Crossing the center line is a rare move that Beijing is preserving to send stronger signals, but Beijing has done it before – pushing planes over the center line for the first time in 20 years in 2019, and the has done several times since then.
Officials say they see China’s actions so far as bluster. But there are signs that Beijing is planning more provocative military actions in the upcoming exercise. China has never flown planes or launched missiles into Taiwan’s territorial waters – which could happen during the drills, said Bonnie Glaser, East Asia analyst at the German Marshall Fund of States -United.
Chinese state media, tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, on Wednesday called the drills “unprecedented” and said the missile launches and naval blockade of the island demonstrate China’s “absolute control mainland on the Taiwan question”.
The exercises will involve China’s most sophisticated military equipment, including J-20 stealth fighters, H-6K bombers, Type 052D destroyers, Type 056A corvettes, DF-11 short-range ballistic missiles and DF-17 hypersonic missiles. Global Times reported.
US officials are particularly concerned by the Times’ assertion that when People’s Liberation Army forces enter Taiwan’s territorial waters, “the so-called median line will cease to exist.”
“The Chinese are deliberately trying to do something they’ve never done before,” Glaser said.
The Chinese Defense Ministry map shows “closure zones” in large bodies of water surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing has warned ships and planes not to enter during exercises, which are large enough to suggest that Beijing will launch cruise missiles as well as ballistic missiles, Glaser said.
US officials have been trying for days to defuse tensions, downplaying the speaker’s visit as nothing out of the ordinary. John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Tuesday that the United States would not engage in “saber dealings.”
“There is no reason, as I said yesterday, for Beijing to turn this visit, which is consistent with long-standing US policy, into some kind of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase the aggressiveness and military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.
The Pentagon has been notably quiet, and DoD officials have said they do not expect to move any US planes or warships closer to the island before the drills. Four US warships are already nearby in the Pacific, including the aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, on what the Navy has called routine deployments.
The Navy’s 7th Fleet, which operates in the Pacific, launched a number of tweets Wednesday showing pictures of flight operations on board vessels en route in the region. The tweets include the hashtag “FreeandOpenIndoPacific”.
But Taiwanese officials are increasingly sounding the alarm over the drills, which the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday amounted to an effective blockade of the island. Taipei is trying to figure out how to redirect critical sea and air traffic, as lockdown areas are strategically positioned outside of Taiwan’s biggest ports, forming a ring around the island.
Beijing has warned commercial airlines to avoid large swathes of airspace circling Taiwan between Aug. 4 and Aug. 7 in what amounts to a no-fly zone on major trade routes. The closures also affect commercial shipping in and out of the island, as well as normal fishing grounds.
Former and current officials have pointed to the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, when China tested missiles around Taiwan as a form of intimidation, as a parallel to the current situation. But this time the drills are closer to Taiwan, and Chinese naval power has grown significantly over the past 25 years.
Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute, said he expects Beijing to increase naval and air operations in and around Taiwan in the coming months before the Xi Jinping’s party congress in November, where the Chinese leader will seek an unprecedented third term.
“I fully expect that we will have a bump or shoulder incident with the Chinese navy in the next year,” Hendrix said, adding that Pelosi’s visit “represents a significant loss of face for Xi. that he cannot afford before his party congress”.
While the U.S. Navy continues to maintain some distance from Chinese ships and live-fire exercises around Taiwan, several U.S. ships in the region could arrive near Taiwan in a day if the need arises.
But by keeping hundreds of miles back, the United States not only reduces the possibility of misguided encounters, but also tacitly recognizes that Beijing’s military capabilities dwarf what they were during the 1996 crisis. what role the two Chinese aircraft carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, could play in the exercises, but both ships have left their ports in recent days and are at sea.
“The size of their navy has tripled in the last two decades,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday to reporters last month. “They are expanding their strategic nuclear capability and capability, and long-range detection and targeting – the United States no longer has a monopoly on that.”