July 21, 2023 | Policy Brief

Beijing Mounts Record-Breaking Warship Deployments Around Taiwan as Island’s Presidential Election Approaches 

July 21, 2023 | Policy Brief

Beijing Mounts Record-Breaking Warship Deployments Around Taiwan as Island’s Presidential Election Approaches 

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed a record number of warships near Taiwan this month, surpassing a previous high established after former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s travelled to Taiwan last August. These latest provocations, which coincided with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Lithuania, augur Beijing’s plans to maintain a high operational tempo in the lead-up to next January’s Taiwanese presidential election, thereby increasing the potential for miscalculation between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in the near to mid-term.  

The PLA has dispatched ships and jets into and around Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) nearly every day since Pelosi met with outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. However, last week marked a noticeable uptick in China’s baiting. Specifically, in mid-July, the PLA dispatched 16 warships within a 24-hour period near Taiwan’s territorial waters. That figure exceeded the 14 ships deployed after Pelosi’s trip and the 12 ships China deployed in April after Tsai met U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.  

In addition to the 16 warships, Taiwan’s defense ministry detected more than 100 Chinese sorties involving at least 73 PLA aircraft, including bombers and drones as well as advanced Su-30 and J-16 fighters. Many of these planes crossed the median line, or the informal demarcation point between mainland China and Taiwan, with several entering the southwestern and southeastern portions of Taiwan’s ADIZ.  

These unannounced PLA maneuvers occurred days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping conducted his first-ever inspection of the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command — which is responsible for combat and non-combat operations involving Taiwan. While there, Xi reiterated the importance of deepening war and combat planning while also breaking “new ground” in military training. Consistent with Xi’s recently announced indoctrination drive, which is aimed at neutralizing residual opposition to his leadership, Xi also affirmed plans to reinforce the Chinese Communist Party’s oversight of the command’s operations to enhance combat readiness.  

These developments occurred as NATO leaders announced plans for Japan and South Korea to enter into enhanced partnership agreements with the Atlantic alliance. The new NATO pacts, called Individually Tailored Partnership Programs (ITPPs), extend the scope of existing cooperation to include cybersecurity, arms control, technology, and counterterrorism. Respective agreements are expected to be announced with Australia and New Zealand by year’s end.  

China’s military maneuvers coincided with news that Taiwan’s vice president and current presidential front-runner Lai Ching-te will transit the United States next month while en route to the inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Santiago Peña, who campaigned on strengthening ties to Taiwan. Such transits are customary, and Lai will not travel to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials. Nevertheless, Beijing reacted angrily to news of Lai’s trip and announced its resolute opposition to “sneaky visits by Taiwan independence separatists.”  

China’s assertive military actions appear aimed, in part, at undermining Lai’s presidential campaign. Such provocations reinforce messaging from Taiwan’s Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party that voting for Lai, who represents the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP), is a vote for “war.” These military maneuvers also appear intended to signal Beijing’s “resolute opposition” to NATO’s growing interest in the Indo-Pacific, including NATO’s criticism of China’s “coercive” posture against the alliance.  

In the lead-up to next year’s Taiwanese presidential election, the U.S. military and intelligence community should exercise enhanced vigilance. Legislators have also advanced several Taiwan-related measures included in the House-passed fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. These include bipartisan provisions stemming from the House Select Committee on China’s Ten for Taiwan report, which focuses on deterring Chinese military aggression against the self-governed island nation.  

Craig Singleton is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and deputy director of FDD’s China Program, where Chase is an intern. For more analysis from Craig and the China Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Craig on Twitter @CraigMSingleton. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. 


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