In what would surely be a hugely provocative and symbolic move, breaking reports say China's President Xi Jinping could be planning a visit to the command center of a People's Liberation Army annual exercise in waters near Taiwan.
Chinese state media last week signaled the drills were by design meant to threaten to pro-independence forces in Taiwan, especially following the US approval of a proposed controversial $2.2 billion U.S.-Taiwan arms deal.
The state-backed Global Times cited anonymous "military insiders" who said the exercises "might be tailored as a warning to Taiwan secessionists." The drills were also described as "a large scale joint exercise" possibly involving all five military branches.
Bloomberg reports, citing Taiwan’s official Central News Agency, that Xi may also give a speech on state-run CCTV’s military affairs channel while on a visit to a unit of the Central Military Commission overseeing the military exercises, which kicked off Sunday and is set to go to Friday.
Beijing declared an expanse of waters off the coast of Guangdong and Fujian provinces off limits due to military activity ahead of the drills. Such "island encirclement" exercises, as China has lately dubbed them, have involved the PLA sending frequent flight patrols overhead as well as warships to the surrounding waters, even as US warships have also increased their own "freedom of navigation" exercises in the region of late.
Taiwan, for its part, has recently held its own "anti-PLA" drills in defense of its sovereignty - a claim long actively opposed by China. Taiwan's drills concluded yesterday, just as the PLA exercise began.
“The national army continues to reinforce its key defense capacity and is definitely confident and capable of defending the nation’s security,” Taiwan's Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The South China Morning Post described an increasingly dangerous situation as both sides appear to flex their military might:
Taiwan responded to Beijing’s military drill targeting the self-ruled island by deploying its most advanced fighter jets and firing 117 medium and long-range missiles on Monday and Tuesday.
Defence ministry spokesman Lee Chao-ming said the missiles were fired from the Jiupeng military base to waters off eastern Taiwan, with a range of 250km (155 miles), in an exercise covering five types of training for the island’s forces.
And further, just as the PLA drills had kicked off, the SCMP report added, "On Monday, Taiwan’s air force also dispatched two F-16 fighter jets armed with AGM-84 Harpoon missiles in a simulation of an attack off the island’s southeast coast."
A visit to the PLA theater of exercises near Taiwan by President Xi would no doubt send a resounding and firm message both to the island and its US backers at a sensitive moment when US-China trade talks have already collapsed before even getting of the ground in nearby Shanghai.