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Analysts: Chinese Military Drills Serve as Warning to Taiwan, Response to Camp David Summit

TAIPEI, TAIWAN  — China staged a new round of military exercises around Taiwan on Saturday, as it expressed anger toward Taiwanese Vice President William Lai’s two stopovers in the United States.

Apart from issuing warnings to Taiwan, analysts say the drills are part of Beijing’s response to Friday’s Camp David Summit featuring leaders from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea.

“China is not only aiming at Lai but also issuing a warning to the U.S., Japan, and South Korea after the three countries strengthened military cooperation and intelligence sharing at the Camp David Summit,” Lin Ying-Yu, a China military expert at Tamkang University in Taiwan, told VOA in a phone interview.

The latest exercise comes a day after Lai’s return from his seven-day trip to Paraguay, which included transit stops in New York and San Francisco. In response, an unnamed official in China’s Taiwan Work Office accused Lai of colluding with the U.S., referring to Lai’s stopovers in the U.S., an interview Lai gave to news outlet Bloomberg, and his meeting with U.S. officials in Paraguay.

The Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, characterized the military exercises on Saturday as “stern warnings” to the collusion between Taiwan independence separatists and foreign forces.

But unlike the two multi-day, blockade-style military exercises that China launched recently as responses to high-level engagement between Taiwan and the U.S., Lin from Tamkang University notes the scale of Saturday’s drills is smaller.

“Lai and the U.S. didn’t cross the red line in arranging his transit stops in the U.S., so the scale of the Chinese military exercise is smaller compared to the military exercises last August and this past April,” said Lin, referring to Beijing’s reactions to the former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August of 2022 and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last April.

In response, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry condemned Beijing’s “irrational and provocative act” and said the military exercises don’t contribute to the peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits. “The drills highlight China’s mentality of military desperation, and Taiwan will dispatch appropriate troops to respond to the military exercises accordingly,” the ministry said in a statement.

Limited effect

China views Taiwan as part of its territory and vows to reunite with the island democracy through force if necessary. Beijing opposes high-level interactions between Taiwan and other countries and repeatedly has deployed military aircraft and naval vessels to areas near Taiwan as part of its intimidation campaign.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said 42 Chinese military aircraft entered its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, after 9 a.m. local time, and 26 of those crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial demarcation that separates Taiwan and China.

Some observers say one of Beijing’s goals with the military exercises around Taiwan is to intimidate the Taiwanese people so they act and vote in a certain way. Since China has staged multiple large-scale military exercises around Taiwan over the last year, though, the effectiveness of this strategy has been decreasing.

“It’s no secret that people in Taiwan don’t necessarily freak out every time there is a military drill by China,” Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University, or NCCU, in Taiwan, told VOA in a phone interview. “Beijing thinks that they are scaring [the] Taiwanese people, but they don’t realize that most Taiwanese people don’t even notice these threats.”

Despite the calm reaction from many in Taiwan, Nachman asserted that major political parties in the country will try to make electoral gains either by framing the Chinese military drills as proof of the threat from China or as evidence of the growing risks that Taiwan faces if it continues to assert its status as a sovereign state.

“Both the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] and main opposition party Kuomintang, or KMT, would like Taiwanese people to pay more attention to the drills because they think the drills are good for their electoral politics,” Nachman explained. He added that the KMT will try to frame the drills as proof that the DPP is putting Taiwan in serious danger while the DPP wants to convince Taiwanese people that threats from China are growing.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s Presidential Office and the DPP both criticized Beijing for attempting to create fear among the Taiwanese public and interfere in the presidential election scheduled for next January.

“The Chinese Communist Party is using Lai’s visit as an excuse to verbally and militarily intimidate Taiwan, as well as attempt to intervene in and influence Taiwan’s democratic election, which not only destroys cross-strait relations but also won’t earn Taiwanese people’s approval,” the DPP said in a statement.

Meanwhile, KMT’s chairman, Eric Chu, told reporters during a brief interview that both sides of the Taiwan Strait should “strive to create a peaceful environment through exchangements and dialogues rather than a vicious cycle that would make Taiwan the most dangerous place recognized by the world.”

Careful monitoring

While China’s military drills have limited repercussions on Taiwan’s civil society, military experts say Taiwanese authorities and the military must heed potential changes or adjustments to China’s military tactics. “Since Taiwan adjusts its defense strategies based on the Chinese military’s tactics, these exercises are of great significance to Taiwan,” Lin from Tamkang University said.

Su Tzu-yun, a military expert at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, said one of the objectives of the joint air and sea patrols launched by the PLA is to maximize their capabilities in maintaining air and maritime supremacy. “This type of drill focuses on enhancing the coordination between PLA’s air force and navy,” he told VOA.

In the face of growing military threats from China, Su says it’s important for Taiwan to showcase the will to defend itself and enhance its defense capabilities. He contends authorities also need to focus on strengthening the Taiwanese people’s “mental defense” against the psychological effect of the military exercises.

Source : VOA