PLA starts real combat-oriented drills in Taiwan Straits amid Krach’s visit, approaches island from four directions
Published: Sep 18, 2020 01:38 PM


The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) is holding joint maritime and aerial exercises and combat-readiness patrols in the Taiwan Straits starting Friday, as media on the Taiwan island reported concentrated PLA warplane activities near the island's "airspace" in four directions around the island on Friday morning. The news comes against the backdrop of US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach's visit to the island of Taiwan where he is reportedly set to attend the memorial service of former Taiwan regional leader Lee Teng-hui, known as the "Godfather of Taiwan secessionism."

The PLA operations have multiple dimensions that make secessionists on the island a turtle in a jar, and the PLA can turn the exercises into real action any time if Taiwan secessionists insist on their obduracy, Chinese mainland experts said on Friday.

Starting Friday, the PLA Eastern Theater Command is conducting real combat-oriented exercises near Taiwan Straits, Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson at the Ministry of National Defense, told the Global Times at a press conference on Friday.

File Photo:China Military

The move, which targets the current cross-Straits situation, is legitimate and necessary action the mainland has taken to protect its sovereignty and integrity, Ren said.

The news on the PLA's live-fire exercises came when US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach is paying a visit to Taiwan island. Recently, the US has ramped up efforts in playing the Taiwan card and escalated provocations on military and diplomacy.

Aside from the Ministry of National Defense, China's Foreign Ministry and the PLA Eastern Theater Command also released statements, stressing that Taiwan island is an inalienable part of China. The US and Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party have recently colluded to make a fuss, and their attempt to either use the island to contain China or raise the island's status is doomed to fail.

"The PLA has the firm willingness, full confidence and enough capability to defeat all outside forces that interfere with the Taiwan question or conduct separatist actions to protect national sovereignty and integrity," Ren said. 

In replying to mainland netizens' heated discussions over the live-fire exercise on Sina Weibo, the Eastern Theater Command's official account wrote that "abandon illusions and prepare for combat," which drew thousands of likes.   

Combat-orientated exercises

Chinese mainland military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times on Friday that the mainland military spokespersons used three different expressions in describing the operations, namely real combat-oriented exercises, combat-readiness patrols and joint aerial and maritime drills, which showed the exercises this time are multidimensional.

Taiwan media cited the island's defense authority as saying 18 PLA warplanes - two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighter jets, four J-11 and four J-10 planes - were involved in the operation, and some of them crossed the "middle line" of the Taiwan Straits.

The drills also demonstrated the PLA's strong capability to mobilize for combat and a fast reaction when missions are called for, a Beijing-based military expert who asked not to be identified told the Global Times on Friday.

When US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan on August 10, in addition to PLA fighter jet sorties on that day, the PLA announced drills in the Taiwan Straits on August 13. When Krach came to visit Taiwan on Thursday, the PLA immediately started real combat-oriented drills the next day.

These have shown that the PLA are well-prepared to deal with any situation in the Taiwan Straits, including mobilizing for a large-scale military operation on the island of Taiwan, in a very short period of time, the anonymous expert said.

Main battle forces of the PLA are always ready to join combat, and the recent drills have tested it, the expert said, noting that this also showed the US forces will not have time to come to Taiwan's aid, and the military on the island would not be able to stand up to the PLA's lightning quick, thundering powerful attacks, if a reunification-by-force operation is to occur.

US interaction attempts

In addition to sending Krach to visit the Taiwan island on Thursday to attend the memorial service of former Taiwan regional leader Lee Teng-hui, the US has increased its provocation to try to push back China's bottom line on the "Taiwan question" in recent days. 

The US is also trying to provoke China at the UN on the Taiwan question. ABC News reported on Thursday that US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft had lunch on Wednesday with James K.J. Lee, director of the Taipei economic and cultural office in New York. A meeting she called "historic" and a further step in the Trump administration's campaign to strengthen relations with the island, Craft said she and Lee "discussed different ways that we can best help Taiwan become more engaged within the UN."

China has lodged solemn representations in opposition to the US ambassador's move, said Geng Shuang, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN. The Taiwan question refers to China's core interests and China urges the US to clearly understand the sensitivity so as to not create new obstacles for China-US ties.

On Thursday, US Representative Tom Tiffany introduced legislation calling for the US to resume formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and end the "outdated and counter-productive" one-China policy. 

Echoing Tiffany's bill, some US research fellows also said that questioning the "ambiguous" nature of America's commitment to Taiwan's defense has gone mainstream, as under this "strategic ambiguity" Taiwan island could not be sure the US would come to its defense, and the mainland could not be sure the US wouldn't.

However, Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said that it is still unknown and too early to say Washington would cast away the one-China policy as it has concerns over the mainland's possible reactions and whether it has enough capability to "protect" Taiwan militarily. 

Some US politicians, including Tiffany, have hyped up the "ending of ambiguity toward Taiwan" to coax the DPP and separatists in Taiwan island. But they should also know that the mainland maintains military superiority in terms of sea and airspace around the island, Lü said.

"When the technology and trade war cards are not working for them, the US is inclined to play the Taiwan card and the current provocations show it is lingering along the edge to break through the one-China policy," a Beijing-based expert on Taiwan affairs who requested anonymity told the Global Times.  

"The US wants Taiwan to play as one of its guards in the Pacific Ocean, and the island also needs to pay to arm itself. Actually, the US treats the island as nothing more than toilet paper and would not hesitate to cast it away for its own interests," he said.

Experts also said that if the US scraps the one-China policy, then Article 8 of the Anti-Secession Law of China will be activated, which means China shall use nonpeaceful and other necessary means to solve the Taiwan question once and for all.