Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 169, 1 October 2020

Amid escalating tensions, China conducts simultaneous naval exercises in four Seas
Teshu Singh

In the news
During the week, ahead of the National Day, China held five military exercises in four seas simultaneously. Among them were; two exercises held in the South China Sea, one in the East China Sea, Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea. The exercises were announced last month. China also conducted large-scale military drills across Taiwan Strait for two consecutive days to express its discontent towards increasing US-Taiwan ties.

Issues at large
First, in the South China Sea, China conducted naval drills near the Paracel/Xisha Island. It was the third time that China carried out exercises this year in the disputed island. The previous two exercises were on 18 June and 1 July 2020. During the exercise, for the first time, the Chinese navy sent two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, to the sea at the same time. The exercises were also held in the East China Sea and the Bohai Sea, where a live-fire combat exercise was conducted. In the Yellow Sea, the People's Liberation Army Navy held a large-scale, live ammunition operation. 

Second, the increasing number of exercises in the Sea. This is the second time in two months that concurrent exercises were held but with different arrangements. As the exercises were held against the rising temperature of the regions, all the other ships were prohibited from entering the area. The objective of the exercises was to strengthen China's combat training and drill to prepare for any contingency in these regions. Reportedly, such exercises are meant to test and foster sea-denial or sea control capabilities. 

The exercises can also be seen as a response to the recent Rim of Pacific 2020 naval exercise. The participants in the exercise were Australia Brunei, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Singapore and the US. The developments in Taiwan has also irked China and it has conducted a series of military exercise near the Taiwan Strait, violating the Taiwanese air zone as many as 46 times in nine days. 

Third, the response from the US. The US has sharply criticized the drills and sent the spy planes into a no-fly zone over Chinese live-fire military drills. The US state department said: China has "pursued a reckless and provocative militarisation of the South China Sea" and the Communist Party of China does not stick to its words.

In perspective
In 2017, Xi Jinping had set the target of modernizing the People's Liberation Army by 2035 and to make it into a top-ranked military by 2050.  Amid the COVID-19, Xi has reiterated that China should "prepare for war". With these targets in mind, the exercises were held to intimidate the smaller countries in the region that are involved in territorial disputes with China. The drills had signalled for both Taiwan and the US. Thus, the intension of the drills was to show the Chinese capability to mobilize its forces from multiple locations.

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