Just days into Joe Biden’s presidency, China has launched a “strike package” in the disputed South China Sea. And this is just the start.
Two formations of missile-carrying bombers and fighters surged into Taiwan’s airspace at the weekend. Their “target”, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and her escort, were captured by satellite as they faced off against the dummy attack run.
Just days after President Joe Biden took up office in the White House, Beijing is ramping up the pressure.
On Friday, it announced its coast guard and warships were authorised to “open fire” on “intruders” within the East and South China Seas.
On Saturday, it sent a “strike package” of powerful bombers within launch range of an approaching US carrier battle group.
On Sunday, a flight of strike fighters followed up with another “dress rehearsal” assault.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt was photographed from space crossing through the narrow strait between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Along with her escort of cruisers and destroyers, her mission was to emphasize the freedom of passage applied by international law to the contested waters.
“Some analysts said the PLA bomber swarm aimed to deter the US carrier and used the warship as a simulated target in an exercise,” the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times declares.
It was a major escalation. But it’s also just another step-change in Beijing’s carefully staged game of creeping brinkmanship.
It’s been ordering bombers and long-range fighters to circle the island democracy of Taiwan for several years. But it has been steadily upping the ante, ordering increasing numbers of anti-submarine patrols and electronic surveillance aircraft to cross into its airspace.
On Saturday, it launched a fully-fledged mock-attack on a US carrier battlegroup.
The strike force consisted of eight H-6K bombers. They were capable of carrying a total of 48 new YJ-21 “carrier killer” missiles.
Together, these represent Beijing’s strategy to counter Washington’s greatest and most famous military asset – its enormous nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – with swarms of fast, accurate and cheap missiles.
The bombers were protected by a flight of four J-16 long-range fighters as they surged into Taiwan’s airspace over Taiwan’s Pratas atoll, bringing them within firing range of the US fleet.
From that distance, they “can launch a round of saturation attack on a hostile carrier, marking a strong deterrent against US provocations,” CCP analysts told the Global Times.