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May 22, 2024

Taiwan Reports Unprecedented Chinese Military Pressure After Election

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Jan 22, 2024

Taiwan has detected a dramatic increase in Chinese military activity near its borders over the past week, including an unprecedented six surveillance balloons crossing into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The escalation follows Taiwan’s January 11th national elections, in which the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) retained both the presidency and control of the legislature.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. The election results underscore Taiwan’s separate identity and democratic system, posing a challenge to China’s claims of sovereignty. Experts warn the stepped-up military pressure could presage an armed conflict, as Beijing seeks to intimidate the Taiwanese people and advertise its strength to the wider world.

Chinese Balloons Cross Median Line and Circumnavigate Taiwan

On January 22nd, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) revealed that six Chinese high-altitude balloons had intruded into the island’s ADIZ over the preceding three days. This shatters the previous single-day record of four balloons detected last March.

Remarkably, one of the balloons crossed the sensitive median line in the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial buffer zone that both sides have tacitly respected for decades. Taiwan scrambled fighters and deployed missile systems to monitor the balloon until it returned to the mainland side.

In an earlier incident on January 20th, three balloons circumnavigated the main island of Taiwan from different directions in a pincer movement before exiting the ADIZ. The MND suggested they were conducting reconnaissance of Taiwan’s eastern missile bases, key targets in any Chinese invasion plan.

Date Number of Balloons Notable Details
Jan 20 3 Circumnavigated Taiwan in pincer movement
Jan 21 1 Crossed median line of Taiwan Strait
Jan 22 2

The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed Taiwan’s complaints as “not worth making a fuss about,” claiming the balloons were conducting meteorological research. However, expert analysis of photos and flight data indicates they are Beidou navigation and imaging platforms useful for spying and guiding missiles.

Dozens of Warplanes Circle Taiwan After Election

In tandem with the balloon operation, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) resumed large-scale military drills around Taiwanfollowing a two-month pause during the election campaign.

On January 18th, the MND said it tracked 34 PLA warplanes and 9 warships conducting exercises to the northeast, southwest and southeast of the island. Aircraft included 24 J-11 and J-16 fighter jets, 2 H-6 bombers, 2 Y-9 surveillance planes, 2 KJ-500 airborne early warning and control planes, and 4 electronic warfare aircraft. State-run Chinese media described it as “routine combat readiness patrols” rather than an aggressive show of force.

Nonetheless, analysts see the flights as Beijing reminding Taipei’s newly reelected leaders that the PLA can quickly encircle Taiwan. Many interpret it as retribution for President Tsai Ing-Wen’s defiant inauguration speech, in which she vowed to resist Chinese pressure and preserve Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.

New Chinese Pressure Tactics Raise Invasion Fears

The string of provocations represent an expansion of China’s “gray zone” tactics to exhaust Taiwan’s small military, rather than training for all-out war. Experts say they aim to degrade readiness, intimidate the public, and signal displeasure at Tsai’s firm stance against unification talks.

However, a Chinese invasion in the next few years also cannot be ruled out. Admiral John Aquilino, head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told Congress the balloon flights could lay the groundwork for a surprise amphibious assault or missile attack, much as Russia reconnoitered Ukraine prior to its invasion.

Beijing has ramped up preparations to use force against Taiwan this decade if deemed necessary. Leaked PLA planning documents from 2019 set a deadline of 2027 to develop the capabilities seen as required, foreshadowing a possible peak danger around then.

Meanwhile Taiwan is redoubling its own efforts to strengthen defenses and deterrence. This month it announced plans to increase annual missile production fourfold to close a numerical gap with China. The United States approved a $14 billion arms package for Taiwan in December, though it could take years for all this equipment to come online.

International Responses Split Along Geopolitical Lines

The latest Chinese military pressure on Taiwan is exacerbating frictions between the West and authoritarian rivals. It follows similar sovereignty disputes in Hong Kong and the South China Sea, where an emboldened China has more aggressively imposed its claims at neighbors’ expense.

Western leaders condemned the threatening moves. Japanese Prime Minister Suga called the exercises “a serious problem that impacts our national security and the safety of our citizens,” pledging closer consultation between Japan and the U.S. on Taiwan contingencies.

The U.S. State Department likewise expressed concern over China’s “provocative military activity near Taiwan” that “is destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability.” The White House warned of unspecified “consequences” if China attacks Taiwan.

In contrast, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson affirmed her country’s “absolute and unconditional support” for China’s position that Taiwan is an “inalienable part of China.” As Western sanctions squeeze Russia over Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing are aligning more closely against the U.S. and its partners.

Uncertain Outlook: Deterrence or Escalation?

It remains ambiguous whether the latest shows of force will cow Taiwan into political talks with China or steel its resistance. Much depends on whether Beijing concludes it can achieve its objectives without major combat, or becomes convinced only an invasion can bring Taiwan under its control.

If deterrence prevails, experts hope increased interaction between both militaries could institute crisis communication channels and norms of behavior to manage tensions. But more assertive Chinese probing could also normalize a constant state of pressure verging on conflict.

Alternatively, capitulation by Taiwan risks triggering even more repression by an emboldened Chinese Communist Party. Democratic backsliding in Hong Kong despite the “One Country, Two Systems” formula offers a cautionary example.

With cross-strait relations at an inflection point, the coming months will prove critical in determining if the long-brewing Taiwan question remains an uneasy status quo or finally boils over into open war. Both scenarios threaten regional stability and the rules-based international order. Much depends on strategic decisions in Beijing, Taipei, Washington and allied capitals in response to the unfolding crisis.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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