China Conducts Military Drills Simulating Taiwan Attack


As China encircled Taiwan with a massive naval and air armada in a large-scale rehearsal for an attack, Adm. Jon Leonard was receiving a briefing at the Hawaii headquarters of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

“Over the past two months, we have observed a significant buildup of ground, air, and operational logistics units at the Chinese Eastern Command’s bases,” a Navy captain reported, gesturing to a large screen filled with red icons surrounding the island. 

A Taiwan guided missile destroyer, left, monitors a Chinese guided missile destroyer, right, as dozens of Chinese warplanes and navy vessels were tracked off its coast, May 2024. (Taiwan Ministry of National Defense via AP)

“This military buildup has been accompanied by an increase in information operations and psychological warfare against the government and people of Taiwan,” the captain continued.

Then it was Leonard’s turn to brief his staff, and he began with a bit of Cold War history.

“In 1983, NATO conducted one of its largest exercises in Western Europe, called Able Archer,” he recounted. “The exercise was so realistic that several members of the Soviet Politburo were convinced it was a ruse for a NATO-initiated war with the Warsaw Pact.”

“When we detected the movements of joint forces, missile organizations, and logistics units earlier this year,” he continued, “we had to ask ourselves once again: is this another large-scale PLA exercise, or a ploy to cover an invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese?”

The above account is fiction, a plotline from the novel White Sun War: The Campaign for Taiwan by retired Australian army Gen. Mick Ryan, envisioning a war between China and the United States and its Pacific allies in 2028.

However, the scenario of China using an announced exercise as a cover for an invasion or a naval blockade to seize or squeeze Taiwan is a real possibility. 

“With large exercises like this, the PLA gains three strategic benefits,” Ryan stated in a post on X. “They normalize large-scale activity around Taiwan, deceive about future intentions, intimidate and attempt to coerce Taiwan’s democratic government, and build a perception of ‘inevitability’ regarding Taiwan’s eventual takeover.”

“Of course, it is not inevitable,” Ryan added. “But the CCP is using the same propaganda strategy as Putin in Ukraine.”

The purpose of the real-life military drills China conducted from May 23-25, named “Joint Sword-2024A,” was clearly articulated by the Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army.

“The drills focus on joint sea-air combat-readiness patrol, joint battlefield control, and joint precision strikes on key targets,” a spokesperson stated, adding that the drills also serve as “a strong punishment for the separatist actions of Taiwan independence forces and a stern warning against external interference and provocations.”

The “punishment” was in response to the inaugural address of Taiwan’s newly elected president, Lai Ching-te, who had the audacity to refer to Taiwan as “a sovereign, independent nation” while promising that his government would “neither yield to nor provoke” Beijing while aiming to “maintain the status quo” of Taiwan as a democracy.

A defense ministry spokesperson, Senior Col. Wu Qian, accused Lai of “attempting to seek Taiwan independence by force” and “leading the Taiwan people towards the danger of war.”

“This is entirely an act of playing with fire, and those who play with fire will end up getting burned,” Wu warned.

The U.S. is not obligated by treaty to defend Taiwan but is required under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide the self-governing island with adequate self-defense capabilities.

Following China’s mock bombing runs, aggressive naval maneuvers, and threatening rhetoric, two U.S. congressional delegations quickly met with Lai to reassure him of ongoing U.S. support.

“There should be no doubt, there should be no skepticism in the United States, Taiwan, or anywhere in the world, regarding American resolve to maintain the status quo and peace in the Taiwan Strait,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), co-chairman of the Taiwan caucus, stated at a news conference in Taipei.

However, the hesitation by some in Congress to fund Ukraine’s defense against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has raised concerns among Taiwan supporters that Beijing might conclude the U.S. would be unwilling or unable to defend Taiwan if China attacks.

“I don’t want anyone to think that we can’t support Taiwan because of Ukraine,” Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the New York Times. “The equipment going to Ukraine is old NATO stuff; this is all brand-new for Taiwan.”

There is a backlog of nearly $20 billion in arms sales to Taiwan approved in 2019 and 2020 that are still awaiting delivery, including 66 F-16 fighter jets. 

“I think our defense industrial base is currently overloaded and unable to handle this amount of conflict worldwide,” McCaul said.

Asia scholars Isaac Kardon and Jennifer Kavanagh, senior fellows at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, write in Foreign Affairs that invasion does not seem to be China’s preferred option.

“China’s patient, long-term Taiwan policy seeing unification as a ‘historical inevitability,’ along with its modest record of military action abroad, suggests that Beijing’s more probable plan is to gradually intensify the policy it already pursues: a slow encroachment into Taiwan’s airspace, maritime space, and information space,” they argue. “The United States must move beyond its fixation on a potential invasion and focus on the dangers of a slow strangulation of Taiwan.”

In his novel, Mick Ryan has his fictional admiral announcing that the president has decided on a bold and provocative move to deter China: deploying U.S. troops to Taiwan as a tripwire.

“If they attack Taiwan, they will also be attacking American forces. We know that the Chinese leadership believes if they can seize the island before U.S. intervention, the American people might be unwilling to shed blood to reclaim it,” the admiral explains to his staff.

“But the president and his advisers believe that if any attack automatically endangers American service members, it might provide enough of a deterrent — at least for another year or two,” the admiral continues.

In the imagined future of the book, war arrives nonetheless. 

Jamie McIntyre
Jamie McIntyre
Senior writer covering defense and national security. An internationally known journalist with more than 40 years of experience, he served as CNN’s military affairs and senior Pentagon correspondent from 1992-2008 and Al Jazeera America’s national security correspondent from 2014-2016.

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