By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Tuesday’s assault drills came shortly after the Islamist Taliban group claimed victory in Afghanistan with outnumbered U.S. forces struggling to bring Americans and allies to safety.
Beijing said Tuesday that its exercises off the southwest and southeast of Taiwan responded to “external interference” and “provocations.”
Taiwan, which Beijing claims the island as Chinese territory, has complained of repeated drills by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in its vicinity over the past two years.
Tuesday’s Chinese military campaign seemed more massive as part of a pressure campaign by Beijing to force the island to accept China’s sovereignty.
The PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command confirmed that warships, anti-submarine aircraft, and fighter jets had been dispatched close to Taiwan to carry out “joint fire assault and other drills using actual troops.”
A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security told Reuters news agency that China’s air force had carried out a “capturing air supremacy” drill, using their advanced J-16 fighters.
“In addition to seeking air supremacy over Taiwan, they have also been conducting frequent electronic reconnaissance and electronic interference operations,” the person said.
Taiwan believes China is trying to gather electronic signals from U.S. and Japanese aircraft so that they can “paralyze reinforcing aircraft including F-35s in a war”, the source added, referring to the U.S.-operated stealth fighter.
The island’s Defence Ministry said 11 Chinese aircraft entered its air defense zone, including two nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and six J-16 fighters. It said it had scrambled jets to warn China’s planes away.
While the Chinese statement gave no exact location for the drills, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the aircraft flew in an area between mainland Taiwan and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top part of the South China Sea.
Some of the aircraft also briefly entered the strategic Bashi Channel off southern Taiwan that leads to the Pacific, according to a map provided by the ministry.
It was not immediately clear what set off the flurry of Chinese military activity.
However, critics of U.S. President Joe Biden, including experts, had warned that a U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan could encourage China to see how far it could go in its standoff over Taiwan. China never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
Earlier this month, the United States approved a new arms sale package to Taiwan, an artillery system valued at up to $750 million.
China believes Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is a separatist seeking a formal declaration of independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai said Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
Washington has expressed its concern about China’s pattern of intimidation in the region, including towards Taiwan, reiterating that U.S. commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid.”
However, after the U.S. debacle in Afghanistan, friends and foes increasingly doubt how “rock solid” such commitments are. They claim the Biden administration effectively abandoned Afghanistan, potentially leaving behind thousands of supporters of the U.S.-led military coalition in the hands of victorious Islamist Taliban fighters.
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