South China Sea panic: Beijing readying for war with military modernisation

Chinese military ‘live-fire exercise’ in South China Sea in May

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Beijing has been flexing its muscles in the disputed waters in recent weeks amid rising tensions between China and western-aligned nations. China has stepped up its naval operations, including towards the island nation of Taiwan off the Chinese mainland, which Beijing claims as its own. From last year Chinese military aircraft have frequently flown through Taiwan’s air defence identification zone off its south-western coast.

According to Dr Jonathan Sullivan, a China specialist and political scientist at the University of Nottingham, Beijing has been bolstering the military might of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) so it could feasibly launch an invasion of Taiwan.

He told “The Communist regime is obviously heavily invested in ‘recovering’ Taiwan, but it also acknowledges the above risks and so is unlikely to invade unless it feels there is no other option to prevent ‘Taiwan independence’.

“In recent years it has ratcheted up the pressure on Taiwan and bellicose rhetoric, and is busily readying itself through military modernisation to be in a position to credibly take Taiwan.” 

Last week the PLA displayed its modern military prowess with a demonstration of some of China’s most advanced warships to celebrate its 94th anniversary.

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The PLA Navy released footage of three aircraft carriers, the combat-ready Liaoning, and the newly commissioned Chinese-made vessels, the Shandong and Hainan.

The three ships all conducted naval exercises last week, including drills by the Shandong in the South China Sea, according Beijing-affiliated media. 

The oil and fish-rich waters are heavily contested by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, which all have individual territorial claims to parts of the region.

The US and UK have both sent warships to the region in recent weeks, which has enraged Beijing.

On Wednesday India also announced it would deploy a guided missile destroyer and a missile frigate for two months to southeast Asia, including to the South China Sea.

Its naval force will take part in annual drills with its allies, the US, Japan and Australia, which loosely form the Quad alliance.

The US has admitted that China is “already ahead” of it in a number of defence areas, including shipbuilding, with Beijing commanding a fleet of around 350 ships and submarines.

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A 2020 report to Congress by the office of the US Secretary of Defence says that the PLA aims to become a “world-class military by the end of 2049.”

The report also says that 2049 is the date by which China hopes for the “full reunification” of all its claimed territories, including Taiwan. 

While acknowledging the military gains China has made in relation to the US, Dr Sullivan said he still thought a Chinese campaign to take Taiwan was unlikely in the immediate future.

He said: “The military balance has shifted, but it is still not yet a slam dunk, and thus we are not yet at a point where an invasion is remotely likely.

“If only because China has many other levers it can use to increase Taiwan’s discomfort that fall short of invasion. Neither is it on the cards that Taiwan will declare independence.

“But the underlying danger that a clash over Taiwan could precipitate open warfare between the US and China is always there, and so this question always provokes interest.”
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