In the last year, the operational tempo of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the South China Sea, the Sea of Japan, and the Strait of Taiwan has increased substantially. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) surveillance, reconnaissance, and espionage activities against the United States have become more noticeable. With increasing frequency, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has violated Taiwan’s economic exclusion zone and airspace.
Though China has been troublesome for decades, the current focus of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — especially on espionage within the US military on Indo-Pacific training exercises and operations — indicates preparation for more aggressive actions. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to grasp Beijing’s message: We said we would bring Taiwan under the control of the PRC — were you not listening? China’s construction of military installations on disputed islands and atolls, extensive PLAN maritime naval exercises in large portions of the South China Sea, and persistent hostilities against Taiwan portend serious military adventurism.
China Harasses Taiwan
The PRC’s aggression toward Taiwan has become constant and intimidating. It seems clear the PLA is rehearsing for a Taiwan attack. “China has sent some of its largest swarms of jet fighters and warships into the air and waters around Taiwan this month. They have been accompanied by an unusual silence,” Joyu Wang warned in a Sept. 21 Wall Street Journal article:
“That silence is a sign that the recent activity is less about delivering a political message, Taiwanese authorities and defense analysts say, than about training. China’s military is trying to sharpen its ability to encircle Taiwan, neutralize the island’s natural advantages and block the US from coming to the rescue in the event of an invasion.”
Surrounding Taiwan and establishing a blockade to prevent military supplies from reaching the island would be a logical strategy to stop the United States and any other nation from aiding the Taipei government. PLAN’s recent naval exercises included Russia, as if somehow a combined arms operation with the Kremlin naval forces would grant a PRC assault on the island more legitimacy.
The persistent harassment of Beijing’s combat aircraft is not trivial. “China’s military sent 103 warplanes toward Taiwan in a 24-hour period in what the island’s defense ministry called a new high,” an Associated Press report stated. The air armada, along with fighter aircraft, included “midair refueling tanker planes,” AP explained. This anticipates longer duration missions, which may involve loitering over the Taiwan Strait to engage US or other naval vessels attempting to break a blockade.
China Becoming Bolder
China is not coy about its intentions. “China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, some of it thousands of miles from the mainland and in waters surrounding Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines,” The New York Times’ Sui-Lee Wee wrote. Recently, in the South China Sea, Chinese Coast Guard cutters deployed floating barriers that prevented Filipino fishermen from accessing their fishing grounds.
“The barrier posed a hazard to navigation, a clear violation of international law. It also hinders the conduct of fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fisherfolk in BDM,” Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela posted on X (formerly Twitter). The BDM or Bajo De Masinloc, claimed by both the Philippines and China, is an atoll located 134 miles from the Philippine island of Luzon. This dispute, compounded by the heavy-handed behavior of the PRC, is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the South China Sea and other international ocean regions adjacent to China.
Jack Detsch, Pentagon and national security correspondent for Foreign Policy, gave a broader view of the situation: “The Chinese navy and maritime militia are using water cannons, laser dazzlers, and harassing tactics to try to push smaller nations out of the area.” It is a strategy of regional supremacy, with the goal of destroying Taiwan as an independently governed state. Territorial claims, increased spying on the United States, combined naval exercises with Russia, growing naval and air harassment attacks on Taiwan, blockade maneuver training, and amphibious landing exercises are all dots. When connected, the picture reveals Chinese domination of the Indo-Pacific.