US Experts Analyze China's Military Drills Around Taiwan

Escalating Tensions: China’s Military Exercises Encircle Taiwan

by Faruk Imamovic
US Experts Analyze China's Military Drills Around Taiwan
© Getty Images/An Rong Xu

China has commenced its largest military drills in over a year around Taiwan, aimed at testing its capability to "seize power" over the island. These drills began just days after Taiwan inaugurated its new president, Lai Ching-te, who is known for his strong stance on Taiwan's sovereignty and independence, a position that Beijing openly despises.

Strategic Military Maneuvers

On Thursday morning, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched extensive exercises involving warships and fighter jets surrounding Taiwan and its outlying islands. The PLA's Eastern Theater Command announced that these operations are designed to "test the ability to jointly seize power, launch joint attacks, and occupy key areas." This series of exercises includes the combined efforts of China’s army, navy, air force, and rocket force, covering the Taiwan Strait as well as regions to the north, south, and east of Taiwan.

For the first time, China's Coast Guard also participated in these maneuvers, focusing on areas around Taiwan’s outlying islands such as Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin. State-run media showcased footage of PLA soldiers positioning mobile artillery and missile systems, though no live fire was demonstrated.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has condemned these drills as "irrational provocations" and has responded by deploying its own sea, air, and ground forces. Over a 24-hour period, Taiwan detected 49 Chinese aircraft, 35 of which crossed the Median Line in the Taiwan Strait—an informal boundary that Beijing has increasingly ignored.

Presidential Response Under Pressure

President Lai Ching-te, who has recently taken office, faces immediate pressure from Beijing. Despite his offer to resume cross-strait tourism and student exchanges, his outreach has been met with aggressive rhetoric from China. Beijing's Defense Ministry accused him of pushing Taiwan toward "a dangerous situation of war" and warned that "those who play with fire will burn themselves."

Domestically, Lai is navigating a politically volatile environment. Opposition parties that favor closer ties with China control the legislature and are pushing for increased oversight of his administration. Thousands of young protesters have taken to the streets, opposing fast-tracked bills that aim to grant the parliament more power.

Despite these tensions, daily life in Taiwan remains largely unaffected. Many residents, accustomed to China's threats, remain unfazed. Liu, an 88-year-old retiree, expressed confidence, saying, "We are not scared of the Chinese Communist Party, and we have confidence." Similarly, Tsai, a 42-year-old mother, stated she wasn’t even aware of the PLA drills, adding, "I believe leaders will prioritize people’s happiness, so I’m not worried. I think peace will be maintained."

US Experts Analyze Chinas Military Drills Around Taiwan
US Experts Analyze Chinas Military Drills Around Taiwan© Getty Images/Jes Aznar

International and Strategic Implications

China’s military drills serve both domestic propaganda and international signaling purposes. According to Zhang Chi, a Chinese military expert, these exercises focus on practicing a new mode of blockading Taiwan. He emphasized that Taiwan's economy, heavily reliant on exports and energy imports, could collapse under a blockade, effectively isolating the island.

Key aspects of these drills include targeting Kaohsiung port, Taiwan’s largest, and conducting operations east of the island to disrupt energy imports and potential support lines from the US and its allies. The PLA's movements near strategic points such as Wuqiu and Dongyin signify a tightening grip on Taiwan's defense perimeters.

While the US maintains informal relations with Taiwan and supplies it with defensive weapons, experts like Craig Singleton of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies emphasize that these exercises are more about political messaging than signaling an imminent invasion. "These drills aid in blurring the lines between peace and war," Singleton explained, suggesting they serve to maintain continuous pressure on Taiwan’s new administration.

Analysts such as Lionel Fatton from Webster University in Geneva argue that Beijing uses such military pressure to try and sow division within Taiwan, potentially weakening its internal stability. He warns that this strategy could polarize Taiwan's political and social fabric, making it more vulnerable to external threats.

The situation between China and Taiwan remains tense, with both sides demonstrating resolve in their stances. Taiwan's new leadership under President Lai Ching-te faces the dual challenge of managing internal political strife and countering external threats from an increasingly assertive Beijing. As the world watches, the balance of power and peace in the Taiwan Strait hangs precariously, with each military drill and political maneuver potentially tipping the scales.

Unyielding Resolve Amidst Growing Threats

Despite the increased frequency and intensity of China’s military exercises, life in Taiwan continues without any reduction. The island's 23 million residents, seasoned by years of similar threats, remain resilient. This resilience is echoed by the government’s response to China's provocations. Taiwan’s presidential office described China’s actions as "regrettable" and affirmed the island’s confidence in protecting its national security.

The drills serve as a stark reminder of the precarious nature of Taiwan's geopolitical situation. Yet, amid the shadow of China's growing military might, Taiwan continues to stand firm, bolstered by international support and a populace unwilling to succumb to intimidation. The future of Taiwan remains uncertain, but its determination to maintain its sovereignty and democratic values remains unwavering.