John Dotson is the deputy director of the Global Taiwan Institute and associate editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
Following immediately on the heels of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan on August 2 for a high-profile visit with senior Taiwan officials, the military forces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) conducted a series of provocative military exercises and operations intended to signal Beijing’s displeasure, as well as deter both US and Taiwan officials from taking further steps to deepen US-Taiwan ties. Although the military activities tapered off rather than ceasing abruptly—and in some fundamental respects, these increased military activities are still ongoing—the most intensive phase of activity lasted for roughly one week, from August 3-10. Many of these activities by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were unprecedented in nature, and significantly raised tensions in both the Taiwan Strait and the broader Indo-Pacific region.
The continuing nature of some of these activities may portend a “new normal” of substantially increased PLA operations closer to Taiwan, as a key component of Beijing’s psychological warfare and coercive diplomacy directed at both government officials and public opinion on the island. Accordingly, the specific nature of the PLA’s activities in the vicinity of Taiwan in early August bear closer examination. This article, the first of a two-part series, will review the closure areas declared about Taiwan from August 4-7, as well as the dramatic series of missile launches conducted around and over Taiwan on August 4. The second part, to be published in the following issue of the Global Taiwan Brief, will examine the aviation, naval, and ground force exercise activity conducted by the PLA during the same period.
The PLA Declaration of Military Exercises on August 2
Immediately after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan on August 2, the PLA Eastern Theater Command (東部戰區) issued a statement that it would conduct a series of military operations around Taiwan. According to the statement:
[S]tarting on the evening of Aug. 2nd, the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater will conduct a series of joint military operations on the periphery of Taiwan island—naval and air exercises will be conducted in the sea areas to the north, southwest, and southeast of Taiwan island, [and] long-range firepower launches will be conducted in the Taiwan Strait, [and] guided firepower test launches will be conducted in the sea areas to the east of Taiwan island. These exercises are adopted as stern deterrence directed against America’s recent major negative escalations on the Taiwan problem, [and] are a serious warning directed at “Taiwan independence” forces striving on the “independence” path.
Further PRC statements announced six closure areas around Taiwan for the purpose of military exercises and live-fire drills, to be in effect from noon Beijing time (Greenwich Mean Time +8) on August 4 until noon on August 7. The graphic below, produced by Taiwan’s official state news agency, shows the six closure areas (in pink) and their closest distance, in kilometers, to Taiwan’s coastline; as well as the three closure areas (in gray) declared by the PRC during the 1995-1996 Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.
The closure areas were not identified as such in official PRC notices, but for purposes of this article the six areas—beginning with the designated area in the Taiwan Strait northwest of Taiwan, and proceeding clockwise—shall be referred to as follows:
- Box #1 (Taiwan Strait centerline)
- Box #2 (north of Taipei / Keelung)
- Box #3 (northeast of Taiwan)
- Box #4 (waters east of Taiwan)
- Box #5 (south of Lanyu Island / southern tip of Taiwan)
- Box #6 (south of Kaohsiung).
Ballistic Missile Launches on August 4
The announcement of the closure areas was followed by a series of ballistic missile launches conducted on the afternoon of August 4. There remains a discrepancy regarding the number of missiles fired: Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) has indicated 11 missiles (with no information regarding flight paths), while Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) identified nine missiles fired during a 78-minute period centered on the 3 o’clock hour of mid-afternoon. Neither the PRC, Japanese, or Taiwan governments have officially identified the specific type (or types) of missiles fired. However, semi-official analysis by an MND-affiliated think tank (see here and here), as well as some press reporting, has identified the launches—or at least most of them—as Dongfeng-15B (東風-15B飛彈) (DF-15B) missiles. The Dongfeng-15 is a family of short-range, road mobile ballistic missiles assessed to be capable of carrying a 500-750 kilogram payload to a maximum range of 600-900 kilometers. The original DF-15A variant, which entered service in the early 1990s, employs an inertial guidance system and was employed in launches during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-1996. The upgraded DF-15B, first noted publicly in 2009, possesses features for improved accuracy, including an active radar seeker and laser range finder. 
Per the Japanese MoD analysis, the sequence of launches proceeded as follows:
- 14:56: A launch from a location in Fujian Province, which flew approx. 350 km to impact in Box #3.
- 14:56: A launch from an inland location (Jiangxi Province?), which flew approx. 700 km to impact in the eastern side of Box #6.
- 15:14: A launch from an inland location (Jiangxi Province?), which flew approx. 550 km to impact in the western side of Box #6.
- 15:57: A launch from a location in Zhejiang Province, which flew approx. 350 km to impact in Box #2.
- 15:57: A launch from a location in Zhejiang Province, which flew approx. 650 km to impact in Box #4.
- 16:05: A launch from a location in Fujian Province, which flew approx. 500 km (over Taiwan) to impact in Box #4.
- 16:05: A launch from a location in Fujian Province, which flew approx. 550 km (over Taiwan) to impact in Box #4.
- 16:08: A launch from a location in Fujian Province, which flew approx. 500 km (over Taiwan) to impact in Box #4.
- 16:08: A launch from a location in Fujian Province, which flew approx. 550 km (over Taiwan) to impact in Box #4. 
In addition to the missile launches, PHL-16 truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) were reportedly fired from Pingtan Island (平潭島), off the coast of Fujian Province, into Box #1 in the Taiwan Strait.
If this data about the launch sequences is accurate, then the firings commenced near simultaneously northeast-southwest; then an 18-minute pause, then southwest again; then a 33-minute delay before launches north and east; and then another brief pause of eight minutes, followed by the concluding barrage into the waters east of Taiwan. It is unknown whether this sequence was intended to have a political significance, or whether it was prompted by more prosaic operational planning. It is possible that the bracketing pattern, and attendant pauses, may have been related to the need of PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) technicians and command elements to analyze their own telemetry data and make any required adjustments before subsequent launches. However, this is speculative, and if there is any significance to the sequence of initial launches, this has not been officially explained.
It is certainly not accidental, however, that the two most provocative aspects of the launch series came in the grand finale final salvo: first, that the five missiles reportedly landed in Box #4 south of Yonaguni Island, within Japan’s economic exclusion zone; and second, that four of these missiles flew over Taiwan itself (albeit at very high, possibly exoatmospheric, altitude). The former factor may have been intended as a geopolitical brush-back pitch for Japan, while the latter was almost certainly intended as a literal shot across the bow intended to intimidate Taiwan’s government and population.
The PLA Eastern Theater Media Center (東部戰區融媒體中心) released a propaganda video the same day of the launches, which boasted that “the guided missiles all precisely hit their targets, demonstrating accurate attacks and regional denial capability” (導彈全部精準命中目標檢驗了精確打擊和區域拒止能力). Of note, the final section of the video consists of animation that depicts a total of 16 missiles landing in Boxes #3, #4, and #5, with the heaviest concentration in Box #4 (see accompanying graphic). It is unknown whether or not this animation was ever intended to be an accurate depiction of the actual numbers and target areas of the launches. One possible explanation for the discrepancy could be that the final sequence of launches on August 4 was changed, whether for operational or other reasons, from the original plan. However, this is also speculative.
The August 4 missile launches were arguably the single most provocative aspect of the early August PLA military exercises around Taiwan. In the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-1996, the PLA launched a total of 10 missiles (six in July 1995, and four more in March 1996), with missiles fired both to the north of Taiwan (offshore from Keelung) and southwest of Taiwan (offshore from Kaohsiung). By contrast, the shorter-but-more-intense, and much more provocative, series of launches on August 4 dropped either nine or 11 confirmed missiles in closure areas that surrounded the island. At least four missiles from the final salvo also took the unprecedented step of flying over northern Taiwan itself, albeit at very high altitude. This was almost certainly a psychological warfare measure intended to intimidate Taiwan’s population—as well as to demonstrate the PLA’s capabilities to conduct a joint strike and blockade campaign to cut Taiwan off from the outside world. The other components of the PLA’s early August exercises—to include a review of air, naval, and ground activity—will be addressed in the second article in this series.
The main point: In the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the PLA undertook an unprecedented campaign of military drills and missile launches in early August, which were intended to intimidate Taiwan’s population and demonstrate the PLA’s ability to conduct a blockade campaign against the island. The single most dramatic component of this effort was a series of missile launches on August 4, which landed in sea areas north, south, and east of Taiwan, as well as at least 4 missiles that flew over Taiwan itself.
 The coordinates of the closure areas were:
- 25°15′26″N, 120°29′20″E; 24°50′30″N, 120°05′45″E; 25°04′32″N, 119°51′22″E; 25°28′12″N, 120°14′30″E
- 26°07′00″N, 121°57′00″E; 25°30′00″N, 121°57′00″E; 25°30′00″N, 121°28′00″E; 26°07′00″N, 121°28′00″E
- 25°34′00″N, 122°50′00″E; 25°03′00″N, 122°50′00″E; 25°03′00″N, 122°11′00″E; 25°34′00″N, 122°11′00″E
- 22°56′00″N, 122°40′00″E; 23°38′00″N, 122°51′00″E; 23°38′00″N, 123°23′00″E; 22°56′00″N, 123°09′00″E.
- 21°14′00″N, 121°33′00″E; 21°33′00″N, 121°18′00″E; 21°07′00″N, 120°43′00″E; 20°48′00″N, 120°59′00″E
- 22°43′00″N, 119°14′00″E; 22°10′00″N, 119°06′00″E; 21°33′00″N, 120°29′00″E; 22°09′00″N, 120°32′00″E
 US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), DF-15 (Dongfeng 15) Chinese Short-Range Ballistic Missile (undated).
 Independent analysis of undetermined reliability, which has been cited in Taiwan media, has identified the launches with three brigades of the PLARF: northern site (Jinhua, Zhejiang), PLARF 617 Brigade; central site (Shangrao, Fujian), PLARF 613 Brigade; and southwest site (Ganzhou, Jiangxi), 616 Brigade. The Taiwan state media outlet CNA has cited Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), an analyst with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, an MND-associated think tank, to indicate that the four missiles that flew over Taiwan were launched from the PLA Rocket Force Number 61 Base in Anhui Province.