China could send drones over Taiwan in wake of Pelosi trip, say analysts

Amber Wang, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 03 2022 11:08 PM

Unprecedented drone flights over Taiwan would put pressure on Taipei, say military observers

People's Liberation Army EPA-EFE
A man puts a tape along an advertisement to mark the 95th founding anniversary of the People's Liberation Army (PLA in Beijing, China, August 1, 2022. EPA-EFE/MARK R. CRISTINO

The PLA could send drones over Taiwan and conduct regular drills within what the island sees as its territorial waters in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit, according to military experts.

One analyst described the prospect of unprecedented PLA unmanned aircraft flights over the island as possible.

Immediately after Pelosi landed in Taipei on Tuesday night, the PLA said it would conduct “important military exercises with live-fire shooting” in six demarcated no-entry zones around the island from noon on Thursday to noon on Sunday.

The exercises will take place partially inside Taiwan’s territorial waters, and one will be held close to its southern port city, Kaohsiung, according to a map released by state news agency Xinhua.

Fu Qianshao, a retired equipment expert from the PLA Air Force, said that given their proximity to Taiwan, the large-scale drills would be a blockade of the island and marked a breakthrough in Beijing’s military actions against the island in terms of location and intensity.

He added that the PLA would also respond to any possible move by the US and Taiwanese air forces in those areas, with Thursday’s drills showing for the first time that Beijing did not recognise Taiwan’s territorial waters.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and vows to take it back, by force if necessary. It has grown increasingly dissatisfied with ever-closer interactions between Taipei and Western governments in the past two years, intensifying its warnings against the self-ruled island.

For the past year, Beijing has escalated its military actions near the island, including sending warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on a near-daily basis, and has been crossing the median line of the strait, a buffer zone the US established in 1954 to prevent a conflict between Beijing and Taiwan.

However, it has never flown its warplanes into the airspace above Taiwan, a situation Fu said might change after Pelosi’s visit.

“Flying over Taiwan cannot be ruled out … flying drones cannot be ruled out. There are various ways of crossing the island, and it should not be surprising because the domestic war has not yet ended. To reduce friction and misjudgment, we can send unmanned vehicles [to the island],” Fu said.

Fu said that while it was not clear if similar drills would continue after the current exercises ended, or whether more forces would join, it was certain that “the military pressure will get stronger if Taiwan keeps stepping on the red lines”.

Fu said that for Beijing the military pressure was an important step closer to reunification with Taiwan by peaceful means, but if that did not work reunifying forcefully remained the only option.

Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel and military commentator said Taiwan’s provocations and its collusion with the US would only accelerate the PLA’s actions to take the island back.

“Every time Taiwan independent forces provoke, the mainland counter-attacks and pressure increases,” Yue said.

The PLA would only be more ready for forceful unification with Taiwan, and more confident of having a quick and easy victory, Yue said. He added that the new sites chosen for Thursday’s drills could be used again, and might even be regular locations for future military exercises.

“Now that new training zones have been opened, they will be more frequent practice sites to maintain a stable position to deter Taiwan independence forces,” Yue said.

But he did not believe the PLA would fly over Taiwan, at least in the short term.

“This move can easily lead to mishaps, or even wars, which is not the required effect. The aim of the exercises is to counter the arrogance of the Taiwan independent force and its collusion with the US, which will be a dead end,” he said.

Song Zhongping, a military commentator based in Hong Kong, said the drills were intended to strengthen preparations for military action against Taiwan, and in future they would become normalised. Then, if Taiwan provoked Beijing, the exercises would turn into combat operations, Song said.

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