China’s Fighter Jets Aren’t Just Flying Around Taiwan. They’re Practicing.

TAIPEI—China has sent some of its largest swarms of jet fighters and warships into the air and waters around Taiwan this month.

They have been accompanied by an unusual silence.

While previous Chinese drills of similar scale were paired with waves of propaganda meant to intimidate the self-ruled island, Beijing has said next to nothing about the recent exercises.

That silence is a sign that the recent activity is less about delivering a political message, Taiwanese authorities and defense analysts say, than about training. China’s military is trying to sharpen its ability to encircle Taiwan, neutralize the island’s natural advantages and block the U.S. from coming to the rescue in the event of an invasion. Communist Party leaders in Beijing regard Taiwan as part of China and have vowed to take control of it, by force if necessary.

During one day earlier this week, Taiwan’s military detected 103 Chinese military aircraft in areas around the island, a recent high, including 40 that entered the island’s air-defense identification zone. The next day 55 Chinese aircraft flew sorties near Taiwan, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said.

Earlier this month, a Chinese aircraft carrier and around two dozen warships, an unusually large grouping, sailed southeast of Taiwan in the Western Pacific.

Notably, the Chinese sorties have included an increasing number of Y-20 transport and refueling aircraft flying alongside jet fighters to the east of Taiwan. That suggests an intensified focus on improving the fighters’ long-range combat capabilities, military analysts said.

Taipei has long considered geography one of its greatest advantages in the event of a Chinese invasion, with a steep spine of mountains forming a natural barrier to enemy troops marching over from the west. For years, the Taiwanese military’s strategy has been to maintain a stronghold on the east coast, where it hoped to hold out long enough for the U.S. to send help.

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