The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part I

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took advantage of the sixty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis to warn China that it will defend itself and inflict heavy casualties upon an invader in the event of an attack. Tsai’s remarks come during a tense period of time in the region following US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan earlier this month. In response to the visit, China flexed its military muscle with a series of large-scale military exercises in and around Taiwan Strait.

Tsai has pointed to these maneuvers as proof of China’s intent to permanently change the status quo in the Strait and around the Western Pacific. At the same time, Taiwan’s leader is moving to encourage the country’s ‘democratic partners’ to stand together in defiance of Beijing’s intentions. Her attempts are focused firmly upon the United States. US politicians are also maneuvering and the same holds true for the Chinese.

We are on the verge of the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis and all of the major players are presently posturing for the drama to come. Beijing, Washington and Taiwan are emphatically presenting their respective positions to the rest of the world. As mentioned above, Taiwan is also making efforts to compare its current plight to that of Ukraine in hopes of generating international support.

Following Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, China is forced to determine just how ‘official’ Pelosi’s discussions and activities were. Beijing has viewed the United States as gradually moving away from the One-China Policy for years now.  Pelosi’s visit, coupled with the stream of other less-known US politicians visiting Taiwan in recent weeks could signal that the policy is for all purposes now dead. If this is the view being taken in Beijing, China will need to formulate a forceful response to demonstrate its displeasure with the perceived US shift.

The Biden Administration is caught in an unenviable position. Pelosi’s visit has placed the White House squarely in a box and is pushing the United States closer to a possible confrontation with China.  I’ll discuss that more in the next post either tomorrow or Thursday.

Western Pacific Update 5 August, 2022

  • Tensions remain on the rise in the Western Pacific as Chinese naval and air exercises in and around Taiwan continue ramping up. Today, 68 aircraft and 15 surface vessels were involved in maneuvers. Some Chinese aircraft and ships even crossed the median line. Today saw the largest number of Chinese aircraft operating over Taiwan straits in a 24 hour period ever. Taiwanese government officials have warned again that China’s increasingly aggressive actions are threatening the stability of Taiwan Strait and the region.
  • Yesterday, the White House summoned China’s ambassador to the United States. The purpose of the meeting was for the Biden administration to condemn China’s military exercises that began in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. China has halted military and climate change dialogue with the US in response to her visit as Beijing is showing no restraint in adopting a hardline stance.
  • The Pentagon has ordered the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her escorts to remain in the region to monitor Chinese operations in and around Taiwan. US Navy warships and aircraft are expected to begin operating in Taiwan Strait waters next week or sooner. It is not clear if they will begin operations during Chinese maneuvers, which are scheduled to end on Sunday.

Pelosi Expected To Visit Taiwan On Tuesday

As the afternoon continues on here in the Eastern United States, Reuters and other news agencies are reporting that Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan on Tuesday despite Chinese warnings. Reuters points to three unnamed people who were briefed on the matter as their sources. Publicly, the US government has not commented on Pelosi’s trip. However, Pelosi’s own office mentioned on Sunday that her visit would include stops in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia. Taiwan was left off the list, leading people to draw their own conclusions about whether or not Pelosi will turn up in Taipei.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said earlier today a visit by Pelosi would be “a gross interference in China’s internal affairs.” He went on to provide a further warning. “We would like to tell the United States once again that China is standing by, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will never sit idly by, and China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

As I’m writing this post, the White House weighed in on the matter. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the US anticipates an escalated response by China in the coming days. The actions could include missile firings near Taiwan Strait and large scale air and naval operations in the same sea and airspace. Such heavy-handed actions will not sway the United States, according to Kirby. “We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated.”

Pelosi’s Planned Trip To Taipei Causes A Stir

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan next month is the latest potential flashpoint in the Western Pacific. Beijing is warning Pelosi to cancel the trip and is attempting to put pressure on Washington to prevent the third-highest ranking official in the US government from visiting Taiwan. Over the weekend Financial Times reported that China has delivered warnings to US officials about the trip. According to sources, the warnings were stronger than the threats Beijing generally makes when it is unhappy with US policy or actions in the region. The fact that these warnings were given in private suggest the possibility of a Chinese military response to the trip.

At the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s regular Monday press conference, the spokesman told reporters “We are seriously prepared,” when he was asked about the report. “If the U.S. is bent on going its own way, China will take firm and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” China’s tactics are pure intimidation at this point, intended to make Washington back down. The Taiwanese government is watching events closely.

Right now, Taipei is caught between two chairs. If Pelosi’s visit takes place as planned, China could punish Taiwan for it. On the other hand, if the trip is canceled it undermines Taiwan’s security and appears to give China a voice in US-Taiwan policy. There’s a growing number of Taiwanese who are skeptical about the US commitment to Taiwan. As the threat from China grows, this cross-section of Taiwanese voters is sure to have more influence at the polls. To minimize skepticism, the US government needs to reassure Taiwan’s population that its commitment to their nation’s security is firm.

Ukraine Update 16 March, 2022: Zelenskiy Addresses the US House and Senate

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the US Senate and House of Representatives this morning by way of a video link. He came before the US Legislative Branch to plead his nation’s case for more weapons, aircraft and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. In effect, Zelenskiy’s speech was an end run of sorts around the Executive Branch. The White House has stated over and over that a no-fly zone is not going to happen and the US serve as the middleman to deliver Polish MiGs to the Ukrainian Air Force. The US position has been mirrored by many of its NATO allies. Ukraine will be provided with as much assistance as possible, short of taking action that could classify the US or any other NATO nation as a co-combatant.

Zelenskiy understood this coming into the morning’s address and worked it into his plea. He invoked US history and asked lawmakers to remember Pearl Harbor, September 11th and Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech. Zelenskiy’s remarks were filled with dozens of potential sound bites and digital headlines. The Ukrainian leader came across more like a overindulged toddler rather than the leader of an embattled nation at war.

“Is this a lot to ask for – to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much?” Zelenskiy asked.

Answer: Yes, it is. Especially since a no-fly zone will inevitably lead to clashes between US and Russian forces and serve as the spark for a larger, regional conflict between NATO and Russia. NATO is not going to risk war to save Ukraine. Javelins and Stingers are one thing, but a no-fly zone is another matter altogether.