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Chinese flights near Taiwan look like ‘rehearsal,’ US officials warn


Adm. John Aquilino believes China is using its flights near Taiwan as a grey zone effort. (US Navy/Anthony J. Rivera)

The INDOPACOM chief also weighed in on whether Guam's missile defense capabilities will be ready by fiscal year 2026.

REAGAN NATIONAL DEFENSE FORUM: Over the last year, China has stepped up its flights around Taiwan, at one point in October flying almost 150 aircraft through Taiwan’s claimed Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a four-day period.

Running that many planes through Taiwan’s ADIZ would seem to be a great opportunity for China to get a sense of potential operations — a suspicion US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin voiced over the weekend.

“I don’t want to speculate, but certainly, it looks like a lot like them exploring their true capabilities, and sure, it looks a lot like rehearsing” for operations against Taiwan, Austin said at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif., on Saturday.

Asked about Austin’s comments, Adm. John Aquilino, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, said that he agreed with the assessment. But the INDOPACOM chief also noted the flights have more than one purpose.

“I think the assessment is, as the Secretary articulated, right, training and rehearsal, but I also believe it has a coercive nature and a gray zone type of activity to ensure that the people on Taiwan will see that capability every day,” Aquilino told reporters. “So, it’s a form of a pressure campaign. That’s my assessment.”

Aquilino underlined that while the major spikes in activity are what get attention, the US is tracking Chinese flights near Taiwan on a regular basis.

“There’s a couple of days of spikes, and then there’s a fairly steady level almost daily,” he said. “So, you know, we’ve been watching it every day. It becomes reported when there’s a spike. Sometimes that spike is associated with an event that the US might have done, so there’s a bit of a tit for tat, that I believe, is potentially explainable, if that makes sense. “


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