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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

U.S., China stepping up military messaging amid pandemic: analysts

ROC Central News Agency

04/12/2020 07:30 PM

Taipei, April 12 (CNA) Media visibility and direct messaging could be the motives behind the frequent appearances of Chinese and American military assets near Taiwan, especially as they are both struggling with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, according to analysts in Taiwan.

Between January 23 and April 10, Chinese military aircraft were spotted at least six times flying near Taiwan's airspace, according to the records of Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) and military air movement tracker Aircraft Spots.

On Sunday morning, Chinese aircraft carrier the Liaoning passed the Miyako Strait south of Japan and was about to sail into waters east of Taiwan on its way to the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, since March 25, U.S. military aircraft and vessels have been seen at least nine times near Taiwan.

Lin Ying-yu (林穎佑), an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University's Institute of Strategic and International Affairs, told CNA on Saturday that the presence of American and Chinese military assets in the area was an indication of increased propaganda efforts by both countries and more frequent flexing of their muscles to boost morale at home, as they have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He noted that a Chinese military helicopter crashed in Hong Kong on March 30, less than a month after a military plane crashed in China, which he said raised the question of whether the capabilities of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) had been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

In contrast, Taiwan has been gaining international visibility as a result of its relatively successful COVID-19 control measures and donations of personal protective equipment to other countries, Lin said.

This may have forced Beijing to think about some action to warn Taiwan against "taking advantage of the pandemic" to move toward independence, he said.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), senior analyst at the Institute of National Defense and Security Research, said China has expanded its maritime and air presence in the Indo-Pacific region through actions such as aiming missiles at U.S. military facilities in the region and militarizing civilian fishing boats to challenge government vessels from Taiwan and Japan.

The U.S. has responded by increasing the presence of its military aircraft and warships in the region, Su said.

He said it is worth noting that the U.S. has been responding more frequently and readily to the PLA's movements in the area and has been engaging in "military public diplomacy" via social media to convey its message directly to the public.

However, Chieh Chung (揭仲), research fellow at the Association of Strategic Foresight, thinks that that an accidental military encounter between the two giants is unlikely.

They both seem to be deliberately staggering their military maneuvers in the region, Chieh said. They follow rules agreed upon, and communications between their high-level military officials and decision-makers seemed unimpeded somehow, he said.

"In light of those factors, while there is a possibility of such a scenario, it is within a controllable level," Chieh said.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Emerson Lim)

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