Chinese PLA is prepared no matter how US forces transit the Taiwan Straits: experts
Published: Aug 10, 2022 01:44 AM
A People's Liberation Army(PLA) soldier looks around with a telescope on August 5, 2022, as the Navy of the PLA Eastern Theater Command continues drills the waters around the island of Taiwan. Photo: Xinhua
A People's Liberation Army soldier looks around with a telescope on August 5, 2022, as the Navy of the PLA Eastern Theater Command continues drills the waters around the island of Taiwan. Photo: Xinhua

A US Pentagon official on Monday claimed that the US forces will continue to undertake Taiwan Straits transits in the coming weeks and exercise freedom of navigation operations elsewhere in the region to show their support for allies and partners, to indicate their commitment "to maintain the status quo of a free and open Indo-pacific." Experts believe that the probability of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier transiting the Taiwan Straits is low, but no matter how the US military wants to show its presence, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is ready.

USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group hovered around the Western Pacific, moving about 200 nautical miles northeast from Monday to Tuesday noon, farther away from the Taiwan Straits, according to the latest satellite images on Tuesday.

If the US warships sail through the Taiwan Straits normally, the PLA can keep a close watch without actions, but the possibility of interception in a close distance by the PLA is not excluded if the US conducts any threatening actions, Song Zhongping, a military expert noted.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, in total disregard of the firm opposition and repeated representations of China and with the condoning and even arrangement of the US government, went ahead with the visit to China's Taiwan region, seriously jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.

However, the US is throwing mud at China claiming that it is trying to "coerce" the island of Taiwan and the international community.

I think you should expect that we will continue to do Taiwan Straits "transits," as we have in the past, in the coming weeks … It's important to make sure that China understands that the US forces in the region will "continue to operate, to fly, to sail wherever international waters allows," including the Taiwan Straits, Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy said during a press conference on Monday.

The US will conduct "standard air and maritime transits" through the Taiwan Straits in the next few weeks, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communication John Kirby said at a press briefing on August 4.

Kirby also noted that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has directed that the US Navy's Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and the ships in its strike group remain on station to "monitor the situation."

What is certain is that the US will not abandon the "pawn" of Taiwan island which it is using to ferment crisis in areas surrounding China, to achieve the goal of damaging China's internal and external development environment, an expert told the Global Times on the condition of anonymity.

The US will show its presence and will not give up sending warships through the Taiwan Straits, the expert said.

Unlike Pelosi's visit to China's Taiwan region, "it would be the decision of the Biden administration to send an aircraft carrier, which has repeatedly stressed the need to build 'guardrails' between China and the US. If the US sends the aircraft carrier to the Taiwan Straits to demonstrate its freedom of navigation, it is bound to further increase the confrontation between China and the US," the expert noted.

Zhang Xuefeng, a military expert told the Global Times that if the US sends the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its fleet through the Taiwan Straits, it would send a significant signal of threat and provocation that is completely unmatched by the transiting of one or two destroyers.

However, after the announcement of the PLA drills, the US aircraft carrier left the relevant waters to "lay low," sending a signal that the US military did not want to make a big deal of the events, Zhang said.

Unlike during the "Taiwan Straits crisis" in the mid-1990s, the PLA's strength today has been raised a lot. "The PLA has a variety of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles that can cover the waters and airspace across the Taiwan Straits, and even rocket launchers that can cover the Taiwan Straits. The US aircraft carrier crew surely does not want to feel a rocket shell whizzing over their heads," Zhang said.

Zhou Bo, a researcher at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University told the Global Times on Tuesday that China took strong countermeasures against Pelosi's visit to China's Taiwan region from political, military and economic aspects. The PLA, for example, will conduct regular drills, which the US does not want to accept, according to Zhou.

So there is bound to be some strong actions for the US to demonstrate its voice, even if it is symbolic, it wants to demonstrate its security commitment to allies and partners, said Zhou.

According to relevant international law, the Taiwan Straits is originally an international strait through which each country's warships can transit. Over the years, warships of many countries, including the US, have also passed through the Taiwan Straits without incident, their freedom of navigation has never been impeded, Tian Shichen, founder of the Global Governance Institution and director of the International Center for the Law of Military Operations told the Global Times.

The US has hyped this to prop up "Taiwan independence" forces and to express security commitments to allies through a sense of presence, Tian said.

Whether the US will follow the usual practice of sending a destroyer for navigation purposes, or will play some additional tricks to show a strong presence in the Taiwan Straits to send a wrong signal to "Taiwan independence" forces? Zhang said it means little to the US military in terms of numbers of destroyers transiting the Taiwan Straits, but if the US choose to transit during the PLA drills, the message would be very different, and seen as "more confrontational."

It is likely that the US military will update their tactics for transiting the Taiwan Straits, said experts.

On August 27, 2021, the US guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd and the US Coast Guard cutter Munro sailed across the Taiwan Straits, which was the first time in nearly two years that the US coast guard joined in the operation across the Taiwan Straits.

US Navy destroyer USS Dewey and the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Winnipeg sailed through the Taiwan Straits on October 15, 2021, which was the first time in recent years that the US military joined with another country in sailing through the Taiwan Straits.

Hu Bo, director of the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative said that the US military has run out of tricks, and it is likely to send through warships and aircraft together, which has not happened before.

Song Zhongping said that judging from the movements of USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, the US military has been assessing whether or not to send the aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Straits due to the possible consequence triggered by it. "The US military may also adopt a compromise approach, that is to send the carrier fleet of destroyers, escorts to carry out missions, showing the US presence."

But no matter which way the US military chooses to act, the PLA is prepared and ready for it, Song said.