Taiwan's airspace was once again buzzing with activity this weekend as Beijing decided to add to the general feeling of worsening geopolitical tension by staging the largest incursion into the rogue island's airspace since October.
Sunday's incursion included 39 warplanes, mostly advanced fighter jets, the largest number in a single day since China dispatched 56 bombers and fighters and spay planes into the ADIZ on Oct. 4.
And it happened amid reports (and complaints from the Taiwanese) about an expansion in the PLA-Navy's presence in the Pacific. Apparently, their naval perimeter has expanded even further toward southern Japan and eastern Taiwan.
According to the FT, for at least six months, the Chinese have rotated destroyers and other warships and transport ships through the waters east and south of the southermost tip of the Ryuku chain (which are referred to as the Nansei islands by Tokyo). The FT cited officials from "Taiwan, Japan and the US" in its report.
One US defense official who spoke to the FT said that the increase in the PLA's waterborne presence between the Nansei and Taiwan has happened mostly over the past year. He said it now had a consistent presence of one warship in the area that was often accompanied by a second warship.
Beijing views the ability to operate freely in the waters as key to its naval strength. Military analysts see the western Pacific as the main location for a potential clash between the US and China if Beijing attacked Taiwan.
Both Taiwanese and Japanese defense analysts insisted that the PLA's movements make one thing clear: China is planning for a potential future war over Taiwan as President Xi prepares to make his dreams of Chinese "reunification" a reality perhaps before the end of his current five-year term.
And it wants to make sure that when it decides to invade the island, that it has a large enough buffer in the Pacific to stop any foreign interference, which probably isn't a terrible idea given America's treaty obligation to intervene in such circumstances.
As another analyst pointed out, a few years ago, reports about Beijing's aggressive naval posture in the Pacific focused on the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, once the most strategically-contested piece of barren rock in the Pacific. Now that Beijing has transformed Senkaku into what Steve Bannon once described as a "immovable aircraft carriers".
"In the past, one narrow interpretation of Chinese naval movements in this area was that they were mainly a concern regarding the Senkaku," said one person briefed on talks between the US and Japan, referring to the islands China also claims and calls Diaoyu. "But it is becoming much clearer that the risk is to the Nansei Islands and to Taiwan."
The expansion on the part of the Chinese has reportedly already gotten the US and Japan talking about preparing a force of US marines armed with "advanced mobile rocket launchers" to counter any further expansion by Beijing - using force, if necessary.
As Taiwan continues to prepare for what seems like an increasingly inevitable Chinese invasion, one senior defense official told the FT that they had worked out an efficient strategy of "battlespace management".
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System would put Chinese ships operating near the Nansei islands at risk. “This plan is one of several components of our discussions around joint operational planning for such a contingency,” said another person briefed on the matter. “Chinese forces would want a quick, decisive victory,” said a former senior Taiwanese military official. “For that they need to destroy our fighters and warships in the east which we would evacuate there."
Taiwan’s war plans envision sailing its fleet to the western Pacific once it expects a Chinese attack, which was traditionally believed would come from the west.
They include sheltering fighter aircraft in tunnels in a mountain range at a base in Hualien on the remote east coast. “We talk a lot about the PLA’s activity to the south-west and increasingly to the south-east of Taiwan. But what they are really doing is practising battle-space management in our eastern waters,” said Hsu Yen-chi, a researcher at the Council on Strategic and Wargaming Studies in Taipei.
In November, while a Taiwanese minister participated in the US-hosted virtual democracy summit, Taiwan spotted two Type 071 amphibious transport docks between its east coast and Yonaguni, the westernmost Japanese island, which is just 150km away. Such warships can carry troops, helicopters and beach landing craft — the kind of equipment likely to be used in an attack on Hualien air base
Although whether this would be enough to fight off the Chinese, of course, remains to be seen. Given the obvious disparity in size and equipment (the second of which the US has done its best to help Taiwan bridge), there's reason for the Taiwanese to be concerned.
In what might be some foreshadowing, market strategists blamed selling in Europe and in the US premarket on the increasingly tense geopolitical tone, blaming most of this on the situation in Ukraine (although the latest headlines out of China were cited by some as contributing to the dour mood for risk).
Mon, 01/24/2022 - 08:43