The third week of September 2023 witnessed unusually high activity and movement of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) around Taiwan. Taiwanese Minister of National Defense, Chiu Kuo-cheng, acknowledged the developments. For the first time, the ministry stated that Taiwan's military was monitoring troop movements and PLA Rocket Force activities in Mainland China's Dacheng Bay.
This zone is witnessing exercises on a much larger scale than usual. The Dacheng Bay is in China's southern Fujian Province's Zhaoan County — which is the PLA's amphibious landing site facing Taiwan. The joint drills conducted in September included land, sea, air, and amphibious operations.
The PLA movements "have been highly unusual lately." Dozens of fighters, drones, bombers, and other aircraft, along with warships have been operating near the island. Besides, the PLA also conducted successive joint exercises throughout September.
Taipei has been countering the Chinese onslaught at multiple levels. Flagging amphibious exercises and multiple drills undertaken by the PLA are part of introducing what is being described as "intelligence deterrence." The United States' military proposed the concept to demonstrate to the Chinese military that Taiwan is aware of "every movement undertaken" around Dacheng Bay. This is also in line with Taiwan's principle of keeping its public informed.
Escalating Military Pressure
In 2020, the PLA added a new milestone for its modernization in 2027. This was to accelerate the integrated development of mechanization, informatization, and intelligentization of its armed forces. Such developments could provide the PLA with capabilities to be a more credible military tool for the CCP to wield as it pursues Taiwan unification.
Further, in September, China dispatched more than 100 military ships for regional exercises in the strategic waters of the South China Sea, and off Taiwan's northeast coast. In September 2022, the PLA carried out landing drills in Dacheng Bay, which featured the participation of civilian ships with equipment.
The PRC exceptionally began intensifying diplomatic, economic, political, and military pressure against Taiwan in 2021. The year carried its own significance for China and its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Founded in 1921, the centenary of the CCP became synonymous with the assertion of the CCP's power and of the increasingly dictatorial role of its General Secretary, Xi Jinping.
China's Unification Plan
The CCP has past its 100th anniversary, and its political leadership under Xi views a divided China as a weak China. Their full unification plan includes Taiwan and the completion of Hong Kong and Macau's integration by the end of 2049. This would fulfill the CCP's long-term territorial agenda of national rejuvenation. Against this backdrop, the current PLA activity around Taiwan surely seems "unusual." At the same time, it is well understood in terms of Beijing seeking to assert its sovereignty claims and pressure on Taipei.
Throughout 2021, the PLA increased provocative and destabilizing actions in and around the Taiwan Strait. These included increased flights into Taiwan's self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and conducting island-seizure exercises.
Although China publicly advocates for peaceful unification with Taiwan, the former has never renounced the use of military force. The circumstances under which Beijing has historically indicated it would consider using force continue to remain ambiguous.
Moreover, China could well exercise the option of conducting a range of options for military campaigns against Taiwan, with varying degrees of feasibility and associated risks. These options may range from an air and/or maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion. It could try to seize and occupy some of its offshore islands, or even all of Taiwan, according to the US Pentagon's "2022 Annual Report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China."
Potential Military Blockade
In all, the strategic direction of the PLA's Eastern Theater Command focuses on the topmost peripheral territories in question — Taiwan and the East China Sea. The Eastern Theater Command would likely oversee "executing a Taiwan invasion." This is in addition to being responsible for operational control over military matters related to Japan, including contingencies in and around the Taiwan Strait and the Senkaku Islands.
The US Pentagon has predicted that any purported Chinese military blockade of Taiwan would likely fail. However, it cannot be said with certainty whether Beijing "would never" proceed with trying to cut off the self-ruled island. In all, what can be said with a high degree of inevitability is that the political and military climate in the cross-strait region is rising ostensibly, keeping the entire immediate and extended region on tenterhooks.
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Author: Dr Monika Chansoria
Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter).