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Why is China holding back-to-back military drills around Taiwan and Korea?

A tank of the PLA 71st Group Army fires at a mock target during a live-fire training exercise in April 2022 (Photo: China Military/Bai Junfeng)

China has unleashed one of its biggest military drills involving navy, air and missile forces in the seas around Taiwan in the past few days. Both Japan and Taiwan have raised concerns over the repeated massive drills.

On May 8, Taiwan had to once again scramble its air force to warn 18 Chinese aircraft–bombers, fighters and anti-submarine aircraft, that had entered its air defence zone.

In a statement, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command said that the naval and air force assets carried out drills to the east and southwest of Taiwan, and these were to "further test and improve the joint combat capability of multiple services and arms".

An article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) suggests that the large-scale military drills conducted by China around Taiwan are aimed at checking out the resolve of the Western nations if Beijing attacks Taiwan. China is also holding different kinds of military drills in the waters around Korea as well.

The Japan defence ministry said that China's Liaoning aircraft carrier conducted ‘more than 100 landings and take-offs’ in six days to send a signal to the West. Japan has been regularly monitoring heightened Chinese activity in the region.

In a press conference, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said: "Given that [China’s] activities are conducted in the sea and airspace close to Japan’s southwestern islands and Taiwan, they must be closely monitored with concern”. Japan also scrambled its fighter jets and sent the F-35B-capable carrier, the Izumo, to keep a watch on PLA's exercises.

It is believed that this is the first time a Chinese aircraft carrier’s sortie capabilities have been reported. The article says that larger numbers of sorties carried out by an aircraft carrier shows its efficiency and combat readiness.

Experts say that China has intensified its military activities around Taiwan to fine-tune a strategy to block other countries which may try to help the island nation during a conflict. The drills are being conducted to the east and southwest of Taiwan with plans to deny access to any kind of military help coming for Taiwan.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is much speculation over the vulnerability of Taiwan, which lies barely 180 km east to China across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing considers the island of 23 million people a renegade territory and considers it to be a part of mainland China while Taipei says that the democratic island has nothing to do with a communist China.

After holding a number of drills near Taiwan, China has deployed its biggest destroyer Lhasa along with corvettes in the Yellow Sea adjoining Korea. The vessels conducted air-defence, anti-ship and anti-submarine exercises in the Yellow Sea, simulating confrontations with smaller regional navies.

The Eurasia Times says that China has been sharpening its offensive skills against all kinds of military vessels and naval bases. It has been practicing destroying ships in specially made target ranges in the Xinjiang deserts. The article says that satellite images show that China is also practicing its "ship-killing" skills with a layout of a mock-up ship.

Eurasia Times also says that target layouts made by China resemble naval bases in the region. Quoting experts, the article says that China would like to target US carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups in Guam through its missiles.

Witnessing increasing Chinese activity, the US Navy’s Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and the USS Ronald Reagan group remain in the vicinity. The US has, under both administrations of current President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump, reiterated its commitment to defend Taiwan against any invasion by China.