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What has China gained by doing military drills after Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan? A lot of people who know nothing about geopolitics are saying that China is throwing a tantrum, but is this really the case, or is it just some geopolitical move where China gains something by doing this, and the U.S. loses face and is forced into a corner?

What did China gain by doing this, what did China lose, what did the U.S. lose and what did the U.S. win during the visit and the following military exercise?

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    I don't know how much planning goes into such drills, but isn't it more likely that the visit preceded pre-planned drills which the USA was aware of? Aug 8, 2022 at 8:32
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    – Philipp
    Aug 11, 2022 at 8:13

5 Answers 5

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China's military exercises around Taiwan aren't mere posturing. Xi has vowed to retake what he regards as a breakaway province. China is practicing for the upcoming military operation to secure its view of "One China".

What China gains by conducting these maneuvers is asserting them as acceptable. They were extremely close to Formosa's shores. These actions amounted to a partially-enacted blockade, with actual disruption to shipping.

An invasion would not be the most effective way to conquer Taiwan. Being an island, with very limited natural resources, it's dependent on external trade for its food, energy, fuel, and raw materials to produce anything it might be able to trade for these.

Only 6% of total and 16% of electric power in Taiwan comes from import-independent sources. It has three nuclear reactors and a minor amount of renewables, which isn't enough for the essential services. Taiwan is a net food importer, with the majority of their imports coming from China, followed by the US.

China's conquest of Taiwan would most likely be through a blockade. However much people might value freedom, they value food and roof over their head more - modern cities become uninhabitable without power. China knows this and is likely to use it, be it Xi or someone that comes later. They're drilling for just this.

P.S. Under international law, blockade is a war operation. It's distinct from an embargo, which is the strongest non-war measure against trade.

Once a blockade has been proclaimed, "a public notification given by the belligerent to a neutral government is ordinarily sufficient to convict all subjects of that government of the requisite guilty intent", should they attempt to run the blockade.

To continue citing the law, "The vessels of neutrals are affected, and this right of a belligerent is universally admitted." The cargo of a ship guilty of breach of blockade is subject to confiscation, as well as the ship, with a few exemptions.

Actions taken for the enforcement of a blockade remain part of the war between the blockader and the owner of the blockaded port. Ships attempting to run it would be subject to attack or seizure without creating a state of war with their owner or flag nations.

It's been a while since these laws were invoked, of course. Today, wars are rarely even declared. What this mean in practice is that if neither China nor US want to go to war with one another, they don't have to, even with one attempting to run the blockade and the other enforcing it.

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    I don't think they are going to use blockade. A blockade is a very long process, enough time for US to muster its allies to cause trouble to China. And just like Cuban missile crisis, what if US decides to run the blockade? Let's say an unarmed ship fully loaded with food was ordered by US to cruise full speed toward a Taiwan port, the only way PLA could receive the least amount of international media flak is to board the ship and detain it/render the ship inoperable. So they would try to blitzkrieg the island, and remember: China's "No first use" policy only extends to "countries"
    – Faito Dayo
    Aug 8, 2022 at 0:45
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    @FaitoDayo It's not a binary choice between "least amount of international flak" and nuclear-armed invasion. A blockade is an act of war. Running a blockade is also an act of war against the one declaring it. Regarding time, an amphibious invasion isn't quick either, and the only US allies that can cause trouble to China are Japan and South Korea - which will be in the fight well before the US gets there.
    – Therac
    Aug 8, 2022 at 1:18
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    @FaitoDayo China will sink the ship breaking the blockade, leaving the US with no choice but to start WW3 for the sake of Taiwan, which it'll never do in practice. Aug 8, 2022 at 20:49
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    @HK-51 Running a blockade isn't an act of war... Retaliating to someone running your blockade is the act of war... Aug 9, 2022 at 15:58
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    @ScottishTapWater Sinking ships attempting to run the blockade would not be retaliation. They can even be seized and become legitimate property of the blockader. The international law on blockade describes one running the blockade as a guilty party, not the one enforcing it. However, you're correct in that running a blockade isn't an act of war per se either.
    – Therac
    Aug 10, 2022 at 6:22
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A lot of international politics — not all, but more than one might like — plays out as middle-school level power/status games. More precisely, it comes down to interactions between smart, cagy, ego-driven, and effectively amoral participants. It's incorrect to describe behavior on this level as 'tantrums' because the term 'tantrum' implies an uncontrolled emotional response. If an age-typical middle-schooler shows something that looks like a tantrum, we can rest assured that it is behavior calculated to appear that way in order to produce a certain type of social pressure.

In this particular case, China has been steadfastly and peremptorily claiming Taiwan as part of its territory. This is a standard bully-tactic: claiming something as one's one, and then using brusque menace to keep other people away from it. The idea is that (eventually) other people will give in to the menace and allow the bully to have what it wants by default. In other words, China has been trying to establish de facto dominance that will eventually become de jure dominance as other nations shy away from conflict. When Pelosi went to Taiwan, she effectively challenged that claim; she knocked the chip off the bully's shoulder, as the saying goes. This put China in a bind. They could not allow the challenge to go unanswered, otherwise the entire strategy for bullying Taiwan into submission falls to pieces. They also could not attack Pelosi or the US directly because that would have risked a direct military response from the US, which is more than China wants at the moment. So they did the only thing they could do: scale up their aspect of menace so that everyone knows they are still claiming Taiwan as their own. And so we get massive military exercises, angry recriminations against the US, and other snippy, chest-beating behaviors.

There's nothing here more sophisticated than (say) a jealous boyfriend puffing his chest out and flexing his biceps because his girl talked to another guy, and the message is the same: "stay away from what I claim as mine, or you're gonna get it".

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    Why middle school rather than high school or elementary school? Aug 8, 2022 at 0:47
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    I am often amuse at the western tone that when prc is threatening military action against taiwan, prc is bullying. But when taiwan--back in the 1950s to 1970s--fly bombers and fighters to attack mainland and sent operatives to sabotage mainland infrastructures, it is "justified anti-evil-commie heroics". I am fully supportive of Taiwanese people choosing their fate, it just feel like the whole "ukraine war is a surprised war in civilized world" vibe
    – Faito Dayo
    Aug 8, 2022 at 0:50
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    @user1271772: Developmental psychology. Middle-schoolers are largely Kohlberg Stage 2, in that they've gotten past simple reward/punishment models and start seeking out tactics for fulfilling personal desires. Grammar school children lack the cognitive capacity for sustained campaigns, high school kids usually feel a pressure towards stages 3 and 4 (conventional morality). Middle school gives us that sweet spot for pure, unfiltered transactional interactions. Aug 8, 2022 at 1:30
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    @FaitoDayo: Everybody always has an excuse for the failings of their side, but I honestly don't care. Maybe Taiwan was the bully back in the 50s/60s; the PRC is the bully now. The first in not a justification for the second (except, you know, in pubescent logic). To my mind no one should be a bully, but that's apparently not a popular idea. Our bullies are heroes, and their heroes are bullies; that form of bloody ignorance is one of the great drivers of karma. Aug 8, 2022 at 1:44
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    @FaitoDayo: Yeesh... No. It's isn't about how things are 'being portrayed'. It's about what 'is happening'. I'm no more happy with America's bad actions than I am with China's, and while I'm sure there's media spin on both sides, the response to that is not to spout whataboutisms or encourage moral relativism. I get that you're pro-China and that's fine. But I cannot abide the whiny comparativism that nationalists of every stripe cling to. Enough already! Aug 9, 2022 at 21:45
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At the very least, the maneuvers are designed to mollify the ultrantionalists who perhaps expected (after a tweet by a well-known Chinese editorialist suggesting such a move was "ok") for Pelosi's plane to be shot down. (His tweet has since been deleted. The longer editorial he wrote in the actual newspaper only suggested that PLA planes enter Taiwan's airspace to escort Pelosi's plane, all the way to the landing.) In any case, the PLA itself had promised to "not sit idly by" if the visit were to happen.

Besides that, the maneuvers are perhaps intended to scare Taiwan from inviting/accepting such a visit in the future. (Added:) HK-51's answer seems to be correct in that at least some PRC sources have sought to portray the maneuvers as a blueprint for a future embargo:

Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, said the six areas were chosen to show how China could cut off Taiwan's ports, attack its most important military installations, and sever access for foreign forces that may come to Taiwan's aid. "Connect the six areas in a line, like a noose, with the knot of the noose right in the southwest direction," Meng said in an interview with state-run broadcaster CCTV. [...]

Meng noted the northern exercise areas had successfully sealed off Taiwan from Okinawa, the island where both Japan and the United States base substantial military assets. In the southern areas, the PLA showed it could control the Bashi Channel, "the only way to enter and exit the South China Sea," he said. And in the eastern areas, China's forces showed that accurate Chinese missile fire could force foreign warships to back away from Taiwan's waters, he added.

"This is an unprecedented encirclement of Taiwan Island," Meng said.

So yeah they are claiming to have showcased "unprecedented" capabilities.

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China may have used the maneuvers to exercise attacking Taiwan and gain some more first hand experience there. But they also showed that short of invading Taiwan there is probably nothing they can do to convince Taiwanians that they are the good guys here. It shows their lack of other options.

The US has shown that they stand by Taiwan (to some extent) but have China given a pretense to flex their muscles. Next time, when China may really want to invade Taiwan, the US should be better prepared and be cautious to not give China too many such cheap excuses.

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Military Operations always entail a degree of risk. A chance of messing it up, botching the execution, or otherwise causing the operation to fail.

The more risk that there is in a given operation, the less credible that operation is. For example, if one imagines a hypothetical invasion of the Continental US led by, say, the armed forces of Italy, it does not seem likely to succeed. Therefore, the US is acting reasonably when they discount a threat of invasion from Italy, based on current information.

To get back to China and Taiwan; China does not consider Taiwan to be independent, and have repeatedly asserted that they do have a right to secure the territory, by force if necessary. The US (and others) are required to evaluate this threat's credibility. If the US believes that the threat is credible, then they will be forced to assign a greater weight towards actions based on diplomacy and compromise. If they feel the threat is not credible, then the US is free to set an aggressive or confrontational foreign policy.

For China, then, to execute military exercises simulating a blockade or invasion of Taiwan, is a statement of credibility. They are saying, in effect, "Look here. Pay attention. See how we have just run a drill, a realistic drill, wherein we have practiced a successful invasion of Taiwan? We have done so openly and in full view of your spies and satellites. You know, just as well as we do, that this drill went well. Therefore, you now must accept that we have the ability to launch a successful invasion of Taiwan."

Their objective is to force US planners and policy makers to realize that the invasion of Taiwan is something that China has within its likely capabilities. In the absence of these military maneuvers, policy makers may, in effect, say, "I know China wants to invade Taiwan, but realistically, they can't, so we're free to ignore their demands.". Now, having seen a successful military drill of an invasion of Taiwan, these same policy makers are forced to say, "I know China wants to invade Taiwan... and it turns out that's something they could realistically do... so rather than risk it, we should probably be more diplomatic and considerate of their position."

So the military operation achieves a real-world result that is beneficial to China's interests, which is why they would undertake such a costly and risky operation. Its why we frequently see these in times of tension, from all kinds of international actors. They need their rivals to appreciate (and hopefully be deterred by) their ability to project force.

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