China Launches Military Drills Near Taiwan Following Pro-Sovereignty Speech

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The People’s Liberation Army of China has commenced two days of military exercises around Taiwan. These maneuvers are a response to Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te’s recent pro-sovereignty inaugural address. They also aim to galvanize Chinese public sentiment against Taiwan’s sovereignty and to convey Beijing’s profound displeasure with the increasing Taiwan-focused exercises involving the United States, Japan, and the Philippines.

Operationally, these exercises are designed to sap the morale and readiness of Taiwan’s clearly underfunded and inadequately equipped military. However, the likelihood of China invading Taiwan in the immediate future remains minimal. Although an invasion is highly probable before the decade ends, it is not imminent. This timeline is significant due to some speculations that these exercises are a prelude to an imminent invasion. For instance, Global Press asserts that sources from China’s Xinhua state media and the Chinese defense ministry suggest an invasion of Taiwan in “early June.”

I remain unconvinced.

Xinhua has not reported such information. Moreover, it is highly improbable that Chinese defense officials would risk disclosing such sensitive plans. At this stage, only the highest-ranking officers would be aware of these plans, and they understand the severe consequences of leaking such information, including the threat of execution. This is further compounded by the PLA’s increasingly aggressive counterintelligence operations. Most importantly, there are no credible indications that the PLA is gearing up for a massive assault on Taiwan. While some warning signs could be concealed from the public and possibly U.S. intelligence, other indicators such as large-scale troop mobilizations, extraordinary efforts to ready warships, troop transports, and combat aircraft, stockpiling of spare parts, and enhancing command and control capabilities would be noticeably evident (for more details, read John Culver here).

The primary purpose of these exercises is to deter Lai and Washington from actions that further provoke Beijing and to strengthen Chinese resolve to see Taiwan comply with Chinese Communist Party authority. To this end, state media outlets including CCTV, Xinhua, People’s Daily, China Youth Daily, and Global Times prominently featured these exercises in their Thursday coverage. CCTV declared unsubtly, “The sword is out of the sheath!”

Notably, there is a focused effort to instill military personnel with the urgency of bringing Taiwan under control. Reflecting this, the PLA’s website featured 11 different Taiwan-centric articles on Thursday. One article showcased Mao-era propaganda posters displaying various PLA strike platforms, including the J-20 stealth fighter jet. Another article emphasized that the exercises serve as “a severe warning to external forces not to support ‘Taiwan independence’ and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

Another video depicted various forces in action supporting the exercises. Despite striking similarities between the musical score and the Starship Troopers theme, it is evident that the video is aimed at a domestic audience. Featuring a Type 054A guided missile/air defense frigate, the video focuses more on theatrical presentation than combat effectiveness. Notably, at the 1-minute, 9-second mark, the general quarters alarm sounds, followed by a 26-second segment showing various PLA-N personnel rushing to their strangely unmanned combat information center. This video primarily targets national sentiment in China rather than instilling fear in Taipei.

Nonetheless, the extensive attention given to these exercises by Chinese state media and the significant effort to generate public reaction are telling. While not immediate, Chinese President Xi Jinping is clearly preparing his nation for conflict. Rising Western tensions with Russia may further incentivize Xi to act soon to force a division of U.S. military resources.

Tom Rogan
Tom Rogan
Tom Rogan is an editor and foreign policy writer. He writes frequently on security and intelligence issues involving Russia, China, and the Middle East. He holds a bachelor of arts in war studies from King's College London, a master of science in Middle East politics from SOAS, and a graduate diploma in law from the University of Law, London.

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