PLA exercise could be a rehearsal of combat plan over the island: expert
Secessionists, US warned of further escalation
Published: Apr 13, 2021 07:12 PM Updated: Apr 13, 2021 10:25 PM
A fighter jet attached to an air force aviation brigade under the PLA Southern Theater Command taxies on the flightline before takeoff during a round-the-clock flight training exercise on March 4, 2021.Photo:China Military

A fighter jet attached to an air force aviation brigade under the PLA Southern Theater Command taxies on the flightline before takeoff during a round-the-clock flight training exercise on March 4, 2021.Photo:China Military


The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducted an exercise near the island of Taiwan on Monday with the largest number of warplanes ever recorded, which could be a rehearsal of a reunification-by-force operation, again sending a clear warning to Taiwan secessionists and the US that have been making provocative moves to escalate tensions in the region, Chinese mainland experts said on Tuesday.

A US aircraft carrier exited the South China Sea via waters south of the island of Taiwan also on Monday, a region close to the PLA warplane exercise. And analysts said the PLA displayed the capability of driving away foreign forces interfering in the Taiwan question.

Twenty-five PLA aircraft, namely two Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, one KJ-500 early warning aircraft, four J-10 and 14 J-16 fighter jets, and four H-6K bombers, entered Taiwan's self-proclaimed southwest air defense identification zone on Monday, the island's defense authorities said late that day.

The number of PLA warplanes featured in the exercise was a record since Taiwan's defense authorities began to release information about PLA aircraft activities in the region on September 17, 2020, surpassing the previous record of 20 on March 26. The number of J-16s, a powerful fighter jet, was also the biggest of all exercises, media on the island said on Monday.

The exercise conducted by the PLA served as a warning to Taiwan secessionists and the US after the two had made a series of provocative moves, mainland analysts said.

On Saturday, the US Department of State announced new guidelines to encourage US government engagement with the island that reflects their "deepening unofficial relationship." Officials on the island recently also claimed that the island is drawing a line 30 nautical miles away from the island, attempting to deny PLA aircraft approaches.

Monday's exercise was characterized by the large number of aircraft, and as the PLA deepens its regular, combat-scenario drills near the island of Taiwan, the scale could continue to expand in the future. As this is normal, related parties should get used to it if they insist on provoking, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese mainland military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Taiwan's secessionist forces and the US must stop making provocations unless they hope to see further escalations in the region, mainland experts warned, noting that the PLA is taking pragmatic steps to make sure it can effectively reunify the island of Taiwan if it comes to that.

The exercise could be a rehearsal of its combat plan over the Taiwan island, and it could feature air superiority seizure, and attack on land and maritime targets, including warships of interfering foreign countries, Song Zhongping, a Chinese mainland military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

PLA's Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft target foreign submarines, the KJ-500 commands the battlefield, the H-6Ks attack maritime and land targets, the J-10s seize air superiority, while the J-16s plays a multirole of both aerial combat and attack, Song said.

Coinciding with the PLA's warplane exercise, the Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group, which held a series of drills in the South China Sea in the past week, left the South China Sea via south of the Taiwan island on the same day, according to the monitoring of the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think tank, on Monday.

Overlying the flight paths of PLA warplanes released by Taiwan's defense authorities and the movement of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier released by SCSPI, observers said they were not far away from each other.

Citing analysts on the island of Taiwan, Taipei-based Central News Agency reported on Monday that the PLA warplanes likely simulated attacks on the US aircraft carrier.

Fu said that the PLA has been conducting daily exercises in the region, and it is the US warships' presence that is irregular. "If they pose potential threats to China's national security, we will surely take countermeasures, including monitoring," he said.

The PLA is rightfully responsible to safeguard peace and stability in the region when foreign warships and warplanes stir up tensions and make provocations, Fu said.

Similar exercises demonstrated that the PLA is capable of cutting off foreign interventions in the Taiwan region if the situation arises, as it has a powerful aerial combat system to drive away foreign maritime forces, including aircraft carrier strike groups, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday.