BEIJING (AP) – China’s recent increase in military exercises and warplane missions near Taiwan – which have raised concerns in the region – was necessary to defend the nation’s sovereignty and territory, a said a Chinese official on Wednesday.
The Chinese military flew 56 planes off Taiwan’s southwest coast in a single day earlier this month, a single-day record that capped four days of a sustained pressure campaign involving 149 flights. All were in international airspace, but the display raised concerns that any misstep could cause an unintentional escalation in the region.
Taiwan considers the measures taken by China foreshadow its threat to bring the island it claims as its own territory under its control by military means if necessary. The parties separated in the midst of the civil war in 1949 and have no official contact.
The purpose of the maneuvers was to “fundamentally safeguard the general interests of the Chinese nation and the vital interests of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
“The People’s Liberation Army exercises are necessary actions to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ma told reporters at a bi-weekly press conference in Beijing.
Ma blamed the actions of Taiwan’s pro-independence and democratically elected government and its relations with “outside forces” for exacerbating the tensions.
Outside observers say the military maneuvers are aimed at degrading Taiwan’s physical defense capabilities through attrition, while turning citizens against their rulers through a form of psychological warfare.
Taiwan, a close ally of the United States, has sent jets to intercept Chinese planes and activated its missile air defense systems. It is also working to strengthen its defenses by purchasing new technology from the United States and developing domestic systems, including submarines.
Opinion polls show that the vast majority of Taiwanese are in favor of maintaining their de facto status of independence without giving in to China’s demands for political unification.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Sunday vowed to defend the island from growing pressure from China after a week of unprecedented tensions with Beijing.
She spoke a day after Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the annexation of Taiwan “must be done,” while saying it was best done through peaceful means.
However, Xi also added that “no one should underestimate the strong determination, will and ability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
While such rhetoric is familiar, many see an increased possibility of conflict resulting from Xi’s desire to resolve what China calls the “Taiwan question” and the determination of the Taiwanese leadership to maintain the independence status quo. de facto.
Earlier this month, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng called the situation the most serious since his enlistment and that he believed China would have “global” capabilities to invade Taiwan by 2025.
In an interview this week with reporters, political scientist Shelley Rigger said that while the situation seemed more intense, it was more likely being used as a deterrent.
“So trying to dissuade Taiwan from imagining that there is some sort of opportunity to change its own position and also try to dissuade the United States from providing support or giving the impression to Taiwan that it might be the time for Taiwan to push the envelope harder, ”said Rigger, a longtime observer of Taiwanese politics at Davidson College in North Carolina.
“I also think there is an element of the PLA that is testing its own operational capabilities, and therefore its kind of killing two birds with one stone – you send a strong message to Taiwan and the United States and you are also get a lot of minimum flight hours for your military personnel, ”Rigger said.