When a group of Chinese warplanes simulated an attack on the US aircraft carrier last week, Beijing issued a warning.
USS Theodore Roosevelt was entering the South China Sea, disputed waters that Beijing claims to be its own but where Washington insists on asserting freedom of navigation for everyone else, when six Chinese H-6K heavy bombers flanked by four fighter jets J-16 flew in Taiwan Air Defense Zone.
“This maneuver killed two birds with one stone: they signaled to the Americans that they saw the US military as a destabilizing force here; they intimidated Taiwan; and they had a valuable practice at the same time, ”said a former senior Taiwanese military commander.
Over the past year, these operations have become a regular feature of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait.
In October, Yen Teh-fa, Minister of Defense of Taiwan, Told lawmakers that the PLA had flown into Taiwan’s air defense zone 253 times since the start of 2020. Taiwan has reported 230 other incursions, a huge increase, in the following months.
The escalation in Chinese air force activity has been widely interpreted as a sign of unprecedented level of tension between Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and retains the threat of taking it by force, and Taipei.
But defense experts believe two more important forces are at play: the open military rivalry between Washington and Beijing; and the Chinese military’s need for a place to train for far-reaching and ambitious missions and to train with increasingly sophisticated equipment.
Taiwan, however, is at greater risk because China, its main enemy, and the United States, its unofficial security guarantor, have drifted into confrontation – a path analysts believe the Biden administration will follow. struggle to change.
The majority of Chinese military flights enter the southwest corner of the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone. This area between Silverware, an atoll held by Taiwan in the South China Sea, and Taiwan’s southwest coast lies at the crossroads of the Taiwan Strait and the Bashi Canal, the main waterway connecting the South China Sea to the Western Pacific.
“They come in part because the Americans are coming,” said a senior Taiwanese government official. “The US military is sending reconnaissance planes through the Bashi Canal more and more frequently and the Chinese are against it.”
According to the Strategic Prospecting for the Situation in the South China Sea Initiative, a project supported by Chinese universities, large American reconnaissance planes Fly over the South China Sea 70 times in January.
Heino Klinck, a Chinese military expert who was the Pentagon’s Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for East Asia until last month, said air operations by the Air Force and the Chinese navies around Taiwan had expanded in scope and scale.
“The PLA has become more and more threatening and aggressive with the effect of destabilizing the whole region,” Klinck told the Financial Times.
“In recent months, we have seen an increase in the volume, frequency and composition of PLA intrusions into Taiwan’s airspace, particularly during and after high-level visits by US officials.
The US Navy has challenged China’s campaign to build and militarize land features in the South China Sea since 2015, with so-called freedom of navigation operations. But over the past year, she has stepped up her activities with larger operations, including exercises involving aircraft carriers.
Besides watching and cracking down on these operations, defense experts said China seized them as an opportunity for the exercises it was to conduct.
“In this southwest corner of our ADIZ, the shallow waters of the Taiwan Strait fall into the deep waters of the South China Sea. It’s an exceptionally feature-rich environment that they must study for submarine and anti-submarine warfare, ”said Su Tzu-yun, analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Studies, a group of reflection supported by the Ministry of Defense of Taiwan.
Analysts note that if Chinese nuclear-powered submarines are able to reach the west coast of the United States, in order to do so, they must navigate from their base on Hainan Island through the Bashi Channel in the Western Pacific, where they will be followed by American submarines.
Chinese planes have flown over waters that submarines are expected to navigate almost daily in recent months. The area will also serve as a staging post for submarines Taiwan is building in the southern port of Kaohsiung when they enter service from 2023.
A third of the 230 Chinese sorties carried out in the Taiwan air defense zone since September were anti-submarine warplanes.
The increased airline activity imposes a high cost on Taiwan. The country’s air force, which will have to wait another three years until the first of 66 F-16 fighters purchased from the United States begins to arrive, is forced to constantly scramble its aging jets to deter planes Chinese to get closer.
The senior Taiwanese official said, “This is certainly another advantage the Chinese military sees in carrying out these operations.”