After Nancy Pelosi’s visit, Taiwan braces for three days of Chinese military drills. Beijing calls them a warning, but they may also help its forces hone their skills.

A day after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Taiwan, celebrating it as a bulwark of democracy, the island faces three days of military exercises during which China’s forces may press closer than ever, flexing and honing their abilities to blockade it.

A barrage of Chinese propaganda said the drills, scheduled to start at midday Thursday, would serve as punishment for Ms. Pelosi’s visit, and as a shock-and-awe deterrent against opponents of Beijing’s claims to the self-ruled island. But more than that, the six exercise zones that the People’s Liberation Army has marked out in seas off Taiwan — one nudging less than 10 miles off its southern coast — could give Chinese forces valuable practice, should they one day be ordered to encircle and attack the island.

“Previously, the Chinese Communists carried out military exercises at a distance, now they’ve become close-up,” Chang Yan-ting, a retired deputy commander of Taiwan’s air force, said in an interview.

“The Chinese military exercises around Taiwan will put our national military in a very dangerous position,” he said. “They’re already at our doorstep.”

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has said that he hopes to secure eventual unification with Taiwan through peaceful steps. But like his predecessors, he has not ruled out force, and China’s military buildup has reached a point where some military commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario. The exercises could help Chinese forces test their readiness for that.

Where China Plans Military Drills

Some of the areas are inside what Taiwan says are its territorial waters, and they are closer to Taiwan than similar areas announced during the Taiwan Strait crisis in the mid-1990s.




Taiwan Chinas Military Exercises Could Help It Practice An Attack

1995-96

exercise areas

CHINA

Fuzhou

MATSU

ISLANDS

2022 exercise areas

Taipei

Xiamen

KINMEN

ISLANDS

Taketomi

TAIWAN

Kaohsiung

SOUTH

CHINA SEA

Taiwan territorial waters

Taiwan marine border

Exercises will be held in areas less than 10 miles from the Taiwanese coast.

PACIFIC

OCEAN

Batanes

50 miles

Taiwan Chinas Military Exercises Could Help It Practice An Attack 1

1995-96

exercise areas

CHINA

Fuzhou

MATSU

ISLANDS

2022 exercise areas

Taipei

Xiamen

KINMEN

ISLANDS

PACIFIC

OCEAN

TAIWAN

Kaohsiung

SOUTH

CHINA SEA

Taiwan territorial waters

Taiwan marine border

Exercises will be held in areas less than 10 miles from the Taiwanese coast.

Batanes

50 miles

Taiwan Chinas Military Exercises Could Help It Practice An Attack 2

1995-96

exercise areas

CHINA

2022 exercise areas

Fuzhou

MATSU

ISLANDS

Taipei

Xiamen

KINMEN

ISLANDS

PACIFIC

OCEAN

TAIWAN

Kaohsiung

Taiwan territorial

waters

SOUTH

CHINA SEA

Taiwan marine

border

Exercises will be held in areas less than 10 miles from the Taiwanese coast.

Batanes

75 miles


Note: Maps showing the 2022 exercise areas were published by Chinese state media on Aug. 2. Coordinates describing these areas published separately by Beijing have several discrepancies with the maps; the mapped area is shown.

Sources: Xinhua; 1995-96 military exercise areas from Australian National University; Maritime boundaries show Taiwan territorial claims, from Flanders Marine Institute (2019).

By Marco Hernandez.

“They’re definitely going to use this as an excuse to do something that helps them prepare for a possible invasion,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University who studies China’s military and its potential to attack Taiwan.

“It’s not just about the messaging,” she said. “Under the guise of signaling, they’re trying to basically test their ability to conduct complex maneuvers that are necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan.”

It remains unclear how close Chinese forces will come to Taiwan during the exercises. In one possible sign of what to expect, China’s Liberation Army Daily said on Thursday that the Eastern Theater Command was holding its own practice operations that included the navy, air force and rocket force, and were focused on “joint enclosure and control,” assaults on sea and land, and air domination operations.

Kinmen Island, a Taiwanese-controlled island a little over six miles off China’s coast, reported that on Wednesday night, flying objects of unclear origin — probably drones — flew overhead. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said that its website was paralyzed by “denial of service” cyberattacks late on Wednesday night.

China is trying to reinforce its influence over Taiwan by upgrading deterrence after the visit by Ms. Pelosi, who praised the island’s people for standing strong against Beijing, several Chinese analysts said.

“The tendency of external forces exploiting Taiwan to contain China has become increasingly clear,” Wu Yongping, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing who studies Taiwan, said in written answers to questions. “The Chinese government has adopted some unprecedented military operations in response to this.”

One of the People’s Liberation Army’s designated exercise zones lies off the eastern coast of Taiwan, at the farthest point from the Chinese mainland. When China held intimidating military exercises off Taiwan during a geopolitical crisis 25 years ago, the People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., did not go that far.

“It’s an intentional message meant to highlight the P.L.A.’s heightened capacity to project power farther from the Chinese mainland, and it’s a visible signal that China can surround the island,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It will also complicate traffic to and around the island from all sides.”

Global Times, a swaggeringly nationalist Chinese newspaper, raised the possibility of missiles being fired from the mainland into that eastern zone, arcing over Taiwan. “If the Taiwan military responds, the Liberation Army is entirely able to trap the turtle in the jar,” one Chinese commentator, Zhang Xuefeng, told the paper, using a Chinese saying for catching prey with ease.

But Mr. Hart said China was unlikely to fire missiles over Taiwan. “That would be extremely escalatory,” he said. “They will more likely fire ship-based or air-launched missiles into that area without flying missiles over the island.”

After decades of tensions and several military crises with China, many on Taiwan have become inured to threats. But even if China does not take the most potentially incendiary steps this time, experts and officials on the island worry that the operations could spark an incident — a collision at sea or in the air, or a misfired missile — that inflames tensions into a full-fledged crisis.

A monitoring service run by the U.S. Naval Institute reported on Monday that a strike group led by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was in the Philippine Sea, some distance east of Taiwan, and that the U.S.S. Tripoli, an amphibious assault ship, was also in that area.

“The three sides — U.S., China and Taiwan — should all have some tacit understanding to avoid direct military clashes,” said Chieh Chung, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei. But, he added, “if an incident occurs, it may rapidly heat up, triggering a military clash outside the expectations of each side.”

John Liu contributed reporting.

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