Chinese military practiced Taiwan invasion maneuvers in 2023, says US general

May 23, 2024 - 12:31 PM
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The Ground Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait, from an undisclosed location in this August 4, 2022 handout released on August 5, 2022. (Eastern Theatre Command/Handout via Reuters)

Chinese military drills in the straits of Taiwan in 2023 practiced maneuvers key to an invasion of the island, although an actual attack was not imminent or inevitable, a senior US general in the region said on Thursday.

In the exercises, the People’s Liberation Army simulated a maritime and air blockade of Taiwan, amphibious assaults and counter-intervention operations, Deputy Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka, said in a speech in Canberra.

Sklenka’s comments come as Taiwan’s military mobilized its forces on Thursday after China started two days of “punishment” drills around Taiwan in what it said was a response to “separatist acts”.

The latest Chinese military drills come just three days after Lai Ching-te took office as Taiwan’s new president, a man Beijing detests as a “separatist”. China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory. Taiwan’s government says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

China’s military exercises are part of a sustained pressure campaign against Taiwan stretching back to 2022, said Sklenka, adding that once rare incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone have now become normal.

However, while President Xi Jinping’s order for China’s military to be prepared for invasion of Taiwan by 2027 needed to be taken seriously, an actual attack was not inevitable or imminent, he said.

“I cannot underscore enough how devastating conflict in the Indo-Pacific region would be,” Sklenka said in the speech to Australia’s National Press Club.

“At stake would be untold numbers of lives, trillions of dollars in global economic damage, and maintenance of an international order that has delivered relative peace and stability over the past 80 years…. And that is why we need to work together to prevent conflict.”

China ramped up military pressure on Taiwan over April and May in the lead up to the inauguration of its new president. Fighter jets staged mock attacks on foreign vessels on foreign vessels while ships and planes encroached close to the island.

Only weeks earlier, China clashed with the Philippines in the contested South China Sea, triggering a diplomatic row and commitments from Japan and the U.S. to deepen security ties with the Philippines.

Sklenka said China repeatedly used its ships to harass and coerce its neighbors in pursuit of, “excessive, illegal and revisionist,” maritime claims and called it an “equal opportunity bully” to its neighbors ringing the sea.

Less than a month after Australia criticized China for an unsafe aerial confrontation over the Yellow Sea, Sklenka said the U.S. military had logged roughly 300 such intercepts since 2021.

—Reporting by Lewis Jackson and Peter Hobson; Editing by Michael Perry