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China’s ‘Punishment’ War Games: Will This Intimidate Taiwan Or Further Strengthen Its Resolve?

It’s Day 2 of China’s ‘punishment war games’ around Taiwan as a part of which China staged missile strikes, used bombers to set up several attack formations in waters east of Taiwan, carried out mock attacks in coordination with naval vessels, conducted mock attacks on foreign vessels, practised how to seize “total control” of areas west of the first island chain and tested its ability to ‘seize power and control key areas of Taiwan.

A video released on CCTV shows a Chinese soldier saying, “As long as the Party Central Committee, the Central Military Commission, and President Xi give an order, we will be ready to fight at any time and resolutely eliminate all Taiwan independence separatist forces.” China used its navy, air force, rocket force and military to conduct drills three days after Taiwan’s new President Lai Ching-te took office. China has labelled him a ‘dangerous separatist’.

CCTV even released this animated video showing missiles being launched that go on to target cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung. As a part of these drills, a Chinese soldier also made ‘radio contact’ with a Taiwan vessel with a warning. He said, “Taiwan independence, separatism are the greatest undermining of peace in the Taiwan Strait. You should not sacrifice your life for Taiwan independence. Refusing reunification by force is a dead end.”

It’s not the first time China has conducted these kinds of drills. The last time was in 2022, soon after former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. But what’s different this time?

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Collin Koh, a Senior Fellow at RSIS Institute of Defence and Strategy says, “The fact that it is closer to Taiwan’s coast this time around appears to reflect the growing confidence of the Chinese military because ever since the Pelosi visit and the Sharp Sword exercise in 2022, we have seen the Chinese military exercising more often out of the eastern seaboard of Taiwan. So, I think that is a build-up from that series of training experiences leading up to this.” He added, ” Some pointed out that the exercise has yet to involve live firing. So it might not have been the scale that would have been seen back in 2022.”

“At some point, you know, my concern is that this could lead to just accidental conflicts, that, you know, China may not be intending to do this,” says Raymond Kuo, Director of Taiwan Policy Initiative at Rand Corporation.

But do drills like these intimidate or simply help make Taiwan’s resolve stronger?

Raymond Kuo feels these kinds of things tend to backfire. “When these exercises happen, they tend to drive political support to the green side of Taiwanese politics. And I mean, just generally speaking, after Hong Kong in 2019 there’s just no interest in Taiwan whatsoever for any kind of unification.”