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Largest Chinese Naval Drill “In 600 Years” Begins: Live-Fire Exercise In Taiwan Strait

Last week, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) assembled all of its most advanced warships, aircraft, and nuclear submarines for a massive show of force in the South China Sea. We explained, how the 3-day war drill from April 10 through 13 would be held in the waters south of China’s Hainan Island.

Asia Times estimates some 10,000 People’s Liberation Army airmen, marines and sailors boarded 48 naval warships and 76 aircraft to show their loyalty and devotion to President Xi Jinping, who was greeted on a destroyer “by a resounding chorus of platitudes from soldiers.”

Exclusive: Xi Jinping reviews PLAN Drill in the South China Sea

State-run Chinese papers said the number of warships assembled “the largest of its kind in 600 years.” This is following the 14th-century fleet admiral Zheng He, whose large expeditions in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa — helped establish China’s power through expansion of the Maritime Silk Road during the Ming dynasty era.

Which by the way, looks similar to President Xi Jinping 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.

Just a few days after Beijing’s historic show of force in the South China Sea. President Xi Jinping sent Taipei a clear message with warnings of ‘last-minute’ live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait, said the South China Morning Post.

“Beijing’s first live-fire exercise in the Taiwan Strait in three years, which is expected to include the first drill appearance in the area by aircraft carrier the Liaoning, appears to be a last-minute countermove to Washington’s attempt to play the Taiwan card.”

The one-day naval drill will be conducted on Wednesday, which marks the first time the PLAN has held live-fire exercises in the strait since September 2015; also coincides with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen four-day trip to Swaziland.

Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the South China Morning Post that Liaoning’s presence at the upcoming war drill in the Strait would send a forceful message to Taipei.

“It’s likely the Liaoning carrier strike group will take part in the Taiwan Strait drill, presenting a direct and powerful deterrence to Tsai’s administration and the island’s independence-leaning forces,” he added.

A source close to the PLAN told the South China Morning Post that the major objective of the Taiwan Strait exercise is to show Beijing’s support for Russia, which is facing a very high possibility of direct military confrontation with the United States in Syria.

“[US President] Donald Trump’s warning of military attacks on Syria forces was a bit of a surprise for Beijing and Moscow,” the person said.

“As Russia’s strategic partner, Beijing is trying to cause some well-timed and controlled trouble for the US, a drill in the Taiwan Strait being the most plausible option that will benefit both Xi and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.”

Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Dong, agreed with the South China Morning Post’s source, by saying: “Beijing is trying to give some relief to Russia from the unfolding disputes with the US over the Syria crisis.”

However, both military analysts, proficient in Sino-US relations, maintained that the military drill was aimed directly at Taipei ahead of a visit by US national security adviser John Bolton to the American Institute in Taiwan.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration cleared various American manufacturers for business to sell submarine technology to Taiwan, which deeply angered Beijing.

“The live-fire drills would almost certainly be intended to be seen as a response to the Trump administration’s new initiatives over Taiwan,” Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said.

“It is probably intended more for Taipei than Washington as the military exercise cannot intimidate the US but can get Taipei to think of the security dilemma, which is that the more Taipei seeks to secure US support, the more Beijing will do to make Taipei feel less secure.”

Ni Feng, director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the parallel events of the Syrian crisis and the Taiwan Strait war drill is coincidental.

“Beijing needs to send its warning to Taipei on time if Bolton wants to visit Taipei, which will obviously be a breakthrough [in the US-Taiwan relationship],” he said.

Yun Sun, director of the China programme at the Stimson Centre in Washington, agreed with the other military analyst, stating the Trump administration is playing a dangerous game “using Taiwan as a potential bargaining chip with China.”

“With Trump’s love for transactions and linking issues together, it is conceivable that he is using Taiwan as a potential bargaining chip with China,” she said.

That move increases “the possibility of an armed conflict between the US and [mainland] China out of miscalculation; and it creates an illusion that Taiwan is up for negotiation”.

“For many policy experts, US support for Taiwan is warranted, and should be independent from political or economic deals [between Washington and Beijing].”

The threat of World War III has never been greater…