China's military drills in six zones surrounding Taiwan were scheduled to wind down and end on Sunday, but on Monday Beijing announced it is extending the threatening military drills which Taipei officials have slammed as a "blockade" and simulation for future invasion. The drills were originally set for four days, but have now been extended into this new week.
Not only have the drills launched in the wake of the last Tuesday into Wednesday visit to the self-ruled island of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disrupted surrounding air traffic and shipping lanes key to global trade, but they've upped tensions with Washington, given the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group was ordered to stay in waters near Taiwan for longer than planned.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command confirmed Monday that it is "continuing joint training under real war conditions, focused on organizing joint anti-submarine warfare and naval strikes."
This follows, as we detailed Sunday, on the heels of a "close quarters" standoff wherein ten warships each from the Chinese and Taiwan sides closely shadowed each other the Taiwan Strait. A total of 66 PLA aircraft and 14 warships were observed conducting exercises aimed at Taiwan into Sunday evening, with the aircraft repeatedly violating Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
In announcing its military on a high state of alert and confirming it sent additional ships through the strait, Taiwan's defense ministry again said China is "simulating attacks on the island of Taiwan and our ships at sea."
Further, according to the AP on Monday, "The exercises would include anti-submarine drills, apparently targeting U.S. support for Taiwan in the event of a potential Chinese invasion, according to social media posts from the eastern leadership of China’s ruling Communist Party’s military arm, the People’s Liberation Army."
"The military has said the exercises involving missile strikes, warplanes and ship movements crossing the midline of the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides were a response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island last week," the report details.
Meanwhile, at a moment it appears that China's ongoing military squeeze is set to (at least for the foreseeable future) hold the democratic-run island 'hostage' - also threatening vital trade - the pressure on Washington to act more firmly in support of Taipei is growing.
The latest Taiwan defense ministry statement said of the drills, "Their intention is to deal a blow to our morale and threaten regional security." Alarmingly the statement also underscored the adverse effect on international air traffic in the region.
Echoing the point of view of Taiwan officials and some regional allies, a Vietnam-based regional security analyst named Duan Dang was cited in FT as saying, "If the US doesn’t do something militarily to push back China in Taiwan Strait and re-establish a credible red line, it will be very bad! Frankly, no one in the region is going to believe in US commitments anymore."
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The Ukraine conflict could have been totally avoided if the United States-led NATO agreed to address Russian security concerns vis-à-vis NATO’s encroaching towards Russia’s borders in a statesman-like manner. Instead, the United States and NATO have been arming Ukraine to the teeth since 2014.
In Taiwan, the United States is trying to renege on undertakings it signed on with China on the status of Taiwan during Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 according to which it recognized that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.
So the onus is on the United States to de-escalate the situation in Taiwan before it flares up like the Ukraine conflict.
What the United States has to do now is to declare that it abides irrevocably by the agreement with China on the status of Taiwan and that it will neither support the independence of Taiwan now nor in the future.
The alternative is a war between China and the United States which could easily escalate into a nuclear one.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Global Energy Expert