In a surprise move, Beijing announced on Thursday that it would hold live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait next week.
China’s surprise live-fire drills near Taiwan, explained
That’s both a warning message to Taipei and a show of geopolitical support for Russia during a time of friction with the United States, military analysts said.
The announcement came just hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping inspected the biggest naval parade in the country’s history, off the south coast of southern Hainan province.
It was a massive flexing of naval muscle amid China’s own growing rivalry with the US.
Warning to Taiwan
Beijing sees self-ruling, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, and has not ruled out taking it by force if necessary.
Countries regularly hold military exercises, often with allies, to prepare for conflict, and use live-fire drills to demonstrate combat readiness.
The choice to hold this exercise in the Taiwan Strait sends a clear message.
China’s show of strength is expected to take place on April 18, making it the first naval exercise in the Taiwan Strait since September 2015, which occurred in the lead-up to Taiwan’s presidential election.
The election was won by the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, who has not recognized the “1992 consensus.”
This agreement tacitly holds that the governments of China and Taiwan recognize there is only one China, but each side can have its own interpretation of what “China” stands for.
Beijing says the agreement is the foundation for cross-Strait dialogue.
Tensions between China and the US were heightened after President Donald Trump signed a travel act last month encouraging officials to visit Taiwan.
Message of support to Russia
The drill in the Taiwan Strait was also meant to be a show of support to China’s strategic partner Russia, Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said.
Military conflict between the US and Russia in Syria could “break out at any time,” he said, after Trump threatened a strike against Syrian forces.
Wei Fenghe, China’s defence minister, said during a visit to Russia last week that the trip was a signal to “let the Americans know about the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.”
China’s naval parade on Thursday involved the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and about 50 other warships as well as more than 10,000 troops and nearly 80 aircraft.
Xi, who is also the People’s Liberation Army’s commander-in-chief, was on board the Liaoning for the first time since the vessel was declared combat-ready.
Xi urged his troops to stay vigilant and be ready to defend China’s sovereignty and national interests, as well as safeguard regional peace and stability, according to the defence ministry.