China announced on Tuesday it will hold military exercises in the South China Sea this week, providing few details of the operation beyond roughly where it will be staged.
An American carrier battle group is currently conducting a freedom of navigation patrol in the area.
Taiwan held an air defense exercise after a record number of menacing Chinese military incursions into its air defense zone over the weekend.
According to a notice from the Chinese government, part of the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam has been restricted for the military exercise from Wednesday, January 27 through Saturday, January 30.
Vietnam is currently holding a congress of its own Communist Party. The Vietnamese could be among the intended audiences for China’s latest intimidating flex of military muscle, as Hanoi’s relations with Beijing have become strained over South China Sea territorial disputes, and Vietnam is reportedly seeking closer ties with the United States to counter China’s growing power.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has lately been stressing cross-training and multi-role operations in its military exercises, seeking to make its forces more flexible and explicitly training them for joint air, land, and sea operations like the potential invasion of Taiwan.
The U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and its strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday for a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP). As usual, China objected to the operation, describing it as a threat to regional stability.
The U.S. strike group plans to conduct “flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.” The group includes a guided-missile cruiser and two destroyers, in addition to Theodore Roosevelt’s large complement of combat and support aircraft.
Taiwan conducted an air defense exercise on Tuesday, scrambling fighters from a base near the southern city of Tainan that frequently responds to Chinese incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Major incursions occurred on Saturday and Sunday, just as the Theodore Roosevelt strike group arrived in the South China Sea, several days after the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
Taiwanese Col. Lee Ching-shi said the exercise was intended to show “we are ready” and “we will not give up one inch of our territory.”
“All the wings are under quite a lot of pressure, but as long as the air force is here, we will react according to related battle readiness rules,” one of the Tainan-based pilots told Reuters, addressing speculation that China is attempting to wear down the much smaller Taiwanese air force by making it respond to constant ADIZ penetrations.
The Tainan base is home to a wing of Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters, a plane similar to the American F-16 but modified to meet Taiwan’s needs and produced locally. The fighters typically launch with both American and Taiwanese-made air-to-air missiles, priding themselves on their ability to get airborne within a few minutes of detecting unknown aircraft in the ADIZ.