the first day of china unprecedented military drills
Beijing broke the tacit rules observed for decades by armed forces on both sides of the Taiwan Strait
PLA lobs ballistic missiles over the island
On day 1 of exercises that will last until Sunday, the PLA lobs ballistic missiles over the island and breaches its airspace. The tactics are part of a strategy to strike fear and panic across the Taiwan Strait, analyst says
The People’s Liberation Army fired dozens of ballistic missiles directly over Taiwan, sent warplanes and vessels across the median line that divides the strait, flew drones over Taiwanese airspace and deployed at least one aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine in a simulated blockade of what it regards as a breakaway province.
And it was just the start of three days of military drills encircling Taiwan that Beijing is conducting in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island on Wednesday.
The US does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state and acknowledges the one-China principle, but it opposes any attempt to take the island by force. China sees the visit by Pelosi – the second in line to the US presidency – as a provocation after repeated warnings against the trip.
Unlike previous military exercises that were mainly symbolic, the drills this time were closer to actual combat and set many precedents designed to erode Taiwan’s strategic defence space, military analysts said.
“The tacit agreements [between the two militaries] have been broken. This time, the PLA aims to push the boundaries both in weapon systems and actual tactics,” said Song Zhongping, a former Chinese military instructor.
The median line of the Taiwan Strait separates mainland China and Taiwan and was drawn by the US in 1955 in the aftermath of the bitter Chinese civil war, with Washington pressuring both sides to abide by an unspoken agreement not to cross it.
On Wednesday, PLA aircraft and ships crossed that line.
The PLA also took the unprecedented steps of firing missiles directly over the island and sending military drones over Taiwanese airspace.
All these incursions could set a precedent and, if repeated, could put the Taiwanese defence forces on the back foot and significantly reduce their time for preparation. It would also increase the risk of an accidental first shot fired in the game of nerves.
Just before the exercises started, mainland military drones were spotted over the heavily fortified Quemoy Islands, also known as the Kinmen. Taiwanese troops fired flares to warn them off.
The PLA followed up in the afternoon by launching at least 11 Dongfeng series missiles into waters north, south and east of the island – the first time mainland missiles had flown over the island, according to the Taiwanese defence ministry.
Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence, said one of the missiles was a DF-15B, a ballistic missile with a range of up to 800km (500 miles).
The Chinese military also fired rounds of rockets into waters around Taiwan.
The PLA Eastern Theatre Command said it conducted “precision strikes” in the designated areas.
“All the missiles hit the target accurately, testing the precision strike and area denial capabilities. The entire live ammunition launch training mission has been successfully completed, and the relevant sea and airspace controls have been lifted,” it said.
Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung, said the missiles and rockets were part of a “cognitive warfare” strategy designed to strike fear and panic.
Lu said that while Taiwan’s armed forces could track these missiles, there was little they could do about them because of their high-altitude trajectory.
“It’s a cognitive warfare strategy to cause panic in Taiwan. You can see the danger, but you cannot do anything to stop it,” Lu said.