One Chinese think tank even says the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may consider live-fire exercises near the US island of Guam.
Azar’s presence in Taipei is “a serious breach” of US commitments on Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday afternoon.
“We urge the US side to abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of three China-U.S. joint communiques, stop official interactions and contact of all kinds as well as the upgrading of substantive relations with the island, and handle Taiwan-related issues in a prudent and proper manner, so as not to seriously damage China-US cooperation in major areas as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Zhao said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Chinese warplanes cross line
On Monday morning, China sent fighter jets across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, which Taiwan said its warplanes warned off. The Chinese jets were also tracked by Taiwan’s land-based anti-aircraft missiles, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.
“The PLA operation is considered a strong response to the US move, which broke a diplomatic bottom line of China-US relations,” the story said.
It goes on to say if Washington doesn’t back down, more moves by the PLA may be necessary.
“If the US goes further, the PLA could take more countermeasures, including live-fire missile drills east of Taiwan island and near Guam,” the story says, citing Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
Maj. Randy Ready, spokesman for the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, said the US military “won’t speculate on hypothetical exercises that may or may not take place in the future.”
Chinese military stages several drills
The mention of possible exercises off Guam, home to the important US military installations of Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Station Guam, comes after a busy few weeks for the PLA.
Recent drills include a mock beach assault in Hainan province on the South China Sea; a sea-crossing and landing with amphibious assault vehicles in Guangdong province; sea-crossing assault drills in Fujian province; and flights of missile-armed bombers and fighters over the South China Sea.
Those drills will be off Zhoushan, an island on China’s east coast south of Shanghai.
“The PLA drills come amid the increasingly frequent provocative military activities made by the US near the island of Taiwan and in waters in the South China Sea,” the Global Times report says.
Ready, the Indo-Pacific command spokesman, would not confirm Wang’s assertion on the number of US flights.
“There has been no significant change to our military operations in or around the South China Sea,” Ready said. “Though the frequency and scope of our operations vary based on the current operating environment, the U.S. has a persistent military presence and routinely operates throughout the Indo-Pacific, including the waters and airspace surrounding the South China Sea, just as we have for more than a century.”
Wang contends otherwise.
“The US keeps increasing and showing off its military presence in the South China Sea,” Wang said, calling it part of a plan to “destabilize” the 1.3 million square mile region, most of which China claims as its sovereign territory and where it has been fortifying man-made islands with military facilities and equipment.
Analyst: China working up to something
Military analyst Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said it would not be surprising to see Chinese military exercises that make a strong statement to both Washington and Taipei.
“It is apparent from the increasing complexity of China’s maritime exercises that they are working up to something,” Schuster said, adding that he expects an important exercise in the fall.
“They probably will do an air-naval strike exercise east of Taiwan. If Xi (Chinese President Xi Jinping) wants to send a threat, it may include a ballistic missile launch into the waters west of Guam,” Schuster said.
The fact the Guam possibility appeared in a story on the PLA’s official English-language website gives it credence, he said.
“I am sure the idea is on the table since the Chinese military would not publish such bombastic rhetoric on its initiative,” he said. “Someone of authority in the Communist Party or PLA feels that way and is pushing for it.”
Despite all the rhetoric being played out in the media, military leaders in Washington and Beijing have been talking.
Last week, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, by phone.
“Both leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining open channels of communication and developing the systems necessary for crisis communications and risk reduction,” a statement from the US Defense Department said.