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Chinese navy carrier escort group in review formation

 

Chinese naval forces have been carrying out an exercise in an area close to the south of Taiwan which included flying off J-15 carrier fighters to the east of the Bashi Channel which runs between Taiwan and the Philippines. In addition, Chinese destroyers carried out a number of drills to test their capabilities in the same area.

China is doing nothing to hide this activity. Indeed, the official newspaper of the PLA carried an article covering the exercises and the Chinese MOD also covered the news by posting a full briefing and photographs on its website titled: China’s aircraft carrier formation conducts exercises in South China Sea.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defence (MOD), reported the activity as:

A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy flotilla including the aircraft carrier Liaoning conducted confrontation exercises on Friday in the sea east of the Bashi Strait in the west Pacific, with a military expert saying that the exercises sent a tough message to “Taiwan independence forces.“”

J-15 Fighters on the PLA’s Liaoning carrier

China’s ambitions in the area are now well known and are increasingly causing other naval forces to “assert” the right of passage through international waters. In some cases this leads to exchanges of words via radio and megaphone. In one recent incident an Australian ship indicated that the Chinese Navy challenged them in an “aggressive” manner.

For its part the Chinese Defense Ministry stated:

The recent Australian media report that Australian warships were “challenged” by the Chinese military in South China Sea in early April did not accord with the facts. The Chinese naval warships encountered the Australian warships in the South China Sea on April 15. The Chinese side used professional language to communicate with the Australian side, and their operations were lawful, in compliance, professional and safe. China always respects and actively defends the freedom of navigation and freedom of flight of every country enjoys in the South China Sea according to international law. We hope Australia will face up to the trend toward a good and stable situation in the South China Sea, and work with China and other regional countries to maintain peace and stability of the area to create a more positive environment on the South China Sea

Other responses to the increased level of Chinese military activity include live firing exercises by Taiwan in which rounds were fired at some Taiwanese islands close to the Chinese mainland. These “provocations” are in turn used to justify further military activity by China. Taiwan might rightly be concerned about these manoeuvres as China makes no bones about their intent.

As noted on the Chinese MOD website:

The Chinese mainland’s military drills not only tested and showed the PLA’s strength, but also sent a warning to “Taiwan independence groups.” Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday. “An aircraft carrier formation will play an important role in hypothetical future military operations against Taiwan,” Song said, noting that the formation could form a blockade and conduct military strikes against the island.

Further pointed recent Chinese MOD comments include a clear warning to Taiwan and the rest of the world:

The People’s Liberation Army held live-fire military drills on Wednesday in the Taiwan Straits sending a clear political message to both the island and the world: The Chinese mainland will never allow Taiwan to secede from the motherland. Those who claim that the drills had been hyped up by Beijing and were just “cheap verbal intimidation” and “saber rattling” fail to appreciate their true portent, that if push comes to shove, China will act to prevent its territory being scraped away.”

It ends with the following observations:

……abetted by the US, the (Taiwanese) secessionists are becoming ever more daring in their dangerous pursuits. This bodes ill not only for cross-Straits relations but also for the region, which has been hopeful that the engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would see the cloud of potential conflict fade.

The Chinese mainland is sincere in doing whatever it can to seek the peaceful reunification of the island with the motherland. However, it would be wrong for any dreaming of the island’s secession to consider efforts in this regard as a demonstration of weakness or indetermination.  Although it remains the last resort, the PLA will act if forced to do so.”

It might come as s surprise to TMT readers to hear of the highly aggressive tone routinely used by China towards its small neighbour.  However, a glance at the Chinese MOD’s website will reveal that a high percentage of its articles are aimed in some way at the recovery of Taiwan. It is also apparent that the Chinese might in some way see developments with North Korea as a means of inching closer to achieving that aim, making it an increasingly tricky one for Mr Trump, amongst others, to call.

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