The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy conducted a series of live-fire drills and formation maneuvers in a large show of force off Hainan Island in the South China Sea and nearby areas in the period between March 24 and April 11. The drills involved the Liaoning aircraft carrier and more than 40 vessels from China’s North, East and South Sea fleets.
Following the exercises, on April 12, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping reviewed the PLA Navy in the South China Sea, saying that the need to build a strong navy “has never been more urgent than today”, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua. More than 10,000 service personnel, 48 vessels and 76 aircraft took part in the review.
On April 10, the USS Theodore Roosevelt conducted aircraft operations as it was passing the South China Sea on its way to Manila, the US newspaper Navy Times reported. In turn, the US Navy regularly patrols the South China Sea in an attempt to limit the Chinese influence in this vital region.
As always, China condemned the US navy operations. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying accused Washington of having “violated the Chinese law and relevant international law” and “put[ting] in jeopardy the facilities and personnel on the Chinese islands”, according to the official statement on March 24.
On April 24, Xinhua news agency said the vessels, led by China’s sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning, “took part in anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare training” with a simulated “opposing force” in the Taiwan Strait.
Furthermore, China’s first indigenously constructed aircraft carrier is poised to begin sea trials this week.
The Type 001A is quite similar to China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier, a Soviet-built hull that Beijing purchased from Kiev in 1998. Beijing modernized the ship and commissioned it with the PLA-Navy in 2012.
Taiwan blamed the Chinese operations for “sabre rattling” and preparing for invasion to Taiwan. The Taiwan Defense Ministry stated that it would simulate repelling an invading force, emergency repairs of a major airbase and using civilian operated drones as part of military exercises starting next week, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on April 24. The major part will be a live-fire field training exercise from June 4 to June 8, including “enemy elimination on beaches”, the ministry said.
The recent military developments fueled military hysteria in some mainstream media outlets and think tanks.
For example, Taipei Times newspaper reported on April 20 that Taiwan Foundation for Democracy had released a poll asking what “if China invades Taiwan?”. According to the released poll, nearly 70 percent of Taiwanese “are willing to go to war if China were to attempt to annex Taiwan by force”.
All the events of the escalating tensions are conducted amid the shifting balance of power in the region, especially in the South China Sea. China’s construction of artificial islands with military facilities in the South China Sea, has sparked concern that it is establish its de-facto control over the entire sea.
The US, a powerful supporter of Taiwan and other regional competitors of China, is concerned about the Chinese capability of controlling the strategic waterway. Washington has repeatedly slammed the militarization of the Chinese artificial islands.
Commander of the US Fleet Forces Command Philip Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a written statement that the military urgently needs hypersonic and other advanced weaponry to defeat China’s People’s Liberation Army in a future conflict.
“In the future, hypersonic and directed energy weapons, resilient space, cyber and network-capabilities, and well-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen will be crucial to our ability to fight and win,” the four-star admiral said in written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee. “In the South China Sea, the PLA has constructed a variety of radar, electronic attack, and defense capabilities on the disputed Spratly Islands, to include: Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef.”
“These facilities significantly expand the real-time domain awareness, and jamming capabilities of the PLA over a large portion of the South China Sea, presenting a substantial challenge to U.S. military operations in this region.”
The Chinese jamming technology has already been used against the US military in the region, according to some sources.
“The mere fact that some of your equipment is not working is already an indication that someone is trying to jam you,” an EA-18G Growler pilot told GMA News on April 14, adding that “we [the US] have an answer to that.”
The military and diplomatic conflict is developing in the South Chinese Sea amid the worsening relations between the USA and China. The US imposed tariffs on certain Chinese goods. Beijing responded by imposing sanctions on 106 US products. Both Beijing and Washington don’t seem to be willing to step back in the erupted trade war. The same attitude the powers have towards the South China Sea standoff.