China’s Provocations Around Taiwan Aren’t a Crisis

A growing chorus of commentators and experts are warning that China is exploiting the pandemic to advance its interests in the Western Pacific. With Washington distracted and the U.S. military handicapped due to Covid-19 infections, some observers believe that China may see no better opportunity to use force to unify Taiwan with the mainland. Yet, even if Beijing were to interpret the distraction and chaos wrought by the novel coronavirus as a uniquely advantageous moment, a Chinese military strike on Taiwan at this moment is unlikely.

A recent uptick in military provocations has fueled suspicion that China is preparing to attack the island. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLAN) have conducted as many as 10 transits and military exercises near Taiwan since mid-January, including multiple deliberate incursions into Taiwan’s airspace. In November 2016, China began sending PLAAF sorties to circumnavigate the island and in March 2019, two PLAAF J-11 fighters deliberately crossed the centerline of the Taiwan Strait for the first time in 20 years. On two occasions this year, dozens of PLAAF aircraft crossed the centerline. This past March witnessed multiple PLAAF aircraft taking part in a rare nighttime drill above waters southwest of Taiwan. On April 9, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and five warships crossed the Miyako Strait between Taiwan and Japan.

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Matthew P. Funaiole
Vice President, iDeas Lab, Andreas C. Dracopoulos Chair in Innovation and Senior Fellow, China Power Project

Bonnie S. Glaser