China Air Sortie 'Looks Like a Strike Package,' According to Defense Analyst
The equivalent of a cold war is developing around Taiwan, the independent nation 100 miles off the coast of China that the Communist Chinese claim as their own.
Taiwan has been subject to continuous harassment, culminating with 149 Chinese flights approaching Taiwanese airspace this month.
By dispatching 149 warplanes near #Taiwan island since Oct 1, the #PLA sent strong warning to the Taiwan secessionists &their foreign supporters. China will take all measures necessary to crush any ”Taiwan independence” attempts, which is doomed to fail. pic.twitter.com/jVXCw7B5pP
— Ambassador Deng Xijun (@China2ASEAN) October 6, 2021
The flights represent improved technical expertise on the part of China, said Chen-Yi Tu of the Taiwanese Institute for National Defense and Security Research, according to The Associated Press.
At the same time, 17 ships from six nations conducted joint maneuvers near the Japanese island of Okinawa, which is about 400 miles northeast of Taiwan, the AP reported.
The ships — from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand — were there to show the nations’ commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the report said.
Among them were three aircraft carriers and a Japanese helicopter carrier.
Bejing-Taipei relations are “the most severe in the 40 years since I’ve enlisted,” Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Huo-Cheng said Wednesday.
Chinese aircraft often fly into the “air defense identification zone,” an area in international airspace that Taiwan considers a buffer zone for its defense. In the past, Chinese incursions into the zone have been few in number.
To date, no Chinese aircraft has crossed into Taiwan’s airspace.
So far, the triggering of a full-scale hot war has been deemed unlikely. But Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has said if China follows up on its threat to take Taiwan by force, the results would be disastrous.
“If Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for the regional peace and the democratic alliance system,” she wrote in an Op-Ed published Tuesday in Foreign Affairs magazine. “It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.”
Of concern is the makeup of the types of aircraft nudging against Taiwan, according to defense analyst Euan Graham of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.
Unlike in the past, there is “the level of sophistication — it looks like a strike package, and that’s part of the step up in pressure,” Graham said, according to the AP.
“This is not a couple of fighters coming close and then going straight back after putting one wing across the median; this is a much more purposeful maneuver,” he said.
Two or three decades ago, Chinese technical limitations kept them from mid-air refueling or being able to fly across the water, according to Oriana Skylar Mastro of the Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
“I think China is trying to remind the U.S. and Taiwan that this is not then, that they have options. They can do what they want, that they won’t be deterred,” Mastro said, according to the AP.
Bejing was outraged when a British frigate, the HMS Richmond, tweeted from inside the Taiwan Strait. It was a “meaningless display of presence with an insidious intention,” the Chinese said.
The Richmond’s action was seen as an attempt to offset China’s claims that what it does is in response to what the U.S. does and to show that the U.S. and its allies will defend established laws of the sea, according to Graham.
“When the U.K. sends a ship through the Taiwan Strait for the first time since 2008 and it sailed down the median line, the point that it’s making is that they know China knows where that line is,” Graham said. “In order for the status quo to be meaningful, it has to be upheld and the most emphatic way to do that is to physically demonstrate with a government asset like a warship.”
Despite Japan’s history as a major Chinese trading partner, Chinese harassment of Taiwan has prompted Japan to now consider China a security risk, the AP said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida considers dialogue with China important but believes Japan should increase its defense capabilities and draw closer to countries such as the U.S. and its allies.
And Australia recently made a deal with the U.S. and U.K. to obtain nuclear submarines.
“We are seeing a slow emergence of some sort of coalition of democracies in the region that are trying to come together to build some sort of mechanism to respond to Chinese behavior in the region,” said J. Michael Cole, a fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, according to the AP.
Solidification of democratic alliances has prompted a further increase in Chinese militarization, according to Yue Gang, a retired Chinese army colonel.
“The Biden administration has been increasing military deterrence against China, not only by dispatching many warships and warplanes, but also showcasing its allies,” Yue said, according to the AP. “One of the possibilities is that the mainland hopes to send a signal it will not be misjudged as weak.”
He said Chinese flights near Taiwan have forced the Taiwanese to activate anti-aircraft batteries and launch their aircraft, straining their resources. “Every time a warplane takes off, the engine life is reduced to some extent,” Yue said.
Conversely, Chinese sorties toward Taiwan are sharpening the skills of Chinese pilots, according to Graham, and that could help in making a surprise attack.
Instead of a direct threat of imminent war, it’s “more signaling and psychological warfare and a warning to the U.S. to not be so close to Taiwan,” Mastro said.
For now, U.S. forces are working with allies to show strength against China’s perceived expansion in the Southwest Pacific Ocean.
Since Taiwan began releasing the numbers just over a year ago, there have been 815 flights that could be described as harassment by China, the AP said.
Buy why now? Why has the harassment increased in recent days?
Perhaps China senses weakness on the part of the U.S. despite the pledge President Joe Biden recently made to retain the status quo in the U.S. relationship with Taiwan.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.