At least 11 Chinese missiles struck seas north, south and east of Taiwan on Thursday, less than 24 hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated the island as a bulwark of democracy next to autocratic China. The People’s Liberation Army declared its missiles “all precisely hit their targets,” even as Japan said five landed in its waters.
The Chinese military called the exercises a prelude to a bigger show of force intended to punish the island for a visit by Ms. Pelosi that challenged Beijing’s claims to Taiwan. The drills, jostling ever closer to Taiwan and expected to run 72 hours, will also give Chinese forces valuable practice should they one day be ordered to encircle and attack the island.
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has said that he hopes to eventually unify Taiwan and China through peaceful steps, as part of his vision for a “rejuvenated” and powerful nation. But like his predecessors, he has not ruled out force, and China’s military buildup has reached a point where some commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario.
Even if imminent conflict is unlikely, the exercises are putting the region on edge. And tensions could dangerously escalate, especially if something goes wrong.
The Japanese government on Thursday said that five Chinese ballistic missiles had fallen into its exclusive economic zone, the first time any had landed in those waters. The zone is outside of the country’s territorial waters, where international ships can pass freely.
Another missile, the government said, landed 50 miles northwest of Yonaguni, a small island at Japan’s southernmost tip and just a short distance from Taiwan; the missile did not land in Japan’s economic zone.
Japan lodged a protest with the Chinese government. “This is a grave issue that concerns our national security and the safety of the people,” said Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi.
On Wednesday, before the missile incident, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, told reporters that Beijing did not recognize Japan’s zone.
“Since China and Japan have not demarcated a boundary in the relevant waters, China does not accept the notion of a so-called ‘Japanese exclusive economic zone’,” Ms. Hua said in answer to a question about whether China’s military drill would impinge on those waters.
The six areas for China’s exercises were chosen for their importance in a potential campaign to seal off Taiwan and repel foreign intervention, Maj. Gen. Meng Xiangqing, a professor of strategy at the National Defense University in Beijing, said in an interview on Chinese television.
One zone covers the narrowest part of the Taiwan Strait. Others could be used to block a major port or attack three of Taiwan’s main military bases. One facing southern Taiwan, “creates conditions to bolt the door and beat the dog,” he said, using a Chinese saying that refers to blocking an enemy’s escape route. He signaled that a bigger show of force using live ammunition was on the way.
China’s main state-run television network, CCTV, stated that one of the missiles flew over Taiwan, marking another escalation of Chinese pressure on the island and risking miscalculation. General Meng said it was a first for China’s military, though neither the Chinese nor Taiwanese governments have officially confirmed the missile arc.
“You all can wait and see,” General Meng said. “This is the first time that the military will hold a joint military operation around all of Taiwan island,” he said. “It should be said that although this is an exercise resembling actual combat, it can at any time turn into real combat.”
“Use the momentum to surround,” read a slogan used by People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, as it announced that the drills had begun.
China’s outpouring of pugnacious propaganda, and an accompanying surge in nationalist sentiment, may be a welcome rallying point for Mr. Xi, the Communist Party leader. His march to an increasingly certain third term as leader at a party congress later this year has been weighed down by faltering economic growth, in large part caused by Covid outbreaks and Mr. Xi’s ferociously strict response to them.
Mr. Xi has more than propaganda points at stake. Over the past eight years he has overhauled the People’s Liberation Army, accelerating its transition to an array of advanced forces capable of projecting Chinese power, including over Taiwan. The exercises could provide his commanders with valuable experience in joint operations of air, naval and rocket forces around the island.
“They’re definitely going to use this as an excuse to do something that helps them prepare for a possible invasion,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University who studies China’s military and its potential to attack Taiwan.
“It’s not just about the messaging,” she said. “Under the guise of signaling, they’re trying to basically test their ability to conduct complex maneuvers that are necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan.”
It remains unclear how close Chinese forces will come to Taiwan during the exercises, which are scheduled to end on Sunday.
In one possible sign of what to expect, China’s Eastern Theater Command, which encompasses Taiwan, said that it was mobilizing more than 100 fighter planes, bombers and other aircraft, as well as more than 10 destroyers and frigates, to “carry out joint closure and control operations.”
Two dozen Chinese military aircraft briefly crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait, an informal boundary that Chinese planes have crossed only infrequently, the Taiwanese defense ministry said.
The Chinese military could also test Taiwan’s responses by firing into the territorial waters directly off its coast. Three of the exercise zones have corners jutting into those waters.
“It signals that, since Taiwan is part of China, it doesn’t get a 12-nautical-mile zone,” said William Overholt, a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, referring to the sea perimeter by which Taiwan defines its territorial waters. “Taiwan either has to defend its zone like an independent country or cave.”
China is trying to reinforce its influence over Taiwan by upgrading deterrence after the visit by Ms. Pelosi, who praised the island’s people for standing strong against Beijing, several Chinese analysts said.
“The tendency of external forces exploiting Taiwan to contain China has become increasingly clear,” Wu Yongping, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing who studies Taiwan, said in written answers to questions. “The Chinese government has adopted some unprecedented military operations in response to this.”
One of the designated exercise zones lies off the eastern coast of Taiwan, at the farthest point from the Chinese mainland. When China held menacing military exercises off Taiwan during a crisis 25 years ago, the People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., did not go that far.
“It’s an intentional message meant to highlight the P.L.A.’s heightened capacity to project power farther from the Chinese mainland, and it’s a visible signal that China can surround the island,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It will also complicate traffic to and around the island from all sides.”
Kinmen Island, a Taiwanese-controlled island a little over six miles off China’s coast, reported that on Wednesday night, flying objects of unclear origin — probably drones — flew overhead.
“I’m not worried about war, but I’m worried about accidents,” said Cheng Yu-han, 31, a computer engineer in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. He was a little nervous when he heard the sound of planes flying across the sky in Taipei this morning. “I hope that Taiwanese people can get through this crisis safely,” he said.
After decades of tensions and several military crises with China, many on Taiwan have become inured to threats. But even if China does not take the most potentially incendiary steps this time, experts and officials on the island worry that the operations could spark an incident — a collision at sea or in the air, or a misfired missile — that inflames tensions into a full-fledged crisis.
White House and Pentagon officials have been watching the situation closely without laying out how they might respond. A monitoring service run by the U.S. Naval Institute reported on Monday that a strike group led by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was in the Philippine Sea, some distance east of Taiwan, and that the U.S.S. Tripoli, an amphibious assault ship, was also in that area. There were no announcements Thursday of American naval ships near the Chinese exercises.
“Previously, the Chinese Communists carried out military exercises at a distance, now they’ve become close-up,” Chang Yan-ting, a retired deputy commander of Taiwan’s air force, said in an interview. “They’re already at our doorstep.”
Ben Dooley, Jane Perlez and John Liu contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Li You and Zixu Wang contributed research.
Soruce : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/03/world/asia/taiwan-china-military-exercises.html