A day after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan, celebrating it as a bulwark of democracy, China launched three days of military exercises around the island, which its forces may use to press in closer than ever, honing their ability to impose a blockade.
A barrage of Chinese propaganda said the drills, which started at midday on Thursday, would serve as punishment for Pelosi’s visit, and as a shock-and-awe deterrent against opponents of Beijing’s claims to the self-ruled island.But more than that, the six exercise zones that the People’s Liberation Army has marked out in seas off Taiwan — one nudging less than 10 miles off its southern coast — could give Chinese forces valuable practice, should they one day be ordered to encircle and attack the island.“Use the momentum to surround,” read a slogan used by People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, as it announced that the drills had begun.
The six zones were chosen for their importance in a potential campaign to seal off Taiwan and thwart foreign intervention, Major General Meng Xiangqing, a professor of strategy at the National Defence University in Beijing, said in an interview on Chinese state television.One zone covers the narrowest part of the Taiwan Strait.
Others could be used to block a major port or attack three of Taiwan’s main military bases.The zone near Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, where there are crucial bases, “creates conditions to bolt the door and beat the dog,” said General Meng, using a Chinese saying that refers to blocking an enemy’s escape route.“This is the first time that the military will hold a joint military operation around all of Taiwan island,” he said in an interview with Xinhua, China’s main news agency.
“It should be said that although this is an exercise resembling actual combat, it can at any time turn into real combat.” China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has said that he hopes to eventually unify Taiwan and China through peaceful steps.But like his predecessors, he has not ruled out force, and China’s military buildup has reached a point where some military commanders and analysts think an invasion is an increasingly plausible, though still highly risky, scenario.The exercises could help Chinese forces test their readiness for that. 
(New York Times News Service)

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