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'Strong Punishment': All About China's Military Drills Around Taiwan

China considers the democratic island part of its territory. (File)

Shanghai:

China on Thursday announced two days of war games around self-ruled Taiwan, encircling the island with naval vessels and military aircraft.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why has China launched these drills?

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when nationalists fled to the island following their defeat by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a civil war on the mainland.

Beijing considers the democratic island part of its territory and has not ruled out using force to bring it under its control.

Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, has been branded a “dangerous separatist” by Beijing.

“Beijing worries that Lai pushing de facto independence is moving dangerously close… to encouraging the international community to support formal independence,” Rorry Daniels, managing director of the Asia Society Policy Institute, told AFP.

In his inauguration speech on Monday, Lai vowed to defend Taiwanese democracy and said the two sides “are not subordinate to each other”.

China called the speech “a confession of independence” and warned of “countermeasures”.

On Thursday, it said the war games were meant as a “strong punishment for… attempts at independence”.

However, J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based security analyst, said planning for such exercises must have begun before the speech.

“Beijing decided long ago that, whatever Lai said, they’d be unhappy with it and would be ‘compelled’ to react,” he told AFP.

China has launched similar military drills before, most notably in August 2022 after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island.

What is China trying to achieve?

The drills are first and foremost a message to Taiwan and its allies, analysts said.

“It’s meant to be a warning to both the Lai administration and Washington that it can and will continue to put the squeeze on Taiwan if Lai does not return to a more moderate tone and approach,” said Amanda Hsiao of the International Crisis Group.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intends to prove “that if the need arises it has the ability to quickly impose a blockade on the entire territory of Taiwan island, stop armed intervention by external forces, and rapidly resolve the Taiwan issue”, Song Zhongping, an analyst and former Chinese military officer, told AFP.

The drills are also aimed at a domestic audience.

They are “a tried and tested way” for the CCP to “assuage popular nationalist concerns regarding the regime’s ability to defend Chinese national sovereignty”, said James Char, an expert on China’s military at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Do these drills differ from previous ones?

The war games are scheduled to last two days, compared to at least five in August 2022.

But their geographical scope appears to be broader than previous exercises.

“(The drills) are very close in, violating Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ), and moving ever closer,” said Evan Feigenbaum of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That “is eventually going to force some decisions from Taiwan about rules of engagement”.

Beijing now deploys military aircraft and naval vessels around the island on a near-daily basis.

Ben Lewis of the analysis website PLATracker told AFP that the focus on Taiwan’s outlying islands stood out to him.

The inclusion of China’s coast guard in Thursday’s exercises was also interesting, Lewis and other analysts said.

It “suggests an interest in signaling interdiction and quarantine”, Feigenbaum said.

Overall though, Lewis said he thought the drills would be smaller than in August 2022.

What happens next?

Beijing could choose to extend the war games, or launch missiles near Taiwan, as it did after Pelosi’s visit.

It could also escalate with actions such as imposing a real blockade around the island.

But NTU’s Char said he thought it was unlikely China would do any of the above “based on the desire demonstrated recently… to lower tensions” by both Washington and Beijing.

Relations had been tentatively thawing after a November meeting between the two countries’ leaders in San Francisco.

Feigenbaum said the exercises were “not a sign of imminent war”.

“Beijing has a whole-of-regime strategy that includes a wide array of coercive and persuasive tools… In the near term, invasion is the least likely of these tools to be deployed,” he told AFP.

Much of Beijing’s toolkit was aimed at “inducing Taiwan to lose the will to resist”, he said, rather than risking a high-cost invasion and occupation.

Beijing’s military intimidation of Taiwan would certainly continue, analysts said.

Many pointed out that the suffix ‘A’ in the operation’s name — “Joint Sword-2024A” — suggested more drills might already be planned this year.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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