Growing Taiwan-US relations rile Beijing : The Tribune India

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Growing Taiwan-US relations rile Beijing

Taiwanese analysts and citizens are aware of the deteriorating Sino-US relations. They and many international observers apprehend that this raises the chances of a conflict between the two. The Taiwanese don’t want Taiwan to become another Ukraine. Countries in the region would prefer not to have to take sides.

Growing Taiwan-US relations rile Beijing

AGGRESSION: On President Tsai Ing-wen’s return from the US, China launched massive air-sea military exercises aimed at rattling Taiwan. Reuters



Jayadeva Ranade

President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy

CROSS-STRAIT tensions are escalating as Taiwan’s national elections, scheduled for January next year, draw closer. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s stopover in the US last week provoked China to take the promised ‘robust countermeasures’, vividly demonstrating its military capabilities and further raising tensions.

Ever since the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen took over as Taiwan’s President in May 2016, Beijing has been upset at the turn Taiwan’s politics has taken. Tsai Ing-wen herself has been cautious, though deliberate, in her moves to preserve Taiwan as a distinct political entity. She has, at the same time, adhered to the DPP’s principles on Taiwan’s status and not yielded ground on the 1992 Consensus. Her Southbound Policy, for instance, is non-confrontational and seeks to broad-base Taiwan’s diplomatic and trade interactions while diversifying its economy and reducing dependence on the People’s Republic of China. These are long-range moves which will benefit Taiwan and its business community, but are unlikely to yield short-term political dividends. She has simultaneously been firm in preserving the identity of Taiwan and its people as a separate entity.

Tsai Ing-wen’s caution has not met with an equally calibrated response from Beijing. Beijing has railed against her for not agreeing to the 1992 Consensus and its warnings have ranged from intemperate threats of direct action against individual leaders, including their decapitation, to put pressure on Taiwan’s economy and Taiwanese businessmen residing in China.

The growing warmth in Taiwan’s relations with the US, when Sino-US relations are deteriorating, is agitating Beijing and adding to tensions. There is concern in Beijing that the US may change its policy on China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also pursued a more aggressive policy towards China’s neighbours, including Taiwan, since becoming President in 2012. At the 20th Party Congress last October and again at the National People’s Congress (NPC) plenum last month, Xi reiterated his pledge for the reunification of China “in the new era”. This has been accompanied by a strong implication of the use of military force.

China’s new Premier Li Qiang, in his first remarks to the press after his appointment at the NPC, however, made no reference to the reunification of Taiwan with China. Instead, he focused on people-to-people and business contacts, implying that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will re-energise United Front activities in Taiwan. An example is the recent visit of former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou — the first by either a serving or retired Taiwanese leader — to China after which he reportedly claimed the “1992 Consensus has come back to life.” A pronounced uptick in the CCP’s United Front activities as part of China’s two-pronged effort at reunification can be anticipated prior to the elections.

The then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in 2022 marked a critical moment in China’s relations with the US and Taiwan. Within days of her leaving Taiwan, China organised a massive air-sea military exercise to demonstrate the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) capabilities, including to show it can effectively blockade Taiwan. Almost each day since then PLA Air Force (PLAAF) fighter jets and PLA Navy (PLAN) warships have entered the Taiwan Strait and occasionally crossed the median line.

In his work report to the 20th Party Congress last October, Xi said the PLA “will enable us to shape our security posture, deter and manage crises and conflicts and win local wars.”

The PLA officer who planned and supervised the operations, General He Weidong, was ‘helicoptered’ by Xi into the CCP Politburo and appointed one of the two Vice-Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC). China has also ramped up theatre and provincial-level war preparedness, military amphibious exercises etc. and initiated other measures, including cheque-book diplomacy.

Promptly on Tsai Ing-wen’s return from the US, China again launched massive air-sea military exercises aimed at Taiwan. Its PLA Eastern Theatre Command announced ‘round-the-island’ operations in the Taiwan Strait from April 8 to 10. On April 8, China’s state-owned CCTV telecast footage from the military exercises around Taiwan and the following day of the military’s simulated precision strikes against Taiwan.

On April 9, Taiwan’s defence ministry reported that they had spotted 58 Chinese aircraft as well as nine warships around Taiwan. Later, reports said, 71 PLAAF fighter aircraft and nine warships were engaged in military exercises for what the Chinese military called the ‘encirclement’ of Taiwan. The PLA has obviously begun ‘shaping’ China’s security environment.

But a major impediment to Beijing’s plans is the US. Whether Beijing will launch an offensive against Taiwan depends on its assessment of whether the US will intervene on Taiwan’s behalf. A recent report by a Chinese think tank, the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, said the US had intensified military operations in the South China Sea in the past two years. According to it, a large US recce aircraft undertook about 1,000 sorties into the South China Sea region with some as close as 13 nautical miles from the baseline of China’s mainland territorial waters. Another report claimed that China’s nuclear energy sector is being targeted in a cyber-espionage campaign.

Taiwanese analysts and citizens are aware of the worsening Sino-US relations. They and many international observers apprehend that this raises the chances of a conflict between the two. The Taiwanese don’t want to see Taiwan become another Ukraine; countries in the region would prefer not to have to take sides — at least till they are sure of the winning side! Meanwhile, with the rapid deterioration in the China-US ties, there is a growing probability of a clash at sea between the navies of the US and China in the near future.


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