Beijing carries out calibrated air and sea operations off Taiwan
April 7 to 9 saw a further deployment of Chinese warships and warplanes around Taiwan. This move was in response to the official visit to the United States by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Reports indicate that 11 warships and more than 70 aircraft were involved. According to Beijing, the operation simulated “encirclement” of Taiwan.
Official Chinese sources said that participating warships included Type 052C guided missile destroyers and Type 054A frigates. Taipei publicly identified one of the Chinese fleet as the Type 054A frigate Xuzhou.
There was a close-quarters confrontation between a Chinese warship, the Taiwanese frigate Di Hua, and a Taiwan Coast Guard Administration patrol ship, while a Chinese warship reportedly fired a single shot some distance off the Taiwanese coast.
Beijing has been heavily engaged in international diplomacy in recent weeks, however, and these latest Chinese operations off Taiwan appeared to have been carefully calibrated to minimise international reaction. Beijing announced the duration of the operations in advance, and while some Chinese warships crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait, it was only for brief periods and the ships refrained from overtly aggressive conduct.
Taiwanese warships, for their part, mostly monitored the operation from a distance of about nine kilometres, and Taipei’s public comments were low key. Washington meanwhile re-affirmed its focus on Taiwan’s security by despatching the destroyer Milius on a Freedom of Navigation Operation in the Taiwan Strait.
Of particular significance, though, was the well-publicised deployment of one of China’s two aircraft carriers, Shandong. The carrier and its escorts carried out operations to the east of Taiwan. According to regional reports, these operations included multiple missions by Shandong’s embarked J-15 fighter-bombers.
This was the first time that a Chinese carrier had been overtly deployed in support of Taiwan-focused operations. This development was seen by some analysts as probably signalling that the absorbing of Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China is being afforded increasing priority by Beijing.