As Nancy Pelosi leaves Taiwan, the Western Pacific is anxiously awaiting China’s next move. The ball is squarely in Beijing’s court now and with the US Speaker of the House of Representatives having departed, China is expected to begin flexing military muscle. It’s unclear exactly what China’s next step will be, but Southeast Asian governments are highly concerned. Today, governments around the region have urged China and the United States to stand back from taking actions that could inflame tensions. Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and other nations also affirmed publicly their support for the One China Policy, which is at the forefront of the brewing crisis at the moment.
China conducted live fire exercises near Taiwan Strait during Pelosi’s visit and has several larger ones planned for the waters around Taiwan. Parts of the designated exercise zones even appear to violate territorial waters claimed by Taiwan. If the exercises do materialize, they could bring about a major escalation in Western Pacific tensions. There is also a sizeable number of US Navy warships in the vicinity of Taiwan Strait including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli. It is unclear how long these ships and their escorts will remain in the area.
It is not clear if or when the Chinese exercises will begin, but there will be a considerable amount of attention focused on the Western Pacific for some days to come.
Pressure is building on Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade of Yemeni ports and allow food, water, and other essential materials into the country. Saudi Arabia blockaded Yemen’s ports after Houthi rebels fired a SCUD missile last month. Relief organizations have been warning that the situation in Yemen is growing dire. The nation’s economy and infrastructure have been shattered by years of strife, and civil war. Millions of civilians are at risk of starvation.
Now the United States is joining the chorus of nation-states and organizations around the world that are calling on Saudi Arabia to open access in Yemen to prevent yet another humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. Yesterday, President Trump issued a harsh criticism of the Saudi actions and announced that his administration would be calling upon Riyadh to end its blockade. Today, administration officials and advisors have gone to work on the matter in a series of phone calls and meetings with Saudi officials.
Saudi Arabia is a close US ally, and the relationship between the Trump administration and Riyadh has been particularly warm. The White House is hoping to use its clout to ameliorate the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Of course, the request is not being made simply because it is the right thing to do. There are potential benefits for the Trump administration’s foreign policy embedded in it as well. The US announcement that it recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will be moving its embassy in Israel there from Tel Aviv is a potential power keg. There is concern about the how Muslims across the region will react to the move. The US is hoping its position on the Saudi blockade, and improving the situation in Yemen will cool Muslim reactions to the Jerusalem move.
The Saudis might not be ready to relinquish the blockade so easily, though. The death of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh by Houthis on 4 December has altered the dynamics of the Yemeni civil war. Wednesday’s Saudi airstrikes against targets in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, launched in retaliation for Saleh’s death, indicate escalation could be on the horizon. It would be in Saudi Arabia’s best interests to halt the blockade at least temporarily, however, given the events of the past few days in Yemen, there’s no guarantee that Riyadh’s final decision will be influenced even by the prodding of its closest ally.