(TibetanReview.net, Apr16’21) – The Chinese carrier drills and stepped-up incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone in recent weeks were meant more to send a message to the USA to stand down and back off rather than to be imminent threats to invade the de facto independent island nation claimed by it, reported Reuters Apr 16, citing security sources in Taipei.
The report noted that the increased activity – which China, unusually, described as “combat drills”, on Apr 14 – had raised alarm in both Taipei and Washington, but security officials did not see it as a sign of an imminent attack.
As stated also by China’s official media earlier, at least some of the exercises were practice of “access denial” manoeuvres to prevent foreign forces from coming to Taipei’s defence in a war.
As China sailed an aircraft carrier group near Taiwan last week, its air force simulated attacks on American ships, although no US Navy vessels were known to be in the area at the time, the report cited an official in Taiwan as saying, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The report also cited a Western security source as saying the almost-daily flights by Chinese anti-submarine aircraft in the northernmost part of the South China Sea were probably a response to US missions there, including by submarines, or to show the Pentagon that China can hunt for US submarines.
“They are not chasing Taiwanese subs,” the source has said, pointing to Taiwan’s own tiny fleet of four, two of which date from World War Two.
The report said President Joe Biden’s White House had maintained a tough-on-China stance inherited from the Trump administration. That included more visible support for Taiwan, angering China, which considers the island part of its territory and sees Washington as giving succour to Taiwanese who seek independence, a red line for Beijing.
The report also cited two US military officials as saying, speaking on the condition of anonymity, that although the United States was concerned about Chinese activity around Taiwan, there was no sense of an imminent attack. “For the past five years, China has been the centrepiece of the United States’ national defence strategy. So of course we’re concerned,” one official has said.
Also, although China has escalated its rhetoric in response to US warships passing through the Taiwan Strait, a US defence official has said Washington had not seen any kind of operational military escalation by the Chinese in response.
Nevertheless, the report cited a senior US administration official as saying that regardless of who Beijing’s incursions near Taiwan were aimed at, their effect was direct “intimidation and coercion” of Taiwan.
“China’s top concern in any Taiwan contingency would be preventing or at least blunting armed intervention by the US”, Greg Poling, a maritime security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, has said.
“So demonstrating increased ability to deny U.S. access is a coercive message sent to both Washington and Taipei.”