The Chinese are conducting major amphibious military operations on mainland-controlled islands in the Taiwan Strait. Simulating an all-out invasion of Taiwan, the publicized war games mass an estimated 18,000 Chinese troops in complex air, land and sea maneuvers that will last a week and shadow a U.S. exercise, “Summer Pulse 2004,” itself an impressive military evolution of seven aircraft-carrier strike groups.
The U.S. exercise, which is global in scope, also involves 50 warships, 600 aircraft and 150,000 troops, and has been described as one of the biggest military exercises ever staged.
Although military officials claim Summer Pulse is aimed at increasing preparedness for any global crisis, not specifically the China-Taiwan issue, analysts see the concurrent war games as mutual saber-rattling — suggesting that rising hostilities across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait may have reached a critical juncture, according to a report in the LA Times.
“Beneath our notice, as the world watched North Korea, the conventional conflict between China and Taiwan could now be well on the way to breaking out into something more serious,” said Andrew Tan, a security expert at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.
“The largest naval exercise the United States has ever held is meant to send a direct signal to the Chinese, Tan added. “It’s gunboat diplomacy and its point is to warn China not to step over the mark when it comes to Taiwan.”
For its part, Beijing considers Summer Pulse an act of intimidation, according to recent editorials in government-run newspapers. The Chinese also responded angrily to a U.S. congressional resolution last week reaffirming a promise to supply arms to Taiwan. That resolution also expressed concern about China’s deployment of 500 missiles directed at Taiwan.
However, some China experts in the U.S. say too much is being read into the tea leaves.
“There’s been an overreaction by a lot of different groups that somehow these two long-planned military exercises are somehow related to one another or underscore some kind of latent conflict or confrontation between the United States and China,” said Bates Gill, a China watcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “I don’t think that’s the case.”
Furthermore, Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the strategic research department at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said: “If ever there was a case of mixing apples and oranges, this is it.”
For sure, there are going to be a lot of leagues of open sea separating elements of the two exercises:
“In terms of striking distance from China, the USS Kitty Hawk is the only ship currently operating in that area of responsibility,” said Capt. Tom Van Leunen, a spokesman for U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. He said the Kitty Hawk was stationed in Japan. “And I can’t say how close that ship will get to the coast of Taiwan.”
Although Chinese media reported that Taiwan’s military would participate in the U.S. exercises, a U.S. military spokesman said that while several foreign nations, including Britain and Canada, were taking part in Summer Pulse, Taiwan was not among them.
Bejing has targeted 2020 as the year for reunification.