China’s expanded naval reach in the Western Pacific fuels Taiwan tensions

China has established a continuous naval presence near Japan to the south and east of Taiwan, in a dramatic expansion of Beijing’s maritime power, which has focused attention in the area as a strategic war. potential field in the future.

For at least six months, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has rotated destroyers and missile corvettes through the waters east and south of the southernmost end of the Ryukyu chain – which Tokyo calls the Nansei Islands – according to officials from Taiwan, Japan and the United States.

A US defense official said the PLA Navy has increased its presence in the western Pacific between the Nansei Islands and Taiwan over the past year. He said it now has the consistent presence of a warship in the area that is usually accompanied by a second warship.

The increased presence marks the first continuous deployment of the Chinese navy outside the chain Island from Japan in the north to the Philippines in the south separating China from the Pacific Ocean.

GM240104_22X Chinese navy's MAP-maglev vessel

Beijing sees the ability to operate freely in the high seas as key to its naval power. Military analysts see the western Pacific as the main site for a potential clash between the US and China should Beijing attack Taiwan.

The presence of the new navy has accelerated efforts of the United States and Japan to develop joint military operations plans for a potential crisis in Taiwan.

Taiwanese and Japanese defense experts say the PLA Navy’s moves make it clear that China is training for situations that could be pivotal in a potential future war. Taiwan. These included striking sheltered air bases on Taiwan’s east coast and cutting off access to American forces approaching from Japan and Guam to support Taiwan.

“Previously, a narrow understanding of Chinese naval movements in the area was that they were primarily concerned with Senkaku,” said one person briefed on the negotiations between the US and China. and Japan, referring to the archipelago that China also claims and calls the Diaoyu. “But it’s becoming more and more obvious that the danger is for the Nansei Islands and Taiwan.”

The person said Washington and Tokyo have prioritized preparations for the urgent deployment of US Marines with advanced mobile missile launchers to the Nansei Islands, as recently as. report by Kyodo News.

The High Mobility Artillery Missile System would put Chinese ships operating near the Nansei Islands at risk. “This plan is one of the components of our discussions around joint operational planning for such an anomaly,” another person said briefly on the matter.

“The Chinese forces will want a quick, decisive victory,” said a former senior Taiwanese military official. “For that, they need to destroy our fighters and warships to the east that we will evacuate there.”

Taiwan’s war plans envision sending its fleet to the Western Pacific once it expects a China attack, which is traditionally believed to come from the West. These include fighters sheltering in tunnels in a mountain range at a base in Hualien on the remote east coast.

“We talk a lot about the PLA’s work southwest and increasingly southeast of Taiwan. But what they’re really doing is practicing combat space management in our eastern seas,” said Hsu Yen-chi, a research fellow at the War and Strategy Research Council in Taipei. know.

In November, while a Taiwanese minister joined During the virtual democracy summit hosted by the US, Taiwan discovered two Type 071 amphibious docks located between the east coast and Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost island, just 150 kilometers away. Such warships can carry troops, helicopters and beach landing craft – equipment likely to be used in the attack on the Hualien airbase.

Highlighting rising tensions over Taiwan, Taipei’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday China had sent 39 fighter jets into its defensive identification zone in the latest provocation against the country. .

The large sortie came as two US aircraft carrier strike groups were conducting joint exercises with Japan in the Philippine Sea.

Monitor Kathrin Hille and Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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