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Chinese warplanes run combat drills to keep US out of Taiwan conflict

Chinese J-10 fighter (Sunson Guo/Flickr)
April 01, 2021

China’s state-run Global Times reported this week that China’s recent pattern of military flights around Taiwan are becoming more elaborate, with Chinese warplanes practicing to block the U.S. or Japan from intervening should China invade the island.

On Friday, China deployed 20 warplanes including a dozen fighter jets and four bombers, in the largest-ever set of military flights around Taiwan. Those military flights continued over the weekend and on Monday, China deployed 10 more aircraft around the island.

Citing unnamed Chinese analysts, the Global Times wrote on Monday that the large-scale military flights around Taiwan over the weekend “showed that the PLA is capable of surrounding the island of Taiwan and blocking it from receiving foreign reinforcements, and also sent a strong warning to the coast guard agreement the U.S. signed with the island on Friday.”

Once again citing an unnamed Chinese analyst, Global Times wrote on Tuesday, “The recent exercises show that the PLA is continuing to increase its combat preparedness by making its routine exercises more complex and realistic and taking possible US and Japanese interventions into consideration.”

Analysts in Beijing and the Taiwanese capital of Taipei also told Newsweek that the recent Chinese military flights are notable because they exhibit “pincer-like” flight patterns intended to approach Taiwan from two directions and surround the island on three sides. The analysts told Newsweek the maneuvers could help China counter both U.S. and Japanese efforts to intervene on China’s behalf.

China maintains a claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, even as the island has governed itself as an independent nation for decades. Since 1972, the U.S. has affirmed China’s sovereignty claim through the One-China policy.

Despite the One-China policy, the U.S. has shown signs of support for Taiwan, including by selling defensive equipment to the island. On Friday, the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a Coast Guard Working Group (CGWG) between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Taiwan Coast Guard.

China has criticized the Coast Guard agreement as one that goes against the One-China policy. Xin Qiang, a deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University, recently told Global Times that President Joe Biden is continuing a Trump-era strategy of maintaining unofficial relations with the island of Taiwan but “adding more and more security, military, political, and diplomatic exchanges.”

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has increased flights over Taiwan in recent months. Chinese warplanes have flown into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on a near-constant basis amid Chinese warnings against growing U.S.-Taiwan ties. China has appeared to increase its military flights around Taiwan whenever the U.S. established a new tie with the island or when a U.S. official makes a new comment or a new visit to the island. For example, in September Chinese fighter jets flew into Taiwanese airspace as then-U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach visited the island.

U.S. officials have long speculated as to when China may attempt to invade Taiwan and establish full control over the island. Last week, U.S. Navy Adm. John Aquilino said a Taiwan invasion is Taiwan’s number one priority and that China could invade the island at any point between now and 2045.

China’s military strategy for Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region has increasingly focused on expanding their Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities. Should China’s military attempt to seize control of the Indo-Pacific, the A2AD strategy is intended to prevent other countries from attempting a counter-attack in the region.