Hong Kong, August 8 (ANI): The paranoid Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its authoritarian Chairman Xi Jinping reacted furiously to the historic Taiwan visit of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) shuffled naval and air assets, and angrily fired ballistic missiles and rockets into the sea to vent its wrath. Taiwan recalled its armed forces, putting them on alert soon after they had completed annual Han Kuang war games. Some are already calling this the "Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis".
Notably, at least four ballistic missiles flew over or past northern Taiwan. The authorities did not sound air raid warnings, though the populace was expecting such an eventuality. One Taiwanese citizen told ANI that he was worried. "China has never been that aggressive before. After they taste blood, they sure would like to know what the meat tastes like," he fretted.
He added, "There's a bit of tension. Also, TV programs and the news are running the topic all day long." Nonetheless, he said, "For average people, life is moving on."
Taiwanese netizens remained defiant, and some went so far as to claim that any imagery revealed by China was fake. Most Chinese would never have heard of the American politician before, but the name "Pelosi" has now become a sensitive topic in China.
Such was the alarm that owners of the Pelosi Italian fashion outlet in China were covering up the shop name to prevent becoming a target of protestors. Those Chinese netizens calling for calm tended to be drowned out by the nationalistic fervor.
Indeed, the following comment can be viewed as a moderate voice: "China has been a wise country since ancient times, and attacking Taiwan without sending any troops is the correct choice ... In short, Chinese should not question the decisions made by the government. Our aim was never war, but the reunification of the motherland. Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is not the end, but the beginning."
Another began calmly but then advocated unquestioning fealty to the CCP: "All Chinese people want to start a war, but nobody is talking about the consequences of fighting a war. Our government is not an incompetent one. It's a government with a clean mind. We should trust them. If it tells the country to start a war, then fight; if not to fight, then defend." One China Daily, one reader enthused, "We witnessed the return of Hong Kong, the return of Macau. We too will witness the reunification of Taiwan."
Yet social media brings out the worst too. One photo circulating online showed a Chinese car that had sign-written on the back this offensive comment: "Recover Taiwan. Gang rape Tsai Ing-wen." Other misogynist comments against Taiwanese women were common. This kind of nationalistic hubris is rampant in China, with Xi and the CCP firing up people with undiluted visions of Chinese supremacy.
Chinese officials were little better. What about the Chinese Ambassador to France, for instance? Lu Shaye discussed CCP plans for Taiwan after "reunification" (i.e. military conquest). Lu declared that re-education programs would be necessary for the "effectively indoctrinated and intoxicated" Taiwanese public. He added, "It must be re-educated to eliminate separatist thought and secessionist theory".
The CCP is already busy formulating a Taiwanese version of "one country, two systems", drawing lessons from Hong Kong's subjugation. China's military reaction to Pelosi's overnight stay in Taiwan was robust yet calculated. The scale and extent of the joint exercise was greater than hitherto seen, and it was controlled by the Eastern Theater Command of the PLA. This is one of the military's five commands, and the one responsible for the theater facing Taiwan.
The Chinese exercise kicked off on 4 August, with the Eastern Theater Command specifying seven exclusion zones surrounding Taiwan as restricted areas for ships, aircraft and missiles to execute live firing. These zones pretty much encircled the island nation, but at the same time they revealed the key areas where China might intimidate and blockade Taiwan again in the future. PLA actions, as outlined below, telegraphed China's operational approach to isolating Taiwan.
The PLA exercise echoed an "invasion" scenario, and four distinct phases were discernible. In one sense, while this was worrisome to Taiwan, it could prove a treasure trove for the Taiwanese, Japanese and American militaries, since it exposed what PLA strategy and tactics might be in a real shooting war.
Indeed, the US military was out in force to suck up all manner of intelligence and to glean valuable insights into the PLA's thinking and capacity. For instance, on 5 August the USA fielded at least one RC-135S, one RC-135V, three P-8As, one E-3G and one U-2S aircraft. These were supported by six KC-135 air-to-air tankers.
In phase one, the PLA crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, while in phase two the PLA moved to open waters east of Taiwan to "target" important military bases in Hualien and Taitung. Such eastern facilities, which include large underground aircraft bases, have been used as fallback positions for the Taiwanese military since the 1980s.
In addition, Chinese warships, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles took up a posture to prevent US strike groups and assets from Japan or elsewhere from interfering in the PLA exercise. This is what experts call anti-access/area denial operations.
The PLA conducted these first two phases on the opening day of the exercise. China also fired an unknown number of PHL-16 long-range artillery rockets from Pingtan in Fujian, plus approximately 11 ballistic missiles (likely DF-15B and DF-16 short-range ballistic missiles) from brigades of the PLA Rocket Force's 61 Base. The units involved were 613 Brigade at Shangrao, 616 Brigade at Ganzhou and 617 Brigade at Jinhua, and their missiles splashed down in the designated exclusion zones.
Moving on to phase three, the PLA intended to seal the entrance to Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, and control maritime traffic in and out of the South China Sea.
The final phase saw the PLA "encircle" Taiwanese military bases in Kaohsiung, and it used naval vessels to create a blockade of Taiwan. Spotted, and monitored by Taiwanese navy and coast guard vessels not too far beyond the territorial waters of eastern Taiwan, were Chinese destroyers, frigates and corvettes. No aircraft carriers were involved.
In the air, the PLA Air Force and PLA Navy proved equally provocative. An average of 60+ aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait median line in large formations from day one of the exercise. Fighters were accompanied by airborne early warning and electronic warfare aircraft.
The PLAN might be the largest navy in the world, but this does not automatically equate to an innate ability to coordinate and sustain numerous vessels at sea. The coming days and weeks will thus enable an assessment of the sustainability of PLA operations, particularly naval ones.
As well as testing the "jointness" of the Eastern Theater Command, air-sea integration was another important facet, as were the inclusion of electronic warfare and space-based capabilities. Careful observation by the USA and allies may well have identified weaknesses or gaps that can be exploited in the future. There have been recent tense incidents between Chinese and foreign aircraft and vessels.
For example, Australia complained of an unsafe interception of a P-8A maritime patrol aircraft over the South China Sea in May. China has already established a baseline for unsafe practices, and this lowers the threshold for accidental incidents that could quickly escalate in such episodes as China's latest antics against Taiwan.
Hu Xijin, the former editor of the Chinese tabloid Global Times, joyously tweeted, "The PLA has announced six exercise areas around Taiwan island, the closest being only 9 nautical miles from the island, and the waterways of Taiwan's main ports will be blocked during the drills. This is what Pelosi's visit has brought to Taiwan."
China is belligerent enough to blockade Taiwan, but just imagine if the shoe was on the other foot and someone attempted to do the same to China! Beijing would likely begin shooting. This merely shows how unacceptable China's behavior has become. Its default position is to throw its weight around militarily, which is a very dangerous practice.
On the other hand, Taiwan exercised restraint, with its Ministry of National Defense (MND) commenting: "ROC Armed Forces are operating as usual and monitor our surroundings in response to irrational activities from PRC, aiming for changing the status quo & destabilizing the region's security. We seek no escalation, but we don't stand down when it comes to our security and sovereignty."
In the lead-up to and during the exercise, China displayed nearly the full range of deterrence activities. These included: unveiling/highlighting advanced weapons (through video releases), enhancing combat readiness (as announced by the MND on 3 August), conducting military exercises (via the Eastern Theater Command), boosting the disposition of military units (units were relocated closer to Taiwan), information attacks (innumerable cyberattacks against Taiwan) and restrictive operations exclusion zones around Taiwan).
Rod Lee, an analyst with the US Air Force's China Aerospace Studies Institute, commented: "In short, what we're seeing is aggressive textbook deterrence activities, as the PLA discusses in the 2020 Science of Military Strategy. But we also haven't seen the PLA exercise the full range of peacetime deterrence options (yet). Within the military realm, the PLA still has options to expand the scope of deterrence operations horizontally (beyond the Eastern Theater) or vertically (creating an atmosphere of war, demonstrative strikes or other activities they've already conducted but on a larger scale)."
Unfortunately, China is certainly not acting like the responsible global power it pretends to be. It suspended 2,066 types of imports from Taiwan, amounting to 64% of all products. Then Beijing said on 5 August that it would cancel military phone calls with the USA, as well as defense meetings and cooperation on anti-drug efforts. Furthermore, it would no longer take part in talks on maritime safety or climate change.
This only illustrates how China has never considered confidence- and security-building mechanisms as a proper means of crisis management. These boycotts show that such measures are simply expendable bargaining chips designed for it to up the ante.
In a time of crisis, when such mechanisms are needed more than ever before, China simply suspends them like a spoilt child. Even the Kuomintang political party in Taiwan has sharply criticized Beijing. It warned, "We strongly denounce the continued harassment of our air defense identification zone and the median line in the Taiwan Strait. The Beijing authority's excessive military actions have significantly disrupted regional peace and stability as well as civil aviation and maritime traffic."
China, through its bullying, is ironically promoting resistance and bipartisanship within Taiwan, with local elections less than four months away. China is being careful not to stumble into any accidental conflict. Xi does not want a war with Taiwan to distract from his re-enthronement for a third term, but he has sent a clear warning to Taiwan and the USA to dissuade any similar high-level Western political visits in the future.
Remember, too, that Xi cannot unilaterally change the status quo established with the USA in 1979, for that could push the USA into changing its One-China policy. It must be noted that China and the USA are both largely playing to domestic audiences, with neither leader wishing to appear weak. Yet how will the USA react to what China has just done? And how will a credible red line be reestablished, or is it indeed too late for that already?
In many respects, China has just set a precedent. It bodes ill if China, every time it senses a slight or insult, blockades and bullies democratic Taiwan. Pelosi's visit presented Xi with a golden opportunity to stamp his authority on the CCP, on China, on Asia, and he has done so. (ANI)