Chinese military drill simulates attack on Taiwan’s presidential building

The Presidential Office Building (總統府) in the Zhongzheng District in Taipei houses the Office of the President of the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Across the Taiwan Strait in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) a recent military drill had soldiers storm what appears to be a replica of Taiwan’s Presidential Office Building. 66 years after the Chinese Nationalists, defeated by the Communists in civil war, retreated to the island of Taiwan, the Communist Party in Beijing still insists Taiwan is “a part of China and maintains its right to use force in reclaiming the island.

Here’s a video of the drill aired by China Central Television on July 5.

Chun Han Wong reports for Wall St. Journal, July 23, 2015, that the newsreel featured dramatic footage of an annual military exercise in northern China—spanning fiery artillery barrages, imposing armored columns and infantry assaults on a mock-up city. The video went largely unnoticed until yesterday (July 22), when a Shanghai-based media outlet said it demonstrated how Beijing “would use force to solve the Taiwan issue.”

The CCTV report swiftly struck a nerve in Taiwan, where President Ma Ying-jeou’s engagement policies with China have proved divisive, compounding the declining public support his ruling Nationalist Party is experiencing over economic and social fairness issues. Many commentators on Taiwanese media directed their ire on segments from the newsreel that appeared to show Chinese troops advancing toward a red-and-white structure that closely resembled Taiwan’s Presidential Office—built in a distinctive European-style in the 1910s by Japanese colonial administrators.

Taiwan's presidential officeMajor Gen. David Lo, spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, told local media the implied assault on Taipei was “unacceptable for the Taiwanese public and the international community. The Chinese Communist Party hasn’t given up on armed assault on Taiwan, and their military preparations are still geared toward the use of force against Taiwan.”

Denying that Taiwan was the object of the drill, Beijing’s defense ministry said in a statement the drill “is a routine annual military exercise, and isn’t directed at any particular target.”

The exercise was the latest in a series of military drills that kicked off last month at a training base in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region. The exercise involved a simulated battle to capture urban strongholds, featuring mock-up structures that replicate actual urban environments, according to a report by the People’s Liberation Army’s official newspaper, PLA Daily.

Officials in Taipei have denounced the drill as harmful to the rapprochement of recent years between Taiwan and China. Political and military experts, meanwhile, say the apparent targeting of an important political symbol for Taiwan marks Beijing’s latest bid to sway Taiwanese voters ahead of a key presidential poll next January.

Shanghai-based military scholar Ni Lexiong said, “Militaries routinely practice fighting in combat scenarios based on their operational priorities and strategic realities. For the PLA, this would mean missions in the South China Sea, in the East Sea, and of course Taiwan.” Even so, Ni said the decision to feature an easily recognizable Taiwanese political landmark was likely an attempt by Beijing to send a signal to Taiwan’s main opposition force, the Democratic Progressive Party, whose leader Tsai Ing-wen is favored in polls to win a presidential election in January. That prospect unsettles Beijing given the DPP’s longstanding support for Taiwan’s independence from the mainland.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never relinquished a threat to retake the island by force. It has used military drills in the past to signal displeasure with prevailing political winds on the island, such as in 1995 and 1996 when Beijing fired missiles into the waters off Taiwan and conducted large-scale amphibious assault drills near Taiwanese-controlled territory, hoping to dissuade Taiwanese voters from re-electing a president deemed by Beijing to be pro-independence.

The latest drill, however, suggests a shift in Beijing’s tactics, some experts say.

J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, said, “Over the years, the PLA threat to Taiwan has become largely abstract, and ordinary Taiwanese now tend to shrug off news of traditional PLA exercises. That may have compelled Beijing to up the ante.”

Cole said the apparent targeting of Taiwan’s presidential palace “strikes at the heart of what is recognizable to ordinary Taiwanese—downtown Taipei. This is a symbol of nationhood, the seat of power in Taiwan. By making the threat more recognizable and immediate than missiles fired off Taiwan’s northern and southern tips, or drills simulating an amphibious assault, Beijing may hope to engage ordinary Taiwanese not at the intellectual and abstract level, but on an emotional one.”

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2 responses to “Chinese military drill simulates attack on Taiwan’s presidential building

  1. A Mainland Chinese assault on Taiwan is more and more becoming an option for the leaders in Beijing. The distance traversed by the People’s Liberation Army Navy since the turn of the century– when the Clinton administration successfully deployed aircraft carrier task forces to the Taiwan strait to deter any attack–seems very long ago. Since then the People’s Republic of China has modernized and upgraded its military, in all its dimensions, so that it is not at all clear that the United States would risk major assets to attempt to intervene in any Mainland Chinese threat to Taiwan. That Beijing would undertake an attack on Taiwan, even with its present advantages, depends on a variety of factors–none of which are entirely within our control. If the economy on the mainland is stable and robust, a threat of sanctions could be dismissed by the leadership. If the economy is unstable and in decline, Beijing may use the assault on Taiwan as a means of rallying a politically restive population. As Mainland China’s military capabilities improve, these decisions become Beijing’s to make–with the United States increasingly reduced to passivity. Beijing has amply demonstrated that it will not submit to empty threats or pronouncements of international indignation. Nor would credible threats of military reaction alone be sufficient to deter Beijing from any chosen course of action. The military threat would have to be accompanied by other factors, ranging from economic sanctions to the real possibility of internal unrest.

    Liked by 2 people

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