Tensions flare as Chinese flights near Taiwan intensify

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US calls China’s latest action ‘risky’ and ‘destabilising’

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With a record number of military flights near Taiwan over the past week, China is showing a new intensity and military sophistication as it escalates its oppression of the island it claims and its territorial ambitions in the region. Is.

China’s People’s Liberation Army on Monday flew 56 planes off the southwest coast of Taiwan, setting a new record and easing four days of sustained pressure involving 149 flights. All were in international airspace, but prompted Taiwan’s defense forces to scramble in response and fears that any wrong move could provoke an unintended escalation.

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The layoffs came as China’s growing diplomatic and military power faced greater backlash from countries in the region and a growing naval presence from the United States and other Western democracies in Asia as Taiwan gained more global support and support. requests recognition.

The US called China’s latest actions “risky” and “destabilizing”, while China responded that the US selling arms to Taiwan and its ships navigating the Taiwan Strait were provocative.

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Along with the flights, the US intensified naval maneuvers in the Indo-Pacific with its allies, challenging Beijing’s territorial claims in important waterways.

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Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told legislators on Wednesday that the situation was “the most dire in 40 years since I was admitted.”

While most agree that war is not imminent, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen warned that more is at stake if Beijing makes good on past threats to seize the island by force if necessary.

“If Taiwan collapses, the consequences will be disastrous for regional peace and the democratic coalition system,” she wrote in a sentimental op-ed in Foreign Affairs magazine published Tuesday. “This would indicate that in today’s global competition for values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.”

China regularly flies military aircraft in Taiwan’s “Air Defense Identification Zone”, the international airspace that Taiwan counts as a buffer in its defense strategy, although previous flights have usually involved a handful of aircraft.

Perhaps more important than the number of planes was the constitution of the group, which had fighters, bombers and aerial early warning aircraft, said Euan Graham, a defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

“It’s a level of sophistication – it looks like a strike package, and it’s part of the move under pressure,” he said. “It’s not coming close to some fighters and then placing a wing in the middle and going straight back; it’s a more purposeful maneuver.”

Controlling Taiwan and its airspace is key to China’s military strategy, the region in which the most recent flights took place, also headed to the West Pacific and South China Sea.

The latest maneuver brings the total number of flights as of Monday to more than 815 since the Taiwanese government began publicly releasing the numbers a little more than a year ago.

China is rapidly improving and strengthening its military, and recent flights demonstrate a great level of technical expertise and power, said Chen-Yi Tu, a researcher at the National Defense and Security Research Institute in Taiwan.

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This is a marked contrast from 20, 30 years ago, when the Chinese military could not refuel in the air, or fly across water, said Oriana Skyler Mastro, a fellow and non-resident senior at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. he said. Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC

“I think China is trying to remind the US and Taiwan that it is not, then, that they have options,” she said. “They can do what they want, not be distracted.”

At the same time, many democracies have become increasingly vocal in support of Taiwan and have stepped up naval operations in the region.

As China was operating its most recent flights, 17 ships from the US, UK, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand, including three aircraft carriers and a Japanese helicopter carrier, sailed to the Japanese island of Okinawa, northeast of Taiwan. joint exercise. , to show its commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

A few days earlier, the British warship HMS Richmond transited through the Taiwan Strait, announcing its presence on Twitter and angered China, which condemned the move as a “meaningless display of presence with an insidious intent”. Of.

Graham said the international actions are an attempt to counter China’s persistent claim that its own actions are in response to US moves, and demonstrate that democracies seek to protect established maritime laws and norms.

“When the UK sends a ship through the Strait of Taiwan for the first time since 2008 and it goes down the midline, it’s making it known that China knows where that line is,” he said. . “For the status quo to be meaningful, it has to be maintained and the most powerful way to do this is by physically displaying it with government property like a warship.”

Australia, which also spoke out against China’s recent flights, last month announced a deal with the US and UK to acquire nuclear-powered submarines in what was seen as a strong statement that She had planned to play a bigger role.

Visitors to the Chinese military's KJ-500 aerial early warning and control aircraft during the 13th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2021, in Zhuhai, southern China's Guangdong province, Wednesday, September 29, 2021 Let's see.  With a record number of military flights near Taiwan over the past week, China is increasing its oppression of the island, which it claims, is showing a new intensity and sophistication as it asserts its territorial claims in the region. does.  (AP photo/Ng Han Guan

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And Japan, which has long been cautious about its ties with China, a major trading partner, now sees the country as a security threat amid Beijing’s increasingly assertive activity around the territorial seas and the Taiwan Strait. Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said talks with China are important, but Japan should also work with like-minded democracies to advance its security alliance with the US and other partners, while Tokyo also strengthens its defense capabilities. does.

A Taipei-based senior J. Michael Cole said, “We are seeing the slow emergence of some sort of coalition of democracies in the region trying to come together to build some sort of mechanism to respond to Chinese behavior in the region.” are doing.” Partner with the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, DC

As part of a long-standing policy, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to protect it from Chinese attack.

Yet, as the US increases its military activities in the Indo-Pacific, said Yu Gang, a retired Chinese army colonel and Beijing-based military commentator, the Chinese response has been self-increasing.

“The Biden administration is increasing military resistance against China by not only sending several warships and warplanes, but also showing its allies,” he said. “One of the possibilities is that the mainland hopes to send a signal that it will not be mistaken as weak.”

Yu said Chinese flights into Taiwan’s defense buffer zone have forced Taiwan to scramble its own aircraft and anti-aircraft missile batteries, reducing their preparedness and reducing their capability.

“Every time a warplane takes off, the engine life is reduced somewhat,” he said.

Graham said that in addition to keeping Taiwan on edge, the layoffs also helped Chinese pilots maintain their lead, and could ultimately help give them an element of surprise “if the scenario ultimately resolves their unification claim on Taiwan.” To do is to use hard power,” Graham said. .

“It’s hard to know whether exercise 39 or exercise 57 is what is not exercise,” he said.

At the moment, most agree that this is not an immediate goal.

“This is more a signal and psychological warfare and a warning to the US not to get so close to Taiwan,” Mastro said.


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