The Biden administration has no clear plan of action to contain Beijing
China's violations of the median line in the strait separating the mainland from the island of Taiwan indicate a rehearsal of the Taiwanese “beheading”, say the US analytics. Increasing Chinese aircraft incursions are changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and leaving the United States with few good options against Beijing.
Chinese military aviation is stepping up pressure on Taiwan, making near-daily aircraft sightings midway in the waters between mainland China and the island, Politico reported. In the meantime, the White House is watching nervously as Beijing tests Washington's resolve to defend Taiwan.
China has made it clear that it has no intention of curtailing its increasingly assertive military activities in the Taiwan Strait, which it launched in response to the controversial visit Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in Taipei in early August.
The spate of recent incursions, violating a decades-long tacit agreement between Taiwan and China aimed at reducing the risk of conflict between the two sides, marks the latest escalation in Beijing's military intimidation of Taipei, Politico said. military activity in the strait. Analysts say these are not just attempts to provoke Taipei, but a dress rehearsal for an invasion of Taiwan.
And the Biden administration does not have a clear plan of action to contain this intimidation.
“The median line is a legal fiction, not a contractual line… we are stymied because what we consider the status quo is on was actually China's self-restriction, but now that the self-restriction is gone, we can't send planes to force them back through that line,” said Michael Oslin, an expert on contemporary Asia at the Hoover Institution.
The White House's response to the Chinese actions included sending the guided missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville to sail the channel on Sunday. The raid demonstrated the “US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
Chinese incursions across the median line – also known as the center line or Davis line – reflect Beijing's two-pronged strategy. China wants to normalize its military presence closer to Taiwan as an assertion of Chinese sovereignty over the island territory. And he wants to deplete the response capabilities of the Taiwanese military by practicing attack routes designed to harm the military and the government of the island.
“The Chinese continue to try to establish a new normal of activity here by flying over the median line, swimming through the median line and staying on the other side for longer periods of time,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday. They're trying to raise the temperature. … We have publicly stated that we are not going to accept it.”
Chinese destroyers followed US Navy ships as they sailed through international waters. The Chinese People's Liberation Army “performed security surveillance and control of the passage of US warships all the way, and monitored all movements of US warships,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday.
The Biden administration also plans to formally ask Congress to approve an arms sale to Taiwan worth about $1.1 billion, including 60 anti-ship missiles and 100 air-to-air missiles to bolster the island's defenses against a potential Chinese attack.
But China has not retreated from its actions. “Since August 4, communist forces have not stopped invading areas surrounding the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwan's defense ministry said in a recent statement. The agency has recorded at least 94 violations by the PLA of the median line since August 6, although it did not provide details on the type of aircraft involved or whether they were armed.
Taipei has made it clear that these incursions herald a new a dangerous stage in the PLA's activities targeting the island, warning that Chinese forces are “feigning an attack on Taiwan's main island.”
Analysts warn that if these incursions become routine and include trajectories towards Taipei, they will bolster Beijing's military advantage in a possible future PLA attack.
“Crossing the median line is just one indication of what China wants keep projecting its power closer and closer to Taiwan,” says Bonnie Lin, former director of China at the Office of the Secretary of Defense and director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It's starting to normalize this behavior… which could lead to a large-scale military decapitation operation.”
The median line, a holdover from the 1954 US-Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty, is designed to keep military aircraft from both sides of the strait at a safe distance to prevent miscalculations that could lead to potential conflict on both sides of the strait.
Chinese warplanes violated the median line only four times between 1954 and 2020. But Beijing ended nearly seven decades of restraint when, in response to US Under Secretary of State Keith Cruch's visit to Taipei in September 2020, it launched dozens of aircraft across the median line for a two-day period.
Following Pelosi's 19-hour visit to Taiwan On August 2-3, the PLA responded with almost daily flights of its military aircraft across the median line. These planes and bombers cross the strait in groups of five to 25 planes, cross the median line, and then quickly change course.
Most of these incursions were focused on areas off the southern and northern tip of the island rather than on inland routes, suggesting that Beijing still wants to avoid the impression that it is rehearsing attacks on the island's capital and other population centers.
“There was a tacit understanding that China was not going to operate on the other side of the median line… but they started doing it a couple of years ago, and I think they were waiting for an opportunity to step up the invasion,” said Isaac Cardon, assistant professor of strategic and operational studies at Chinese Naval Research Institute, United States Naval War College. “If it hadn’t been for Pelosi’s visit, there would have been something else, but they decided it was time to roll out the operational package to signal, ‘We’re going to operate on the other side of the median line, and you’d better get used to it.’
“It is the separatist forces of the United States and Taiwan, not China, who seek to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.
As noted by Politico, incursions across the Taiwan Strait's median line have outperformed more routine PLA incursions into the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone. Taiwan's air defense is a vast territory stretching to the coastal regions of the Chinese provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang. The median line is about 50 miles from Taiwan: PLA planes that cross it can reach Taiwan's coastline in less than four minutes, and Taipei in just 80 seconds.
“One of the biggest problems facing the United States is that we need early warning of an impending Chinese attack, and if the Chinese always look like they are ready to attack, we will begin to have difficulty telling the difference,” says Oriana Skylar Mastro, Research Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “It's not that we won't notice until the troops land in Taiwan, but the time between the decision and the clear signal to us is kept to a minimum.”
Beijing has also deployed unarmed surveillance drones as part of its toolkit to pressure Taiwan. In recent days, Taiwan's defense ministry has released several reports of “civilian drones” flying over Taiwan's heavily militarized Kinmen Island, which is just six miles from mainland China. Taiwan will exercise its “right of self-defense and counterattack” against Chinese aircraft, ships and drones that enter its territorial waters, Lin Wen-Huang, deputy chief of the general staff of Taiwan for operations and planning, warned on Wednesday.
A Chinese drone invasion of Kinmen on Tuesday, consisting of three sorties, prompted the Taiwanese military to fire “warning missiles” to drive them out of the area, Taiwan's defense ministry said in a statement Wednesday. This follows the release of a video footage of an incident last week in which Taiwanese soldiers threw rocks at drones hovering over their Kinmen outpost.
Midline violations are hurting Taiwanese military forces, which are currently on standby rapid response to assess the trajectory and level of potential threat of approaching PLA aircraft.
“This could increase the burden on the Taiwanese air force to track, monitor and respond to them… it’s basically a way to increase the daily military pressure on Taiwan,” said M. Taylor Fravel, director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. . “It's hard to tell if a plane crossing the median line will fire missiles at Taipei or if it's going to turn around and go back.”
The now common median line incursions also reflect Beijing's desire to throw off the internationally accepted benchmarks of Chinese military intensity and proximity. action near Taiwan, Politico claims. According to analysts, Beijing's main goal is to make sure that the middle line no longer exists in people's minds as a limitation – they want it to mean nothing: “It is very beneficial for them if they are allowed to conduct routine and permanent military operations in the vicinity Taiwan without being noticed by the international community – the whole strategy is to basically make sure that no one pays attention to it.