Taiwan faces one of its most tense periods in decades, with a Chinese aircraft carrier and dozens of ships sailing near the island. In recent years, Beijing has ratcheted diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan, with its ruling Communist Party viewing the democracy as its territory to be reunified with China one day.
The tension has increased since the election of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen to power in 2016. China believes she is moving towards a formal declaration of independence, which would trigger a significant Chinese military response.
Tsai has criticized her rivals in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party for cozying up to China. In a live televised policy speech ahead of a presidential debate this month, she accused the opposition KMT of being too friendly to Beijing.
Despite the tension, Tsai maintains a close relationship with US President Donald Trump, whom she met on Thursday in a show of unity. She has also held talks with leaders of several Latin American countries. She is scheduled to visit Guatemala and Belize later this month, seeking investments and development projects from those governments.
Experts say that Beijing’s activities near Taiwan are part of a larger plan to improve its military. In particular, the number of PLA aircraft flying into the island’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) has increased. The incursions are a form of grey-zone warfare that tests the island’s military capability and wears down its resolve.
But it’s also a way for China to normalize its military operations, says Dr James Char, a research fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. “They’re pushing the envelope but not going overboard, and they’re doing it in a way that doesn’t provoke an overreaction from anyone, including the US,” he said.
He added that China’s deployment of the Shandong aircraft carrier and its escort vessels near Taiwan is a sign that Beijing may be beginning a new round of drills. The number of Chinese aircraft and ships that regularly violate Taiwan’s territorial waters and airspace has increased recently. It has jumped since the visit of Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the US House of Representatives, to Taiwan in August last year and Tsai’s stopover in the United States this April.
Analysts warn that if China attacked Taiwan, it could block sea and air traffic around the island, preventing the US, Japan, and other allies from intervening or sending supplies. According to experts, It is a strategy practiced by the PLA before, during, and after war games. The United States maintains no official ties with Taiwan, but it keeps a fleet of missile destroyers in the region and is required by law to make sure the island can defend itself in case of an attack. It is also working on replacing its aging Kidd-class destroyers, with the ROC eyeing Arleigh Burke-class battleships.