China’s Intimidation to Taiwan Intensifies, PLA Brings Military to Pratas Islands
As China’s military intimidation of Taiwan intensifies, experts are increasingly warning of a possible Chinese attack and the potential danger in the Taiwan Strait. Considering the language Chinese media use regarding measures to “punish Taiwan,” there is now an urgent need to consider China’s possible engagement in some sort of military action against Taiwan.
At present, it is improbable that the PLA would attempt to actually land troops and occupy the island of Taiwan, because the probability of a successful military operation with minimum casualties for China is low. However, China has other options, one of which would be to apply pressure on or capture the Pratas Islands.
The Pratas Islands are located in the northern part of the South China Sea under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China (Taiwan), closer to China’s mainland coast than to the island of Taiwan. Historically, the Pratas Islands have attracted little attention, but as the importance of the South China Sea has increased, so too has the strategic relevance of the Pratas Islands. If China controlled the Pratas Islands, the islands could function as a gatekeeper to monitor U.S. and other countries’ ships and aircraft entering the South China Sea from the Pacific Ocean.
Pratas Island (the other “islands” in the group are essentially rocks) has an airport, but no permanent inhabitants, only a number of civil officials of the Taiwanese Coast Guard and researchers. It is believed that around 500 soldiers of the ROC Marine Corps are also now stationed there. However, because the island is so small and flat, it is almost impossible to defend.
Since August, there have been reports of the PLA repeatedly conducting military exercises in the area, its aircraft flying over the sea almost daily in an apparent attempt to cut off the supply line between the Pratas Islands and the island of Taiwan.
In October, a Taiwanese airplane flying from Kaohsiung carrying supplies to the Pratas Islands was warned by Hong Kong air traffic control not to enter Hong Kong managed airspace and returned to Taiwan. These incidents demonstrate that China could take control of the Pratas Islands whenever Chinese President Xi Jinping decides.
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