Beijing sees Taiwan as Chinese territory to be taken by force if necessary and has undertaken a decadeslong military buildup to achieve that goal and deter the U.S., the island’s longtime security partner. Still, many military analysts and China specialists think Beijing lacks capabilities to launch an outright invasion, making such an operation too complex and risky in the next few years.
Instead, in a crisis, they think Beijing would try to squeeze rather than flatten Taiwan into submission.
The Chinese military started the exercises Thursday with drills involving warplanes and ships, as well as multiple ballistic missiles fired into waters bracketing Taiwan. Military analysts expect large naval and air maneuvers to be staged in coming days to demonstrate control of the waters around Taiwan.
The proximity of the action to ports and shipping lanes has forced some delays for cargo and aviation, a small taste of the pain China could inflict on Taiwan and world markets. The self-governed island is a leading producer of the advanced semiconductors critical to products from cars to advanced weaponry.
“This establishes an encirclement of Taiwan island,” Major Gen. Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, told China’s state broadcaster Thursday morning ahead of the drills. “This creates very good conditions for reshaping the strategic situation in a way that benefits unification.
When the exercises conclude, military analysts and China specialists said they would watch to see if Chinese forces linger or if drills close to Taiwan become routine. If so, such exercises could become a tool to intermittently disrupt Taiwan’s economy and its ties with the world in an attempt to erode popular support for the government and resistance to Beijing, the analysts said.
“China probably doesn’t want to go to war to achieve its ends,” said Bradley Martin, a retired Navy officer and researcher at Rand Corp. “What we see as more likely is to exert a level of force below the level of outright conflict.”
China’s fishing fleet, sometimes backed by China’s coast guard or navy, has swarmed ships of neighboring countries in contested waters. Cyberattacks, another common feature, have frequently targeted Taiwan, including this week when the presidential office and Defense Ministry’s websites were hit with denial of service attacks that the government attributed to overseas hackers.