by WorldTribune Staff, June 18, 2021
“When 28 Chinese warplanes streaked through the skies around Taiwan on [June 15] – the largest such incursion this year – they followed a pattern that has generated alarm among U.S. and Taiwanese military planners,” Bloomberg News reported June 16.
“Some of the People’s Liberation Army planes, including bombers, fighter jets and surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, flew east from the Chinese coast around the southern tip of Taiwan,” the news service detailed. “The rest broke off and briefly darted further south toward tiny Pratas Island in the South China Sea before turning back.”
Is this merely a vulnerability check, inflammatory as that may be, or much more?
“There is now a serious possibility that China seeks to occupy one of the outer [Taiwan] islands,” Ben Schreer, head of Macquarie University’s department of security studies and criminology in Sydney, Australia, asserted. “If that happens, what is the international community going to do? What is the U.S. going to do?”
As this latest provocative air exercise was being conducted, Japanese news site Nikkei Asia reported June 16 that Chinese sand dredgers are pushing towards Taiwan’s Matsu Islands in heavy numbers.
“In the darkness, Chinese ships edge closer to Taiwan’s Matsu Islands, at times entering Taiwan-controlled waters,” Nikkei reports. “They are not military vessels, but huge sand dredgers that spend hours pumping up tons of sand from the ocean floor. There are so many lit boats they resemble traffic on a highway, and their loud mechanical rumblings echo across the otherwise quiet islands.”
On a single evening, “we could see 300 or 400 dredgers,” Lin Mei-hao, who runs a guesthouse on the main island, Nangan, related. “Their lights shone in the nighttime. Wherever you looked there was light, there were boats, dredging sand, really loudly.”
“The main thing is we are afraid that the sand dredging is just an excuse. Are they actually armed boats, will they come here?” Lin continued. “They look like civilian boats but do they have the People’s Liberation Army on board? That is what we worry about.”
Related: U.S. allies finally acknowledging need to militarily support Taiwan, April 22, 2021
The sand-dredging flotillas can be seen “as a gray zone tactic, a nonmilitary form of exerting pressure, with the aim of harassment and intimidation” Lii Wen, head of the local chapter of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told Nikkei Asia.
But if sand dredgers are a form of artful strong-arming, what can one call the extensive air force operations that are occurring with greater frequency?
“China’s warplanes made more incursions into the southern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone last year than in the previous five years combined,” Bloomberg notes.
The exercises “carry out military simulations according to an actual combat plan and rehearse in the real environment,” Song Zhongping, a former People’s Liberation Army instructor on missile technology, “told a social media account run by the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper,” Bloomberg reported.
It’s little wonder Australia is openly contemplating the amount of military force it would need to commit to help the U.S. beat off any Chinese direct invasion of Taiwan.
“Options include contributing to an allied effort with submarines, as well as maritime surveillance aircraft, air-to-air refuellers and potentially Super Hornet fighters operating from U.S. bases in Guam or the Philippines, and even Japan,” an April 16 report in the Australian Financial Review read.
In such an atmosphere fraught with increased tensions and maneuverings on both sides, the chances for an incident, whether intentional or not, greatly rise.
“I worry about accidental collisions with tragic results given the PLA’s aggressive actions close to Taiwan and other countries,” said Shirley Kan, an “independent specialist in Asian security who previously worked for the U.S. Congressional Research Service,” Bloomberg reports.
“China is playing a dangerous game.”