China holds assault drills near Taiwan after 'provocations'

Repeated PLA exercises seen as part of pressure strategy to make Taipei accept China's sovereignty

BEIJING • China carried out assault drills near Taiwan yesterday, with warships and fighter jets exercising off the south-west and south-east of the island, in what the country's armed forces said was a response to "external interference" and "provocations".

Taiwan, seen by Beijing as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary, has complained of repeated People's Liberation Army (PLA) drills in its vicinity in the past two years or so, part of a pressure campaign to force the island to accept China's sovereignty.

In a brief statement, the PLA's Eastern Theatre Command said warships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets had been dispatched close to Taiwan to carry out "joint fire assault and other drills using actual troops". It did not give details.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said its military "has a full grasp and has made a full assessment of the situation in the Taiwan Strait region, as well as related developments at sea and in the air, and is prepared for various responses".

A senior official familiar with Taiwan's security planning told Reuters that China's air force had carried out a "capturing air supremacy" drill, using advanced J-16 fighters. "In addition to seeking air supremacy over Taiwan, they have also been conducting frequent electronic reconnaissance and electronic interference operations," the person said.

Taiwan believes China is trying to gather electronic signals from US and Japanese aircraft so that it can "paralyse reinforcing aircraft including F-35s in a war", the source said, referring to the US-operated stealth fighter. Taiwan's Defence Ministry said 11 Chinese aircraft entered its air defence zone, including two nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and six J-16 fighters, and that it had scrambled jets to warn China's planes away.

While the Chinese statement gave no exact location for the drills, Taiwan's Defence Ministry said the aircraft flew in an area between mainland Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top part of the South China Sea. Some of the planes also briefly entered the strategic Bashi Channel off southern Taiwan that leads to the Pacific, according to a map provided by the ministry.

The PLA statement noted that recently the United States and Taiwan have "repeatedly colluded in provocation and sent serious wrong signals, severely infringing upon China's sovereignty, and severely undermining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait".

"This exercise is a necessary action based on the current security situation across the Taiwan Strait and the need to safeguard national sovereignty. It is a solemn response to external interference and provocations by Taiwan independence forces."

Meanwhile, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang yesterday said the island would not collapse like Afghanistan in the event of an attack, offering an indirect warning to China not to be "deluded" into thinking it could take the island.

Asked if the president or premier would flee if "the enemy was at the gates" like in Afghanistan, Mr Su said people had feared neither arrest nor death when Taiwan was a dictatorship under martial law from 1949 to 1987.

"Today, there are powerful countries that want to swallow up Taiwan using force, and likewise we are also not afraid of being killed or imprisoned," he said. "We must guard... this land, and not be like certain people who always talk up the enemy's prestige and talk down our resolve," Mr Su added.

In its editorial yesterday, China's Global Times said the departure of American forces from Afghanistan was a lesson for President Tsai Ing-wen's Democratic Progressive Party. "They must have been nervous and feel an ominous presentiment. They must have known better in secret that the US is not reliable," the nationalist paper said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2021, with the headline China holds assault drills near Taiwan after 'provocations'. Subscribe