Tensions Surge as China Conducts Large-Scale Military Drills Around Taiwan: A Strategic Display of Power

This article examines China's military activity in Taiwan, its legal implications, and the importance of diplomatic engagement in resolving the China-Taiwan relationship for a peaceful resolution.

Tensions Surge as China Conducts Large-Scale Military Drills Around Taiwan: A Strategic Display of Power
By Ruby Huang, via Unsplash, 2022 October 19.


Marina Sáenz

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


Amid escalating regional tensions, China's military has initiated large-scale drills simulating attacks around Taiwan, marking a dramatic show of force directed at the island's newly inaugurated President Lai Ching-te. Dubbed “Joint Sword - 2024A,” these war games, spanning the Taiwan Strait and encircling Taiwan-controlled islands, serve as a stark message of Beijing's resolve to assert its claims over Taiwan. Described by Chinese officials as a punitive measure against what they term as Lai's “separatis” actions, these manoeuvres began mere days after Lai assumed office, prompting a robust condemnation from Taipei. These drills follow the most significant incursion into Taiwan's air defence zone by Chinese forces this year. In his inauguration speech, President Lai boldly called for an end to Beijing's intimidation tactics, underscoring that Taiwan and China are equals. Beijing's response was swift and severe, branding Lai a separatist and justifying the drills as necessary to counteract his stance.

At first glance, China's recent military manoeuvres around Taiwan may seem reminiscent of previous exercises routinely conducted by the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLAN) in the vicinity. However, the current political landscape presents a significant shift, particularly from Beijing's perspective, as the new Taiwanese president is viewed as a potential threat to China's territorial integrity. Hence, these latest military drills are widely interpreted as a strategic test of President Lai's resolve, potentially shaping the future dynamics of the already tense cross-strait relations. Political analyst Wen-Ti Sung from the University of National Australia suggests that these exercises could be just the beginning, hinting at the possibility of more extensive military actions aimed at Taiwan in the future. Meanwhile, Taiwan's Ministry of Defense has strongly condemned China's actions as irrational provocations, affirming Taiwan's commitment to peace while standing firm against any threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. These bold assertions highlight Taipei's unwavering stance in the face of mounting pressure from Beijing, signalling its readiness to defend its interests and uphold its autonomy amidst escalating tensions.

In the ongoing dispute between China and Taiwan, the complexities of international law cast a critical spotlight on the legal status of Taiwan and its right to self-defence. China maintains that Taiwan is an inherent part of its territory, tracing back to historical claims emerging from the aftermath of the civil war in 1949. Despite this stance, Taiwan upholds a distinct identity and governance structure, earning recognition from a select group of nations. However, its exclusion from global bodies like the United Nations underscores the hurdles it encounters in asserting its statehood on the world stage. According to principles entrenched in international law, a state typically possesses specific attributes, including defined territorial boundaries, a permanent population, a functional government, and the capability to engage in diplomatic relations with other states. While Taiwan largely satisfies these criteria, its ambiguous international status constrains its capacity to fully exercise its rights under international law, notably concerning self-defence against external threats.

Nevertheless, international law presents alternative avenues through which Taiwan may pursue recourse. One such proposition suggests that Taiwan, as a stabilised "de facto" state, may enjoy a comparable right to self-defence as formally recognised states, including the entitlement to seek collective defence assistance from its allies. Furthermore, international legal frameworks emphasise the peaceful resolution of conflicts, implying that Taiwan, as a de facto state, should benefit from similar principles governing conflict resolution. Moreover, Taiwan's distinct identity and aspirations for self-determination carry significance within the realm of international law. Despite sharing ethnic ties with mainland China, Taiwan's decades-long political autonomy has cultivated a distinct societal identity, warranting acknowledgment and respect under international legal norms.

As the standoff between China and Taiwan continues, it serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring complexities in East Asian geopolitics. Beyond military posturing and legal debates, at its heart lies the fundamental question of sovereignty and self-determination. While tensions may run high, the pursuit of dialogue and diplomatic engagement remains imperative. Ultimately, the resolution of the China-Taiwan dispute hinges not only on legal interpretations but also on the willingness of both sides to seek peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding. In the face of uncertainty, the importance of dialogue and cooperation cannot be overstated as we navigate the complexities of the modern world.

Sources and further reading:

The Standard. (24 May 2024). China starts second day of war games around Taiwan to test ability to 'seize power'. The Standard. https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/3/216696/China-starts-second-day-of-war-games-around-Taiwan-to-test-ability-to-'seize-power'

Ben Saul. (14 October 2021). Would a war over Taiwan be legal?. The Interpreter. https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/would-war-over-taiwan-be-legal