China is learning “military lessons” from the war in Ukraine and judging the UK’s “political will”, defence sources have warned.
It came as the UK and Australia pledged to tackle the growing threat Beijing poses in the Indo-Pacific, as Taiwan has again become a flashpoint in global tensions.
China has repeatedly threatened to take the self-ruled island, which it claims as its own.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson, Ben Wallace and Richard Marles, the Australian deputy prime minister, will attend the commissioning ceremony of HMS Anson. The fifth Astute Class submarine will be commissioned in Barrow-In-Furness.
China ‘clearly a factor’ in AUKUS agreement
Defence sources cited the AUKUS agreement between the UK, US and Australia as evidence that “China is clearly a factor”.
“The Defence Secretary has repeatedly said that what happens in Ukraine sends a signal of our resolve elsewhere, so not only are China watching but they are also judging our political will, as well as learning military lessons,” they told The Telegraph.
They added that were there to be an invasion in the Indo-Pacific region, “the west will stand firm with our allies and partners as we have with Ukraine”.
It is believed Beijing has reviewed Moscow’s invasion and the West’s response to see what lessons should be learned for China’s armed forces.
Beijing has considered that it took at least two days for Western leaders to properly respond when President Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24.
It has been noted in China that the fact that Russia did not defeat Ukraine within this window of time allowed for significant Western support to grow.
Avoiding making the same mistake with Taiwan will be key to avoiding a long, drawn-out war that could backfire on the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing is reported to have concluded.
While Taiwan’s unification with the mainland is part of President Xi Jinping’s strategy to “revive” the Chinese nation by 2050, and Beijing was previously thought to be preparing for an “armed reunification” at some point in the next five to 10 years, numerous Western governments believe a military offensive will come sooner, with Mr Xi having learned lessons from Russia’s failures in Ukraine.
In last year’s Integrated Review, the Government set out how the Indo-Pacific is at the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition with potential flashpoints, from unresolved territorial disputes to nuclear proliferation and miscalculation.
Climate change and non-state threats from terrorism and Serious Organised Crime are also included in this sphere. The region is also deemed on the frontline of new security challenges, including in cyberspace.
Taiwan becomes a flashpoint once again
Diplomatic sources have previously set out that when China decides to take Taiwan by force, it will aim to do so via a lightning-fast 48-hour offensive so that the West does not have time to respond.
Earlier this month China repeatedly encircled the island to show its fury after Nancy Pelosi, a senior Democrat and third in line to the US presidency, became the most senior visitor to the territory in 25 years.
On Tuesday Taiwan’s military fired warning shots at a Chinese drone which buzzed one of its islands near the Chinese coast, in an unprecedented move prompted by weeks of repeated incursions.
Taipei has reported an uptick of flights by drones over military outposts on remote Taiwanese islets since Beijing escalated its military drills in response to Ms Pelosi’s visit.
This weekend it threatened to shoot down the drones if they did not heed warnings to leave.
Video from at least two missions by commercial drones has circulated widely on Chinese social media, including one where Taiwanese soldiers can be seen throwing rocks to chase it away.
Taiwan’s Defence Command on the frontline archipelago of Kinmen reported another drone flying in a restricted area about 200m away from a military lookout at a height of 30m on Shi Islet Monday afternoon, confirming it had fired warning flares before it flew off in the direction of Xiamen, China.
In a statement, the command revealed for the first time its response plan for drone encounters as “firing warning flares, reporting the incursion, expelling the drone, and ultimately shooting it down”, reported Taiwanese newswire, CNA.
It is not known if the policy is new, but the military has faced recent criticism that it has done too little to counter drone incidents.
The defence ministry has so far refrained from more assertive countermeasures than flares to avoid escalating tensions.
However, on Monday China dismissed Taiwan’s complaints about repeated harassment by drones.
“Chinese drones flying about Chinese territory, this is not something to make a fuss about,” said Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.