The Taiwanese Defense Ministry on Monday complained about a “high frequency of harassment and threats” from the Chinese military throughout 2020 and asserted its right to “self-defense and to counter-attack,” although it pledged to avoid escalation.
In the most recent incident of harassment, Chinese warplanes poured across the unofficial line of demarcation in the middle of the Taiwan Strait during a highly provocative military exercise, prompting the Taiwanese to scramble fighters 17 times in four hours to protect their airspace.
“As the Communist military has proactively developed military preparations in recent days and its ability to attack Taiwan keeps growing, the Taiwan army has set up its harshest battle scenario during its Han Kuang computer-simulated exercises to handle the new developments and new threats,” the Defense Ministry said. The Han Kuang exercises began last week.
A defense official told Taiwan News on Monday that while Taiwan remains committed to avoiding escalation and will not fire the first shot in a prospective conflict with China, “if our military is attacked, we will definitely fire back.”
Defense Ministry officials said on Friday that the latest Han Kuang simulations suggested Taiwan does not currently have enough missiles to fully counter a Chinese “saturation attack” launched by multiple theater commands. On Monday, the ministry issued an official statement countermanding those estimates, addressing public concerns by stating for the record that Taiwan’s “stockpile of precision missiles is sufficient for defensive needs at the present stage.”
Reuters noted when passing along the Taiwanese Defense Ministry statement that Chinese planes have only crossed the midpoint of the Strait five times since 2016, and two of those incidents occurred last week. Chinese warplanes, including heavy bombers, crossed the median line 37 times on Friday and Saturday alone.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and there is no so-called median line,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared on Monday, formally erasing the long-respected unofficial line of restraint.
“What we are seeing now is not just a situation across the Taiwan Strait, but a regional situation. China’s recent military activities, especially in the past few days, clearly constitute a threat of force, which is part of their verbal attacks and military threats,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday.
“These actions don’t help China’s international image, and they also put the Taiwanese public even more on their guard,” Tsai said. “They make the public better understand the true nature of the Chinese Communist regime and make other countries in the region understand the threat China poses. The Chinese Communists must restrain themselves, and not provoke.”
The Pentagon agreed that China’s “aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history.”
“This is another example of the PRC increasingly using its military as a tool of coercion with Taiwan and other neighbors,” a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday. PRC stands for “People’s Republic of China,” the official name of the Chinese government.
Voice of America News (VOA) reported on Monday that China’s increasingly aggressive behavior is “starting to fray nerves among ordinary Taiwanese, who wonder if their heavily armed political rival finally plans to attack after decades of threats.”
VOA quoted Tamkang University strategic studies professor Alexander Huang worrying that the Taiwanese public is not “psychologically prepared for a true, realistic military conflict.”
Other analysts suspected one point of China’s provocative moves was to rattle the Taiwanese people and gauge their reaction. The most recent opinion poll found 41 percent of Taiwanese fear a potential Chinese attack, while the majority appear convinced their own military and the United States will act to deter Chinese military aggression.
On the other side of the Strait, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is telling Chinese citizens to “discard any illusions and prepare to fight.”
“The risks of war are rising considerably, and redrawing the map over the median line in the Taiwan Strait is a very obvious step by Beijing to not only raise the pressure, but also justify use of force. These aggressive probes are perhaps designed to provoke the Taiwanese Air Force to ‘shoot first’ and then Beijing has all the justification it needs,” warned Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis.
Chinese state media warned on Saturday that President Tsai is “playing with fire” and if she violates China’s anti-secession laws, “a war will be set off and Tsai will be wiped out.”