Busy time for militaries on both sides of the Taiwan Strait

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: VOA

Beijing’s bellicose mouthpiece Global Times has admitted that the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which celebrated its 69th anniversary on Monday, was “facing ever increasing challenges due to uncertain relations with the US, while it plays Taiwan as a pawn.”

The op-ed appeared shortly after the pomp and ceremony in the South China Sea earlier this month when Xi Jinping reviewed an impressive squadron of warships and planes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech as he reviews a military display of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the South China Sea April 12, 2018. Picture taken April 12, 2018. Li Gang/Xinhua via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech as he reviews a military display of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea on April 12. Photo: Li Gang/Xinhua via Reuters

Journalists, military and naval aficionados have also been seen around the quay of the Dalian Shipyard since Monday when China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier sailed off on its maiden voyage.

“Very soon, China will have two aircraft carrier strike groups. Extensive training on the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has given the navy experience in operating the huge ship in the high seas towards a genuine blue-water force, a force to be reckoned with to Taiwan separatists and Washington,” said a retired naval admiral.

The Liaoning has cruised past the Bashi Channel and is now in the East China Sea in carrier-versus-destroyer and submarine combat training.

Keel laying for the second homemade carrier is also rumored to be set for July at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard.

The PLA Daily and the Ministry of Defense also released a video on their website and social media pages detailing the 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the first overseas naval base in Djibouti, amphibious landing drills by the Marine Corps as well as the high seas training of the Liaoning.

While the Chinese Navy no longer shies away from strutting its stuff in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and even in international waters in the western Pacific, its weak underbelly is also more obvious than ever: weak anti-submarine capability, antiquated ship-borne fighters and inadequate replenishment vessels, to just name a few.

Slow-moving amphibious assault and landing ships are unlikely to establish enough beachheads either, and the bottleneck in troop delivery could be another soft spot for the Chinese navy in offensives to capture the island of Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the PLA Daily has warned that possible incidents including port calls by US warships and senior US officials setting foot on the island after the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act by the US could mean an uncertain future in cross-strait ties and the Chinese Navy must be combat-ready to respond to any emergencies in a “time of test.”

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen onboard a destroyer during her inspection of the Taiwanese Navy on April 13. Photo: Office of the President, Taiwan

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had factored in China’s heightened military menace when designing this year’s Han Kuang exercises to ensure the military would be well prepared for all scenarios, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The island’s largest annual war games are scheduled to start with a computer-aided drill from April 30 to May 4 before live-fire combat drills from June 4 to 8, featuring anti-landing operations and the deployment of reconnaissance and assault drones, CNA said.

Taiwan’s Navy also sought to flex its muscles in an ad hoc drill presided over by the island’s independence-leaning leader Tsai Ing-wen on April 13, in response to Beijing’s beating of war drums only one day after the PLA’s naval fanfare in the South China Sea.

“Taiwan’s attempt to stack up against the mainland [through its own drills] is like throwing an egg against a rock,” Xu Guangyu, a former PLA general and senior advisor to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told Global Times.

But a US Congressman said last week that China’s live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea were “cheap … and tawdry,” and that if it was a warning, “it would be ignored.”

US Representative Ted Yoho, who sits on a subcommittee of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, made the remarks to Taiwanese media. He also said the US should work with Taiwan to find a solution that would provide a sense of safety for the people of Taiwan.

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