Beijing has revved up its rhetoric and military drills surrounding the Taiwan Strait in recent weeks, in its boldest display of aggression toward the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
The Chinese regime considers Taiwan a part of its territory, despite the island being a de-facto nation state with its own democratically-elected government, military, and currency. Beijing has threatened to use military force to bring the island under its fold.
In recent weeks, those threats were amplified.
China announced that it was conducting five simultaneous military drills in four seas on Sept. 28, while state-run broadcaster CCTV reported that the army practiced street fighting on Sept. 25 in Fujian Province, which is located directly across the Taiwan Strait.
Meanwhile, Chinese warplanes have continually entered Taiwan airspace.
The United States indirectly suggested that it would support Taiwan in a conflict. On Sept. 24, the Air Force Magazine reported that its workhorse drone MQ-9 Reapers, “with an eye on China,” were training for a maritime conflict, including shooting non-stealth aircraft down or jamming their transmissions.
In an accompanying photo, air force members participating in the drone exercise could be seen wearing an armband that features a red-colored map of China.
Though the atmosphere in the Taiwan Strait is tense, commentators said the Chinese military is flexing its muscle but unlikely to provoke a real conflict.
On Sept. 24, state-run media PLA (People’s Liberation Army, official name of Chinese military) Daily released a video showing the military’s Eastern Theater Command firing 10 DF-11A short-range ballistic missiles at a targeted airport. In the footage, an aircraft runway goes up in flames.
The Eastern Theater Command is the primary unit that targets Taiwan. The DF-11A short-range ballistic missile has a range of 600 kilometers (373 miles), with a 500 kg (1,100 pounds) payload.
The PLA Daily didn’t disclose when or where the command performed the exercise.
But during a Sept. 24 press conference commenting generally on the PLA’s past live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait, China’s national defense ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said they were targeted at “the very small number of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists and their separatist activities.”
The Chinese regime frequently portrays those who affirm Taiwan’s sovereignty, such as Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and her Progressive Democratic Party, as separatists. Tsai has maintained that the island is already an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name.
Tan also confirmed at the press conference that the military just completed battle training for its two aircraft carriers, the Shandong and Liaoning.
Chinese state-run media Haixia Daobao reported on Sept. 12 that the two carriers were conducting group exercises in the Bohai Sea, with the purpose of showing its muscle to Taiwan and the United States—Taiwan’s chief arms supplier.
Meanwhile, Chinese state-run CCTV reported on Sept. 16 that the PLA performed military drills on an unspecified date with warships, such as guided-missile frigates, to find and attack air invaders.
CCTV also stated that PLA recently performed exercises in Fujian Province, including with helicopters that simulated dispatching eight soldiers to enemy-controlled land at the same time, warplanes cooperating with soldiers on land, and so on.
The Western Theater Command also performed exercises simulating the army fighting with enemies on land.
The DF-11A missiles footage released on Sept. 24 was found to be fake. Netizens compared the video with one that CCTV broadcast in 2016—revealing that most of the scenes were the same.
Chinese state-run media also posted a photo on Sept. 22 and claimed that it was a H-6 twin-engine jet bomber participating in military exercises in the Taiwan Strait together with J-10, J-11, and J-16 fighters.
Soon after, Taiwan military fans pointed out that the photo was the same as one taken by Taiwan’s National Defense Ministry in February, in which a Taiwanese F-16 fighter flew beside a H-6 to drive it away from Taiwan airspace—but with the F-16 photoshopped out of the image.
On Sept. 19, the PLA Air Force also posted a video on popular social media platform Weibo, claiming it was a simulation exercise of a H-6 bombing of Guam—a U.S. territory that houses a naval and air base.
However, netizens discovered that the video includes footage from U.S. movies “The Hurt Locker” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”
Will PLA Fight First?
But whether the PLA will actually invade Taiwan remains a question.
During a podcast interview with the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, Chad Sbragia, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said senior PLA officers have told him in person several times: “Understand that we may be compelled to go to safeguard against the permanent losses of national interests, whether we actually can succeed or not.”
Meanwhile, U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan believed the Chinese regime is unwilling to enter into a conflict right now due to domestic economic troubles and mounting international criticism over issues such as trade practices, the COVID-19 pandemic, and aggression on the India-China border.
“The Chinese regime has no real friend ... Taipei has support from the U.S., Japan, and other countries. The Chinese regime has no reason to fight now,” Tang analyzed.
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.