Tensions are heating up over Taiwan as China practices encircling the island with a record number of planes flying overhead.
China remained eerily quiet as it flew 103 aircraft around Taiwan this week, including 40 that breached the island’s air defence identification zone, according to Taiwan. Just one day later, another 55 Chinese aircraft flew sorties near Taiwan.
When Xi Jinping’s military does drills similar to this most recent one, it’s normally coupled with the roar of propaganda from the one-party state. But in this situation, China said nothing — something Taiwanese authorities and defence experts think implies the activity is more about training rather than sending a symbolic message.
China is understood to be trying to strengthen its ability to encircle Taiwan and block a potential rescue from the US.
The one-party state sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that will eventually be under Beijing’s control, while many in the West view the island’s population of 23.6 million as belonging to a sovereign country.
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The drills come as part of a major step-up in China’s activity around Taiwan. Last Tuesday (September 12), a Chinese aircraft carrier and roughly 24 warships set sail to the southeast of Taiwan.
Ben Lewis, a US-based military analyst told the Wall Street Journal: “They’re getting better, and I think this drill is kind of proof that they’re trying.”
China is specifically focusing on improving the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) long-range abilities, analysts have said.
Its flights to Taiwan have involved rising numbers of transport and refuelling aircraft, known as Y-20s, close-by to fighter jets.
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Over the years, Taiwan has developed a defence strategy that takes advantage of its unique island geography, including its steep mountain range which would slow down Chinese troop movements from the West.
This strategy, often referred to as the “porcupine strategy,” aims to make an invasion as difficult and costly as possible for the enemy.
It has also prioritised bolstering its east coast where it hopes it could hold out long enough to receive help from the US.
The PLA has reportedly aimed at hypothetically blocking a strong US retaliation as part of a policy called “anti-access/area denial”, WSJ reports.
Over the weeks, Taiwan has tracked a rising number of PLA planes and drones on the east side of the island, further suggesting they are improving their ability to encircle the island.
The Y-20 refuelling jets are also being used to potentially give China the ability to do extended operations.
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