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Taiwan defense analysts play down China military drills

Military analysts say exercises not aimed at Taiwan, no need to overreact

Chinese Navy ships

Chinese Navy ships (AP photo)

Taiwanese security analysts on Friday (August 7) played down the importance of a military exercise to be staged by China in the East China Sea and ruled out a link between the drills and an upcoming visit by a U.S. official to Taiwan.

Taiwanese media have speculated that the military exercise might be a protest against Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar's visit to the nation in the coming days. Azar will be the highest-ranking U.S. cabinet official to visit Taiwan in four decades.

Beijing likely sees the visit as Washington disregarding its "one China" principle, under which it defines Taiwan and the mainland as a part of "one China," and violating the agreements between the two sides.

On Thursday, China's Maritime Safety Administration posted a notice on its website about a three-day, live-fire exercise between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. from Aug. 11-13 in waters off the Zhoushan Archipelago. Commercial ships are not allowed to pass through the designated area during this period of time.

Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major General Shih Shun-wen (史順文) declined to comment on the matter, stressing that Taiwan's authorities are closely watching China's military deployment and will respond quickly to any contingency in the region. In response to the speculation, Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University's Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, said China's military drills near Zhoushan might have little connection to Azar's visit to Taiwan.

Judging from the location that is some 550 km from Taiwan, the timing and the types of war games to be staged, Lin said the Zhoushan military drills are not aimed at seizing Taiwan.

Turning to confirmed reports about a recent telephone call between Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) and his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper, Lin said this signaled that two-way communication channels have not been disconnected. The U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement issued on Thursday that Wei and Esper talked on the phone that day, with the latter expressing concern about China's destabilizing activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea.

According to Xinhua New Agency, Wei urged the U.S. side to stop "erroneous words and deeds," improve the management and control of maritime risks, avoid taking dangerous action that may escalate the situation, and safeguard regional peace and stability. With China's increased military maneuvers and growing encounters between U.S. and Chinese forces, Lin forecast that the two countries will likely have an armed conflict at sea.

Exchanging views could help avoid a recurrence of the clash between a U.S. EP-3E reconnaissance plane and a Chinese military aircraft in 2001, he contended.

Institute of National Defense and Security Research senior analyst Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), meanwhile, said China's military exercise near the Zhoushan Archipelago is routinely held every year. Against such a background, this year's drills should not be politically motivated, he said.

Su, however, warned that regardless of the scale of China's military maneuvers, Beijing always tries to make the international community believe that it is targeting Taiwan. It is a propaganda and psychological war, he said.

"Taiwan should act cautiously and there is no need for Taiwan to overreact," he said.