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Chinese warplane flights around Taiwan appear to be attack ‘rehearsals,’ SECDEF Austin says

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
December 06, 2021

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Chinese Communist Party’s military flights near Taiwan appear to be “rehearsals,” adding that he didn’t want to “speculate” about the movement.

“I don’t want to speculate, but certainly … it looks a lot like rehearsals,” Austin told Fox News’ Bret Baier at the 2021 Reagan National Defense Forum in California on Saturday.

Austin’s remarks come after months of near daily Chinese warplane drills around the independent island nation.

In late November, China flew 27 warplanes around Taiwan and entered its air defense identification zone (ADIZ), prompting the island nation to deploy fighter jets, activate its missile defenses and issue radio warnings for China to leave.

The wave of warplanes was not the largest China has sent towards Taiwan, but marked the largest China has deployed around Taiwan in several weeks as part of an ongoing campaign of nearly daily aerial sorties around the island.

In October, China sent 52 warplanes towards Taiwan, setting the single-day record for aircraft deployed around the island. That wave of 52 Chinese warplanes came at the end of a four-day period in which China sent nearly 150 warplanes towards Taiwan.

“The United States is very concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s provocative military activity near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at the time. “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan.”

In November, the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a routine operation. The transit sparked anger from the Communist Chinese government, which characterized the U.S. warship’s actions as a provocative act.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army Senior Col. Shi Yi, spokesperson for the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, said PLA naval and air forces deployed to conduct close-in tracking and monitoring of the U.S. guided-missile destroyer.

“This action of the US side created security risks and undermined regional stability,” Shi said. “The troops of the PLA Eastern Theater Command will take all measures necessary to resolutely counter all threats and provocations and safeguard China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the spokesperson stressed in the statement.”

China isn’t just making moves that appear designed to intimidate Taiwan from the air. Last week, a rights group called Safeguard Defenders warned that China was “hunting” Taiwanese citizens around the world, insisting that they be extradited to the People’s Republic of China.

The group said it had documented hundreds of such cases.

“This international persecution of Taiwan nationals amounts to an assault on Taiwanese sovereignty, and is part of the larger global campaign under Xi Jinping to exploit extradition treaties, mutual law enforcement agreements, and other multilateral institutions for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s political objectives,” the group said in a summary of its report.