Japanese media on Tuesday claimed in a report that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will hold military drills for a “takeover of Dongsha Islands occupied by Taiwan” in August, resulting in heated discussions on the island of Taiwan. While the Taiwan defense authority claimed they could secure the Dongsha Islands, experts in Taiwan speculate the PLA is aiming to open a passage for aircraft carriers into the Pacific Ocean and prepare for the establishment of an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea.
Chinese mainland experts said on Wednesday that the Dongsha Islands are a strategically important location, and the PLA can turn any exercise into action if Taiwan secessionists insist on secession.
The PLA is planning to hold large-scale landing drills in the South China Sea near Hainan Island in August with the imaginary goal of “taking over the Dongsha Islands occupied by Taiwan,” Japanese media outlet Kyodo News reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.
According to the report, the PLA Southern Theater Command will dispatch landing ships, hovercraft, helicopters and Marine Corps in this exercise of unprecedented scale.
The Chinese side has not announced the drills.
The Dongsha Islands are located in the route from PLA naval bases in Hainan Island to Pacific Ocean via the Bashi Channel in the south of Taiwan Island, making it strategically important to the PLA’s entry to the Pacific Ocean, Kyodo News said, noting that the US has been frequently sending spy aircraft to the Dongsha Islands, and the PLA drills could add more tensions to China-US relations and cross-Straits relations.
The Taiwan defense authority has paid extra attention to the report, as its spokesperson Shih Shun-wen was quick to say on Tuesday that the Taiwan military can fully grasp and deal with situations nearby. Lin Wen-huang, Chief of Joint Operations at Taiwan’s defense authority, said they have preparations and can protect the islands.
Scholars in the island of Taiwan said the drills area partially coincide with the rumored Chinese mainland air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, and the drills could be a preparation for its establishment.
Taiwan’s military is also planning to make more arms purchases from the US. To deal with “increasing PLA threats,” Taiwan’s air force is said to be planning to buy four MQ-9 Reaper drones, Taiwan media reported on Wednesday.
Chinese mainland military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times that the Dongsha Islands are a strategically important location in the southeastern coast of China and connects the South China Sea and Western Pacific Ocean. If Taiwan authorities lease the Dongsha Islands to the US military for them to deploy intelligence-gathering or anti-submarine equipment, this could be dangerous to the PLA.
The reason behind the increasing tensions in the Taiwan Straits is the Tsai Ing-wen authorities’ increasing secession activities, Song said, noting that under this condition, the PLA will need to prepare for a military struggle, including holding joint exercises, to warn Taiwan secessionists not to cross the red line.
“Landing missions have been regular training subjects of the PLA. Island takeover trainings like these are literally aimed at islands, like the Dongsha Islands, Penghu Islands and the larger island, namely Taiwan Island. If Taiwan secessionists insist on secession, military exercises can turn into action any time,” Song said.