Heightened Chinese drills near Taiwan 'a message to US'

TAIPEI • Chinese carrier drills and stepped-up incursions into Taiwan's air defence zone in recent weeks are meant to send a message to Washington to stand down and back off, security sources in Taipei say.

The increased activity - which China, unusually, described as "combat drills" on Wednesday - has raised alarm in both Taipei and Washington, though security officials do not see it as a sign of an imminent attack.

Rather, according to an official familiar with Taiwan's security planning, at least some of the exercises are practising "access denial" manoeuvres to prevent foreign forces from coming to Taipei's defence in a war.

"China claimed that the drills are near Taiwan, but judging by their location it's actually meant for the US military," said the official in Taiwan, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

As China sailed an aircraft carrier group near Taiwan last week, its air force simulated attacks on American ships, although no US Navy vessels were known to be in the area at the time, the source said. The US Navy has been carrying out regular transits of the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from China.

One Western security source said the almost-daily flights by Chinese anti-submarine aircraft in the northern-most part of the South China Sea were probably a response to US missions there, including by submarines, or to show the Pentagon that China can hunt for US submarines.

President Joe Biden's White House has maintained a tough-on-China stance inherited from the Trump administration. That has included more visible support for Taiwan, angering China, which considers the island a breakaway province. Beijing sees Washington as giving succour to Taiwan, which seeks independence, a red line for China.

Two US military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that although the United States was concerned about Chinese activity around Taiwan, there was no sense of an imminent attack.

In a statement to Reuters, China's Foreign Ministry said the US has "swelled the arrogance of Taiwan independence forces". Washington "bears an inescapable responsibility for tensions in the Taiwan Strait", it added.

A senior US administration official said that regardless of who Beijing's incursions near Taiwan were aimed at, their effect was direct "intimidation and coercion" of Taiwan.

Raising the stakes, China's naval forces said for the first time last week that carrier drills near Taiwan would become routine.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2021, with the headline 'Heightened Chinese drills near Taiwan 'a message to US''. Subscribe