Harassment or Intelligence Gathering?

The People’s Republic of China once again sent PLAAF aircraft into the Republic of China’s ADIZ without, quite, penetrating RoC airspace, and it sent PLAN warships across the midline of the Taiwan Strait without, quite, penetrating RoC waters. The PRC has done this sort of thing almost daily over the last three weeks.

The PRC’s penetrations and surrounding of the RoC in the days after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D, CA) visit to the RoC last August can be viewed as temper tantrum and retaliation for Pelosi’s visit. That rationale no longer applies, these days.

What is the PRC after, then? One reason is simply harassment and attempted intimidation of the RoC, an overt attempt to cow the nation into accepting PRC occupation and control.

Another reason, though, is to gather intelligence on RoC military and political capabilities. Military intelligence would include data on when the RoC detects the penetrations at each of the various points where those penetrations have occurred: detection range varies with terrain, weather, personnel alertness, and so on. Other data include time to react given a detection, what the reaction is, and with what—whether with surveillance resources—ground, sea- and/or aircraft—or with combat ships and aircraft, and the circumstances under which each type is used.

Political intel data would center on the RoC government’s response, the relative strengths of the currentl governing and opposition parties and how those relative strengths might be evolving (keeping in mind that RoC President Tsai Ing-wen’s governing party has recently lost a couple of key city elections), and the RoC population’s response to the government’s actions and whether that response is changing or remaining relatively stable.

And one more possibility: constant penetrations, to a depth, intended to lull the RoC government and military—especially the latter’s line formations—into a measure of complacency: “this is just another irritating move, no big deal” until the PRC’s forces apparently conducting another irritation, that time keeps coming in a full-blown invasion. Via the routes where the detections were the latest and/or the reactions were already the slowest.

Or the rationale is some combination of those three.

In any event, PRC behavior toward the RoC emphasizes the need for the US to step up the pace of arms transfers and the amounts of arms transferred to the RoC. The US, Japan, and Australia, individually and as a group, need to conduct joint combined arms exercises with the RoC military. The US, Japan, and Australia, individually and as a group, also need to step up the pace of combat ship sailings through the Taiwan Strait and around the island. These sailings also need to include combat ships sailing around the South China Sea islands which the PRC has seized and occupied, going as close as navigably safe in the process. The US, Japan, and Australia, individually and as a group, also need to conduct overflights of those islands with both surveillance and combat aircraft. The US, Japan, and Australia, individually and as a group, also need to conduct “escort and observation” operations near all PLAN military vessels sailing the South and East China Seas and the Taiwan Strait on the RoC side of the midline and to fly similar operations near PLAAF aircraft in the RoC ADIZ.

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