China’s military has been on a surge of activity around Taiwan this week, sending dozens of warplanes past the median line of the Taiwan Strait and into the key regions of the island’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) activity has a range of implications, none of them positive for Taiwan or cross-strait stability, analysts say.
According to figures from Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, 38 PLA aircraft were detected around the island in the 24 hours ending at 6 a.m. local time on Wednesday, 33 in the same period Thursday and 30 during the same period Friday.
Over those 72 hours, 73 PLA aircraft either crossed the strait’s median line – an informal demarcation point that Beijing does not recognize but until recently largely respected – or entered the southeastern or southwestern parts of the island’s ADIZ.
China’s ruling Communist Party claims the self-governing democracy of Taiwan as its territory despite never having controlled it, and has spent decades trying to isolate it diplomatically. Beijing has not ruled out using force to take control of the island. The PLA aircraft detected this week included fighter jets, H-6 bombers, anti-submarine warning aircraft and reconnaissance drones, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.
The ministry said it tasked combat air patrol warplanes, naval vessels and land-based missile defense to monitor the PLA aircraft, along with nine Chinese warships that were present around the island.
Their response underscores the problem that increased PLA activity poses to Taiwan, said Carl Schuster, a Hawaii-based analyst and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center. When Taiwan’s military responds to PLA operations, it taxes the island’s systems and equipment.
“Constant use creates a maintenance headache that reduces readiness until (spare) parts are delivered and installed,” he said. “Also, air frames and hulls require inspection and refurbishment as certain age and stress times are reached.”
He also says surges in PLA activity are aimed at wearing down the mental ability of Taiwan’s people to resist a potential takeover by Beijing.