 055 Renhai class, was operating east of Taiwan on Thursday morning.
The Type 055 is regarded as second in power only to the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class stealth ship. It is designed to be a multirole warship, equipped with weapons to counter missiles, ships and submarines.
The destroyers are also equipped with the country’s most advanced integrated electric propulsion system, allowing them to travel up to 10,000 nautical miles without refuelling – 2½ times further than the navy’s Type 054 multi-role frigate, which is the most numerous of the PLA’s in-service warships.
Additional reporting by Liu Zhen and Lawrence Chung