A nuclear-powered submarine of the People's Liberation Army Navy's North Sea Fleet. Photo: AFP

Maritime experts from the US, Japan and Germany voiced worries at a panel hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington last week that China is escalating its military pressure against Taiwan.

Sarah Kirchberger, a panelist from the Institute for Security Policy at Germany’s Kiel University, reportedly noted in response to a question that a senior Chinese naval officer had written, “We should do what Putin did in Crimea to Taiwan.”

The security concerns at the Friday conference follow a stern warning from Chinese President Xi Jinping last month that Taiwan will face the “punishment of history” if it makes any move toward separatism. A retired People’s Liberation Army general also said recently that Taiwan could be taken in three days if Beijing moved militarily against what it considers a renegade province.

Kirchberger and two other panelists – Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, and John Watts, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security – all agreed that China looks at Taiwan as Russia regarded Crimea, a key territory and a jumping-off point from which to assert its power in the Asia-Pacific region.

The panelists said that if China were to take over Taiwan, it would have direct access to the Western Pacific and would also be able to extend its influence in the East and South China Seas.

They further noted that China was stepping up its submarine presence in the East China Sea and use of aerial drones for intelligence collection purposes. Beijing is also said to be engaging in almost daily probes of Japan’s air defense networks.

Simulated cruise missile attacks on Japan

The flights reportedly include simulated cruise missile attacks on the Japanese mainland. The probing missions by Chinese planes are also said to be increasing the strain on Japanese fighters. This is raising a possibility that US Air Force planes from Okinawa will be called in to help with the intercepts.

Kirchberger didn’t identify the Chinese naval official who advocated a Crimea-like action against Taiwan. But Zhang Wenmu, a noted Chinese naval strategist, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s action against Ukraine in an essay published in late 2014. Zhang also asserted that China should follow Putin’s lead in adopting a similar muscular policy stance against the US.

President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, is a strong opponent of the United States’ “One China” policy. A “very high-ranking” US State Department official is expected to visit Taiwan  in June to officiate at the opening of the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Washington’s de facto embassy in Taipei’s Neihu district, according to Liberty Times and the Taipei Times, which cited a Taiwanese government official.

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