China Signals Resolve with Bomber Flights Over the South China Sea
May 18, 2021
For What Purpose?
Published in: War on the Rocks website (2017)
Posted on RAND.org on May 18, 2021
After conducting two strategic bomber flights around Taiwan in late 2016, Beijing in the last two months has significantly stepped up its operational tempo with at least another five flights circumnavigating the island, the latest of which occurred on Aug. 12. An easy explanation for this unprecedented display of military force is that China is more routinely employing the Xian H-6K long-range bomber to ratchet up pressure on Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen due to her refusal to acknowledge the "1992 Consensus." The consensus is allegedly an agreement on "One China," but has differing interpretations in China and Taiwan. This view, however, is overly simplistic. Coercing Taiwan was likely an important part of Beijing's calculus, but the core objective appears to be strengthening the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) conventional strategic deterrence. China seeks to enhance the People's Liberation Army Air Force's (PLAAF) capabilities and signal Beijing's will to defend its territorial claims against the U.S. and its regional allies and partners, especially Taiwan and Japan.
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