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China’s new strategy for Taiwan-US meet–show Xi as peacemaker, not rile up domestic protesters

Beijing’s calculated military response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California didn’t create a splash on Chinese social media. The ‘Joint Sword’ exercise launched from 8-10 April failed to achieve a complete blockade of Taiwan. President Xi Jinping was likely trying to balance presenting himself as peacemaker-in-chief and defending China’s ‘national sovereignty’ over Taiwan.
Aircraft sorties were again hovering over the Taiwan Strait, as we saw during last year’s Taiwan visit by Nancy Pelosi. Beijing was waiting for President Tsai to return to Taipei to announce the ‘Joint Sword’ exercise.
But there are several differences between Beijing’s response to the two Taiwan-US contacts.Precision attack simulation
On 8 April, the PLA sent 71 aircraft and 9 PLA Navy vessels across the Taiwan Strait, of which 45 aircraft crossed the median line. If that wasn’t enough, on 10 April, the PLA set a record by sending 91 aircraft across Taiwan Strait, 54 of those crossed the median line. During the exercise, PLA deployed J-16s and J-10C fighter jets and Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft crossing the median line multiple times over the three-day exercise.
The military exercise launched to simulate a blockade around Taiwan during Pelosi’s visit lasted four days instead of the three days announced as part of the ‘Joint Sword’ exercise after Tsai’s visit to the US.
Another stark difference was the PLA deploying the Shandong aircraft carrier near Taiwan Island.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defence said the PLA carrier take-off and landing drills on Sunday from Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong were extremely close to Japan’s territorial waters. The situation was unprecedented as Japan had to scramble jets in response.
“We confirmed approximately 120 landings and departures on the Chinese navy’s Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Shandong, 80 times by fighter aircraft and 40 times by helicopters,” said Japan’s Self-Defense Forces on Monday.
On Sunday, the PLA tested the capability of the J-15 aircraft to take off and land from the Shandon aircraft carrier, which departed from Sanya Naval Port in the Chinese province of Hainan earlier in April. A 17-ship fleet of the PLA Navy participated in the exercise.
On Haokan Baidu, a short video-sharing platform, the most viewed video on Monday went with the title “For the first time, the Shandong ship participated in the combat readiness patrol around Taiwan and the ‘Joint Sword’ exercise”. The video was viewed more than 2 million times.
Taiwanese experts noted the significance of deploying the Shandong carrier east of Taiwan. “The drills show that the Shandong aircraft carrier is now a serious threat to eastern Taiwan, which Taiwan’s military has traditionally used to preserve and maintain its combat readiness in the event of a full-scale invasion by the PLA since the region is protected by the central mountain range on the west,” said retired Air Force Lieutenant General Chang Yen-ting.Besides the deployment of Shandong, the Rocket Army displayed its ability to carry out precision strikes at multiple locations around Taiwan Island. During the exercise, the Rocket Army appears to have tested PHL-191 multiple rocket launchers and DF-11 conventional ballistic missiles, which landed around Taiwan Island at multiple locations.