The joint exercises come after the United States conducted a series of military drills across the region in recent weeks with allies like Japan, Australia and the Philippines. On Saturday, the American and Canadian navies sailed ships through the Taiwan Strait.
What We Know
China’s Shandong aircraft carrier was one of at least 20 Chinese naval vessels spotted navigating waters around Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines starting on Tuesday, according to the Japanese and Taiwanese governments.
Other vessels identified by Japanese officials included missile destroyers, frigates and supply ships.
China also sent at least 68 warplanes near Taiwanese airspace on Thursday, up from 35 on Wednesday, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said. Some of those aircraft joined the naval exercises. Planes were spotted taking off and landing on the Shandong, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense.
China has not announced any exercises involving the Shandong, its first domestically built aircraft carrier, one of two carriers China has in service.
What the Analysts Say
The drills appeared to be focusing on some of the People’s Liberation Army’s deficiencies: the ability to keep up operations far from its shores and coordinate between different forces on the water and in the air.
“It looks to me like they were practicing sustained air operations toward the West Pacific in conjunction with their carrier exercises, something we haven’t seen at this scale before,” said Ben Lewis, an independent defense analyst based in Washington, who tracks Chinese military activity around Taiwan.
Mr. Lewis said China’s military was likely practicing enforcing a blockade around Taiwan, the self-governed island that Beijing claims and has threatened to take by force. A blockade would complicate the United States’ ability to come to Taiwan’s aid if it were to be invaded by China.
“China wants to use this exercise to showcase that it has the ability to fly over the first island chain,” said Lin Ying-yu, an assistant professor at Tamkang University in Taipei, referring to the string of major archipelagos — Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines — nearest to China’s coast.
“By sending out big numbers of its jets and vessels, it wants to let the other players in the region know that it possesses the ability to launch joint attacks by sea and air forces,” he added.
China has deployed more planes and ships to challenge American dominance in the region. At the same time, it has grown more frustrated with the United States’ efforts to strengthen security alliances with Asian allies.
Last month, the United States signed a trilateral agreement with Japan and South Korea aimed at deterring Chinese aggression in places like Taiwan. Beijing has accused Washington of launching another Cold War by trying to contain China’s rightful rise.
The Chinese army is “unambiguous about safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” Song Zhongping, a commentator in Beijing who is a former Chinese military officer, said about the signal China is sending with this week’s military drills.
Other analysts said China’s growing aggressiveness over Taiwan was backfiring by making more countries take notice. Some like the Philippines have even offered to bolster security cooperation with the United States by offering more access to its military bases.
“The strengthening in China’s maritime combat power will further cause tensions near Taiwan,” said Su Tzu-yun from Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei. “But, at the same time, China also has to face more enemies in the region.”
Chris Buckley, Olivia Wang and Hikari Hida contributed reporting.