China simulates full-scale invasion of Taiwan

The People’s Liberation Army on Thursday launched large-scale joint military exercises around Taiwan after the island’s President William Lai Ching-te, in his inauguration speech on Monday, had highlighted China’s infiltrations and military threats. 

Meanwhile, an amendment that will reduce the Lai administration’s powers has led to a political fight in the Legislative Yuan this week. Some commentators said Beijing hopes the legislative saga will burn out Lai and stop him from pushing “Taiwan independence.”

The Eastern Theater Command of the PLA said in a statement that it had started two-day joint military drills surrounding the island of Taiwan on Thursday morning.

The drills, called the “Joint Sword-2024A exercises,” are being conducted in the Taiwan Strait – including areas around the islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqi and Dongyin – as well as to the north, south and east of Taiwan Island. 

Given the code name and its use of the letter A, the latest PLA drills could open the door to potential follow-ups this year, Chieh Chung, a researcher at the Taipei-based Association of Strategic Foresight, told Taiwan’s Central News Agency.  

The nine designated locations for the PLA exercises have included Taiwan’s outlying islands for the first time in recent years, meaning that Beijing wants to simulate a full-scale Chinese armed invasion of Taiwan, he said. 

A total of 16 PLA warships, 19 Chinese coast guard vessels and 49 warplanes had been detected near Taiwan as of 6 pm on Thursday, announced Huang Wen-chi, deputy chief of the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense’s Office of the General Staff for Intelligence. 

He added that none of the PLA warplanes or warships entered the 24-nautical-mile zone just off Taiwan’s coast. He said Taiwan’s armed forces did not detect live-fire drills at the nine designated locations. 

Chen Binhua, director of the Information Bureau of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the PRC’s State Council, said the latest drills are a resolute punishment for the Taiwan regional leader’s provocative May 20 speech that sought “independence,” a stern warning to external forces that support “Taiwan independence” while interfering in China’s internal affairs and a rightful move to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“If the Taiwan independence and separatist forces insist on going their own way and taking risks, the mainland will take decisive action to resolutely crush their plot and safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chen said. 

He said mainland China’s countermeasures are only aimed at Taiwan independence activities and interference from external forces, not Taiwan compatriots.

Kuomintang’s stance

Lai said in his inauguration speech on Monday that Taiwan will strengthen its national defense and its national security law to protect itself from being harmed by China’s threats and infiltrations. 

He said China must stop posing verbal and military threats to Taiwan, and should carry out its global responsibilities with Taiwan to help maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

On August 4-6, 2022, the PLA held military exercises at six locations surrounding Taiwan after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defied Beijing’s warning and visited the island.

In April 2023, the PLA launched another round of large-scale military drills near Taiwan. The current drills are the largest in one year. 

Kuomintang (KMT), a Beijing-friendly political party in Taiwan, on Thursday in a statement called on the Chinese Communist Party to “stop unnecessary measures, avoid conflicts across the Taiwan Strait, and cherish the results of cross-Strait peaceful development.” 

The KMT urged “the other side of the Taiwan Strait to exercise restraint.” 

Real battlefield 

Although the KMT only controls 46% of the seats in the Legislative Yuan, its representative Han Kuo-yu was elected as the president of the legislative body in early February. 

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), which is now the crucial minority with eight seats, has recently proposed a law amendment to reform the Legislative Yuan, increase the Yuan’s investigative powers and limit the investigative powers of the government.

On Tuesday, at least 30,000 protestors gathered in front of the Legislative Yuan to oppose the amendment bill. Some violence and ochaotic scenes among lawmakers in the chamber were seen on TV. 

Citing Chinese dissident Yuan Hongbing, Japanese journalist Akio Yaita said Beijing has asked the KMT to support the TPP’s bill and cause chaos in the chamber. He said the Legislative Yuan is the real battlefield between China and Taiwan.  

Some commentators said the KMT+TPP alliance can create a balance of power inside Taiwan that limits any independence fantasies on the part of the DPP. 

The situation that none of the three major political parties can control more than 50% of legislative seats has not been seen over the past 16 years, Lai said Monday.

But he said this may be an opportunity for improvement, as long as all parties respect order and cooperate with each other.

Win people’s hearts

Zheng Yongnian, a Chinese political scientist and commentator, says in an article on Monday that although evidence shows that Taiwan is increasingly promoting independence, Beijing must not misjudge the situation.  

He says most Taiwanese don’t want to have a war with mainland China while Washington has also taken steps to avoid military conflicts in the Taiwan Strait. 

“Military is not the only way to resolve the Taiwan issue,” he says. “As long as there is a one-in-10,000 chance, we should continue to push forward peaceful reunification with Taiwan.”

He says Beijing should use both “carrot and stick” to achieve its goal, for example, by unilaterally providing trade benefits or sending tourists to Taiwan in order to win the hearts of Taiwanese and isolate the separatists. 

Read: China curbs US arms makers for selling to Taiwan

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter: @jeffpao3

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