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Unfinished business: China's evolving ambition towards Taiwan and its effects on military operations

China's military activities around Taiwan have become more robust in recent years. Since August 2022, this has culminated in the People's Liberation Army deploying a greater variety of military assets across the median line. Lead APAC Journalist Ridzwan Rahmat and Akhil Kadidal, APAC Air Reporter, discuss these recent deployments and what the operations might tell us about a future military conflict between the two countries.


Today's discussion will be on China's latest military operations around Taiwan and how these have changed in recent years, especially after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visit to Taiwan in August 2022.

In particular, we will discuss the types of military assets that have recently been deployed for operations against the island and how this might give us an early understanding into how China might utilize its military forces against Taiwan should war break out across the strait.

But first before we dive into the military aspects of this conflict, allow me to briefly discuss China's overarching ambitions against Taiwan and how this has evolved in recent years, especially under the leadership of his current President Xi Jinping.

As we all understand, Taiwan has always been viewed as a renegade province of the PRC since modern China was founded in 1949.

However, prior to the leadership of Xi Jinping, previous leaders never had a deadline or clear goals with regards to its so called unification with Beijing.

When it comes to the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty, Chinese leaders in the past were often reactionary and would respond only if there are issues that seem to undermine the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party's de facto role over the island. But this change under the presidentship of Xi Jinping, who came in with loftier visions for China on the world stage and for the PLA overall as a military force in Xi's view, the PLA spending should rise in tandem with China's growing influence internationally. And Taiwan's blatant bilateral military relations with countries like the US are seen as an affront to Beijing's sovereignty over the island.

From China's point of view, this cannot be left unchecked. Given how Taiwan occupies a strategic position on China's Island first Island Chain and how the territory might affect China's most logical route to its sea lines of communication in the Western Pacific.

Given these factors presidency declared at the 19th Party Congress in 2017, that complete national reunification is an inevitable requirement for realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

And he set a deadline of 2049 for this target. This represents the first time that any Chinese leader has set a specific reunification target publicly.

I will talk about how the PL A is preparing for a future conflict by conducting sustained and frequent air incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone or ADIZ these operations have the benefit of familiarizing PLA pilots and air crews with an area that could be a future battle space while placing pressure on the Taiwan military to respond to these incursions.

The data from the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense also suggests that the PL A is increasingly relying on these incursions to operationally test new platforms including unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVS and new tactics.

This map shows the scale of China's more unusual air activities in the ADIZ.

It reveals how China could conduct a future war.

This could involve large numbers of combat aircraft and unmanned assets crossing the Taiwan Strait to mobilize the Taiwan Air Force on the ground.

At the same time, specialized platforms and combat aircraft will almost certainly operate further east of Taiwan over the Bashi Channel and over the Philippine Sea to isolate the island from regional allied support such as from Japan and the United States.

This map records all crossings of the median line over a 12 month period from March 2022 to March 2023.

It also shows the more uncommon air activities undertaken by PL A air units out of at least 894 unique flight paths record in the eight days during this period. About 24.9% comprised crossings of the median line, most were by fighter or attack aircraft.

Now please look at the map. I would like to draw your attention to the pale green arrows of Taiwan's East Coast.

These signify the flight operations of rotary weighing anti submarine warfare operations from PLA naval ships.

They indicate that China is also developing a naval presence east of Taiwan.

Collectively, these developments have implications for Taiwan or major allies, Japan and the United States.

A future conflict will almost certainly see.

the PLA's commitment of a diverse range of combat and support aircraft against Taiwan.

China today is demonstrating that it is building the capacity to neutralize the island and isolate it from external support during the initial stages of a conflict.

Chinese recent military exercises around Taiwan have provided us with an insight into how Beijing's order of battle would unfold in the event that the PLA decides to invade the island.

But exercises like those carried by China's carriers also suggest that Beijing has a propensity to deploy its military assets for coercive purposes, given how it is unlikely that China would deploy its carriers for combat operations against the island as such.

Given this propensity, you can expect China to carry out more ostentatious displays of its military might around Taiwan in the next few years.

But in line with this, China's action may have also inadvertently forged a deeper engagement of US armed forces in the region.

At the 2023 Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore US, Secretary Lloyd J Austin III has said that in response to China's recent actions around Taiwan, the US Armed Forces will step up on its effort to improve interoperability with partners in the region, including with Japan and South Korea.

This is being done so that when a military action needs to be taken, the US forces and its allies can work together as a joint or combined force as such. While China may perceive its recent aggressive actions as measures that would emphasize its control over Taiwan.

It may have inadvertently forged closer defense relations between its traditional rivals in the region and make it a lot more complicated to achieve its reunification goal by 2049.