China on Thursday doubled down on its decision to punish Taiwan for hosting U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as People Liberation Army (PLA) warships and planes crossed the median line that divides the strait. Through its belligerent act, Beijing has unilaterally ensured the collapse of the decades-long tacit military agreement with Taipei.
The median line in the strait was established in 1955 as a de facto sea border, separating mainland China from Taiwan, with Washington pressuring both sides to abide by an unspoken agreement not to cross it. Neither side breached the median line until China said last September that “there was no median line in the Taiwan Strait.”
The last two days changed it all. Over 22 aircraft crossed the median line Wednesday with Chinese warships following suit. Around 10 Chinese navy ships crossed the median line and remained in the area from Wednesday night through midday on Thursday.
Though the PLA had conducted numerous drills around the Strait before, this time it is different. The drills are closer to combat and according to Chinese media “rehearsals for reunification.”
“The tacit agreements [between the two militaries] have been broken. This time, the PLA aims to push the boundaries both in weapon systems and actual tactics,” Song Zhongping, a former Chinese military instructor, told South China Morning Post.
The PLA also took the unprecedented steps of firing missiles directly over the island and sending military drones over Taiwanese airspace. Besides sending shock waves across the islands, the PLA acts are also aimed at putting the Taiwanese defense forces on the “back foot and significantly reducing their time for preparation,” South China Morning Post added.
Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy, said the missiles and rockets were part of a “cognitive warfare” strategy designed to strike fear and panic.
Though Taiwan’s armed forces could track these DF-15 missiles which flew over its airspace, there was little they could do about them because of their high-altitude trajectory. “It’s a cognitive warfare strategy to cause panic in Taiwan. You can see the danger, but you cannot do anything to stop it,” Lu added.
Meanwhile, rockets fired from the Pingtan base were spotted by Chinese tourists strolling on the island’s beaches. Squadrons of PLA helicopters were also seen swarming over the island.
The PLA Eastern Theatre Command also said it sent more than 100 warplanes, including fighter jets and bombers, on various missions during the day. This included its most advanced stealth fighter, the J-20, and the newly introduced aerial oil tanker, the Y-20U.