EXPLANATION: Why is China organizing exercises around Taiwan?

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BEIJING (TSWT) — China is conducting military exercises in six self-declared zones around Taiwan in response to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island that Beijing claims as its own territory.

China has warned planes and ships to avoid the areas during the exercises, which will last until Sunday. The exercises appear to be a rehearsal for a possible blockade and invasion of the island that would almost certainly attract Taiwan’s main supporter, the United States, along with US allies, including Japan and Australia.

China’s 2 million-strong army is the world’s largest and its navy has more ships than the US. Taiwan’s armed forces cannot compare in numbers, but it has vowed to resist coercive measures to impose Chinese Communist Party rule over self-governing island democracy.

“It will take some tough diplomacy to restore a stable balance,” said Stanford University political scientist Kharis Templeman. “I don’t know how this confrontation will go in the end, but I think we’re going to have a few difficult weeks.”

The following is a look at the issues surrounding tension escalation.

WHAT IS CHINA DOING IN SEA AND SKY AROUND TAIWAN?

China says it has begun exercises with warplanes, naval ships and missile strikes in six zones around Taiwan. Located just 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of the island, they may infringe Taiwan’s territorial waters. Pelosi has provided few details, but has described the exercises as a punishment for the US to allow Pelosi’s visit to go ahead, even though President Joe Biden did not have the authority to prevent her from traveling to the island.

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Live-fire drills are a test of an army’s ability to conduct missions under conditions most similar to real warfare. In this case, they are meant to show how much violence China could unleash against Taiwan if Beijing decides to honor its promise to seize control of the island and punish those who support its independence.

The exercises are considered the largest and most threatening to Taiwan since Beijing launched missiles into waters north and south of the island in 1995 and 1996 in response to a visit to the US by then-President Lee Teng-hui. China regularly sends fighter jets to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and has at times crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides, but has stopped direct raids or attacks that could spark regional conflict.

WHY IS CHINA TAKING THESE MEASURES AND WHAT DOES IT HOPE TO ACHIEVE?

China has increasingly stated that Taiwan should be brought under its control by force if necessary, in defiance of Washington and other proponents of democracy on the island. Pelosi’s visit came at a particularly sensitive time as Chinese President and Chief of the Armed Forces Xi Jinping prepares for a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party. Xi has not named a successor, and he has built up massive powers despite criticisms of his handling of the economy, in part due to his crackdown on COVID-19 and a marked downturn in relations with the West.

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Xi has said Taiwan’s fate cannot remain unsettled indefinitely and US military officials have said China will seek a military solution within the next few years. The Chinese Constitution includes Taiwan on its national territory and the Anti-Separation Act of 2005 threatens an invasion if “the possibilities for peaceful reunification are completely exhausted”, which applies in the event of a formal declaration of independence or foreign intervention .

China is pushing for Taiwan to accept its claim that the island is part of China, whose only legitimate government is in Beijing. In the face of China’s military threats and relentless campaign to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, the islanders overwhelmingly support the status quo of de facto independence. That sentiment has been further reinforced by Beijing’s relentless crackdown on political rights and freedom of expression in Hong Kong, which China has long touted as a model for its future governance of Taiwan.

WHAT IS TAIWAN AND US RESPONSE?

Taiwan has beefed up its military and organized civil defense exercises. Though the Air Force, Navy and 165,000-member armed forces are a fraction of China’s, they are backed by high-tech weapons and early-warning systems designed to make a Chinese invasion as difficult as possible. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which China has tacitly supported, has also served as a wake-up call for Taipei, which is now seeking a review of training and tactics.

Numerous US naval and other military assets are currently deployed to areas near Taiwan, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group. Washington has completely rejected China’s claims that the Taiwan Strait is sovereign Chinese territory and retains the right to sail past Chinese outposts in the South China Sea, despite Chinese protests.

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WHAT ARE THE RISKS AND HOW LONG WILL THE TENSION LAST?

It remains unclear whether China will try to keep tensions high even after the end of the current round of exercises. Spokespersons for the foreign and defense ministries, the Taiwanese cabinet and other departments have vowed that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen and the US government will pay a price for Pelosi’s visit, but have not provided details on how and when. that goal will be achieved.

After the visit, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told US National Public Radio that “the possibility of some incident is real” given the scale of China’s exercises.

“And we believe that what China is doing here is not responsible. We believe it unnecessarily escalates tensions,” Sullivan said.

The long-standing modus vivendi between Washington and Beijing is being “severely tested” by both sides, said Templeman, a political scientist at Stanford University.

Washington has pushed back Beijing with high-level visits, an easing of official contact restrictions and arms sales.

“Washington as a whole has become much less concerned about insulting China and much less respectful of Beijing’s demands on Taiwan,” Templeman said.

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