Three Warnings of Live-fire Exercise in Taiwan Strait

By Yang Shengyun

Following China’s recent naval display parade in the South China Sea, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held a live-fire exercise on April 18 in the Quanzhou Bay area on the west coast of the Taiwan Strait, involving Air Force bombers and surveillance aircraft circumnavigating the island. A spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said in response to the inquiry that “separatist forces advocating “Taiwan independence” are the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”, and “No person or group should underestimate our firm determination and strong ability to defend our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The exercise was said to be routine training. But the high-profile nature of the exercise and the announcements indicate that this action is goal-oriented and conveys at least three messages:

Taiwan Separatists Should Avoid Provocation.

After the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China continued to apply the basic principles of “peaceful reunification” and “one country, two systems”, and hoped that the Taiwan authorities would recognize the “1992 Consensus” with the One-China policy as its main principle. However, Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen has failed to meet this expectation. Incited by the United States playing its “Taiwan card” and the coming election, Taiwan executive head Lai Ching-teh has issued a series of separatist statements. Some Taiwan separatists have set up radical groups and proclaimed their intention to hold an independence referendum in April next year.

This has affected the normal exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and amounts to a challenge to the basic “one country” principle. The director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council has directly described Lai as a “separatist”, an unprecedented step. Some retired generals and the media have also issued calls to severely punish separatist forces. In the recent live-fire exercise, a new type of armed helicopter sea raid and airborne “dagger action” were conducted, with the aim of warning Tsai Ing-wen and the separatist forces that if they persist in trying to split the country, the mainland is prepared to respond with the use of force.

The U.S. is Breaking Its Commitment to the “One-China” Principle.

The “One-China” principle originates from a U.S. commitment when the two countries first established diplomatic relations and defined the political basis of these relations. In the past 40 years, despite successes and setbacks, the relationship has generally been stable. Since Trump won the election, he has tried several times to use the Taiwan issue to gain leverage in negotiations with China. However, China’s attitude has remained consistent – this issue is not negotiable. As the U.S. government made it explicit that it regards China as a “strategic rival”, and the trade friction between China and the United States intensified, Trump focused on the “Taiwan card” and signed The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 – which includes a provision on mutual warship docking between Taiwan and the United States – and The Taiwan Travel Act. The two Acts both imply that Taiwan is an independent country, and expose the United States’ ambition to re-station troops in Taiwan.

All of this represents a challenge to China’s bottom line on the Taiwan issue. The Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, pointed out during an interview with the media before the military exercise that: “The Taiwan issue involves China’s core interests, and there is no room for compromise. Any attempt to undermine the “One-China” principle will result in serious consequences.” It is apparent that China hopes the military exercise will serve as a warning to the US that constant provocation may worsen the situation and eventually destroy the opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. China has the determination and ability to use non-peaceful means to resist external intervention and defend its territorial integrity.

Taiwan People Should Not Allow Themselves to be “Seduced” By Separatist Forces.

Although the mainland has repeatedly stressed that “there is no commitment to renounce the use of force against separatists, the Taiwan authorities, especially the  separatist forces, have intentionally used the media to lead people in Taiwan astray, conveying the false impression that the mainland has suppressed and bullied Taiwan. 10 years of peaceful development in cross-strait relations has reduced hostility between the people from both sides of the strait. In order to win the hearts and minds of the people in Taiwan, mainland China introduced 31 preferential measures this year for the people of Taiwan and gives them equal treatment in living and working in the mainland. Surveys have shown that this move is welcomed by most Taiwanese, especially young people. However, influenced by the long-term indoctrination of the Taiwan authorities, especially the separatists, some Taiwanese people are increasingly opposed to reunification and believe that they can rely on the United States to maintain the status quo or even realize peaceful separation.

China’s military exercise also aims to tell ordinary Taiwanese people that although the Mainland will only use force on separatists, the problems they cause could impact on the wider population. The mainland’s anti-independence stance is not empty words – it could be transformed into military action at any time.

The Taiwan authorities described the military drills as a “routine exercise”, and announced in advance that a large-scale Han Guang military exercise will be held this year. This is an attempt to offset the impact of the Chinese military exercise and quell public concern. Tsai Ing-wen visited Swaziland in Africa one day before the military exercise, which was seen as “intentionally escaping from the response,” and the Taiwan military also temporarily suspended artillery firing in the waters of the Penghu Sea on the same day. The people of Taiwan know that if the separatist forces continue to try to divide the country, this military exercise is very likely to be the beginning of another Taiwan Strait crisis. Taiwan media have blamed Lai Ching-teh and other secessionists for the tense situation in the Taiwan Strait, and accused them of making the common people pay the price.

The future of the Taiwan Strait is riddled with uncertainty. For example, it is rumored that White House National Security Advisor Bolton may attend the opening of a new Taipei site of the American Institute in Taiwan. Also, the United States is believed to be selling more advanced weapons to Taiwan. In response, China will certainly take corresponding preventive measures and countermeasures. On April 19, the Chinese Air Force issued another solemn statement, announcing that it has organized several bombers and surveillance aircraft to fly sorties around the island in order to improve the ability to maintain national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese military experts believe that this conveys two clear messages: that the Taiwan issue is a key issue in China’s domestic affairs, and that the Chinese military has the capability to counter intervention and deny access.