This week just as major Chinese live-firing naval drills were being conducted north of Taiwan, the US flew three of B-2 stealth bombers to its Diego Garcia base in the Indian Ocean.
British daily The Times describes that the American bomber movements were to address the growing Chinese threat over Taiwan on the very eve the PLA drill kicked off: “It is the first time the nuclear-capable strategic bombers have been sent to the remote island since 2016, in an indication of the growing concern about China’s intentions towards Taiwan,” according to a report Thursday.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held a series of multi-branch drills in the Taiwan Strait and northern areas this week. According to a PLA statement it’s in response to external countries sending the “wrong” signals to Taiwan’s pro-independence forces – clearly directed at Washington given the high level American delegation currently visiting Taipei – which Beijing says is a threat to peace and stability.
Washington is sending its own counter-message in its stepped up presence in the Indo-Pacific, as The Times continues: “The bombers flew across the Pacific from Whiteman air force base in Missouri to land at Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. With their advanced stealth technology, the B-2s can penetrate enemy territory without alerting air-defence radars.”
This also comes days after New Zealand and Australian based defense sources accused the PLA of building up amphibious assault units along the coast just opposite Taiwan. Satellite images which circulated were presented as depicting additional marine amphibious craft activity near the self-ruled island.
US surveillance aircraft appearing like commercial airliner constantly fly near China. They even follow civil aviation flights to confuse Chinese radars. This poses a threat to safety of civil aircraft over the South China Sea. It’s shameful for the US military to do so. pic.twitter.com/MHRDuJklCW
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 12, 2020
Newsweek and other publications emphasized the drills are significant and aggressive, meant to send a clear signal:
Chinese military-tied media aired footage Monday of troops conducting large-scale air defense drills in southeast Guangdong province, which lies across the Taiwan Strait from the self-ruling island still claimed by the central government in Beijing and borders semi-autonomous Hong Kong, also the subject of international tensions. The exercises involved advanced systems such as the double 35-millimeter-barreled PGZ-09 and the quadruple 25-millimeter-barreled PGZ-95.
Diego Garcia remains a key remote outpost from which the US can deploy rapidly in places ranging from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, state-backed Global Times Editor Hu Xijin tweeted that the ongoing PLA drills off Taiwan underscore it “is capable of launching a full-scale attack and capturing the island within hours, leaving US military no time to react. It’s a clear warning to Taiwan”.
Official PLA military images show expansive drills around Taiwan, including air, naval, and ground forces:
🇨🇳Chinese military recently held drills directed at #Taiwan secessionist. The drills were a ‘necessary action’ to safeguard sovereignty. Confirmed by Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui, spokesman for the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army #PLA. #China (Pic: File) pic.twitter.com/7qJYSKGxdb
— Shen Shiwei沈诗伟 (@shen_shiwei) August 13, 2020
And alarming for the potential for conflict, whether unintentioned or otherwise, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has been seen “circling near Taiwan” since the weekend.
Earlier in the week Taiwan’s defense ministry described that “Chinese fighters’ deliberate harassment has ruined the current cross-strait status and has seriously damaged the safety of the region.” However, this has become a somewhat ‘routine’ occurrence, but now all the more dangerous given the increasing US naval and aerial presence in the area.