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.

Ukraine Update: 15 February, 2022 (AM)

Statements by the Russian Defense Ministry this morning that some military units from the Southern and Western Military Districts are withdrawing following the conclusion of exercises they were engaged in have been greeted with cautious optimism by the West. There have so far been no indications seen by NATO or the United States that de-escalation is underway. Aside from a handful of units supposedly returning to their home bases, and Russia now openly talking about further rounds of diplomacy, the situation is unchanged. Exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea continue and according to reports from US officials, Russian units close to the border are moving into their forward assembly areas.

We’ve talked about the buildup to hostilities recently and how ambiguity becomes an important tool for Moscow to mask its true intentions. These supposed withdrawals could be underway solely to help create the illusion of Russia choosing use diplomacy as the primary avenue to resolve its security concerns instead of intimidation and force. Or, the pullbacks could be real and in the coming hours and days evidence of this will become clear. Time will tell.

The danger has not passed, and this crisis is far from being resolved. I’ll talk more about other events taking place in the afternoon update.

Ukraine Update: 21 January, 2022 (Morning)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have concluded their talks in Geneva. As expected, the talks produced no breakthroughs and ended with a generic, insincere assurance that dialogue to resolve the crisis will continue.  The Russian government is still waiting for the official US response to its demands for security guarantees, though it is unclear if it will be delivered by the end of this week as expected.

Blinken emerged from the talks and repeated the familiar American diplomatic position that Russia now faces a decision. “It can choose the path of diplomacy that can lead to peace and security, or the path that will lead only to conflict, severe consequences and international condemnation.” The secretary then went on to reiterate that any Russian invasion will be met by a ‘swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies.’

Lavrov hinted that war or peace could very well be decided in Washington. He continued to place a great deal of importance on the impending official US response. Quite honestly, the Russian government has placed an inordinate amount of stock in the response. Almost as if Vladimir Putin is waiting for a resounding ‘No’ from Washington to kick off the next phase of the plan.

Lavrov used the talks as a platform to again reiterate his country’s position. Russia wants NATO to remove its military forces from the ex-Warsaw Pact nation-states that joined the Western alliance after 1997. This includes Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and practically every other former-Pact nation. There are more points to the Russian position but a removal of NATO forces from Eastern Europe and a new security arrangement along the frontiers of what has historically been the Russian sphere of influence form the core of Moscow’s security demands.

The Post-COVID World

 

With the COVID-19 pandemic waning in most areas of the world, the time to begin seriously pondering what the post-COVID world will look like is almost upon us. To be fair, there has been a healthy amount of speculation about that topic since the beginning of the pandemic. However, between then and the present day, new economic, military, diplomatic and geopolitical realities have emerged and obscured the global picture in a myriad of ways.

There will be new realities to contend with. Some nations will refuse or fail to live up to this and inevitably their power and influence will retrograde. Others will recognize the new dynamic in play and attempt to turn it to their advantage. Both of these groups will be made up mainly of middle powers, with a handful of notable Great powers in decline tossed in. One tier above this coming fray will be the remaining Great Powers jockeying for position and searching for ways to extend their influence and power around the world. The obstacle facing some of these powers is their obstinance. Specifically, their tendencies to resort to reflexive, short-term policies and solutions to long term matters. The failure to reengineer their thinking and equip properly for the coming era, which has the potential to be an era defined by unpredictability and sudden shifts in the balance of power.

Finally, at the top stands the United States and China. The two Superpowers are primed to set the tone into the first years of the Post-COVID era. Both have the power and potential to shape the world through their policies and actions, as will the direction and tone of  Sino-US relations.

Throughout the summer, the potential look of the Post-COVID world will be examined and discussed at length.

Author’s Note: Holiday weekend is wrapped up, so I’m starting off slow with a short post today and will get up to speed again by the end of the week.

Israel-Gaza Update 19 May, 2023: Biden’s Call for De-Escalation Fails To Move Israel

US President Joe Biden’s call for ‘significant de-escalation’ of the fighting between Gaza and Israel apparently fell upon deaf ears. The content and tone of the message was intended to project the image of a confident US president able to bring Israel in line with his wishes. Unfortunately for Biden, his attempt at tough-love diplomacy fell hopelessly short for two reasons.

The first reason is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no friend of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. Specifically, it has been the recent US diplomatic attempts to reenter the JCOPA on favorable terms that has gotten under Israel’s skin. This stance is not expected to change given that Iran is suspected of playing the role of instigator behind the scenes of the fighting. The other reason has to do with the purpose behind Biden’s call. At home he is facing significant pressure from a progressive arm of his own party, which is more sympathetic with the Palestinian cause. By calling Israel on the carpet and adopting a strong tone, Biden is hoping to put a damper on domestic criticism of how his administration is handling the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.  

It’s all a moot point now, however. Israel rejected the call immediately. Netanyahu said earlier today that he is “determined to continue” operations against Hamas on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. The Israeli prime minister was diplomatic in his official reply, saying he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president.” However, he made it clear Israel will  “return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”

Israel’s rejection of Biden’s call opens the door for Washington to explore indirect diplomacy with European and other world powers to bring about a ceasefire and eventual end to the fighting. The US needs to keep in mind that the fighting will come to a stop at some point while its relationship with Israel will continue indefinitely. Therefore, the Biden administration should consider its next move carefully and make certain it does not take any action that Israel won’t be able to forgive. The White House also has to keep in mind that America’s allies around the world are watching closely. A failure to fully support Israel, a close US ally, could cause nations like Taiwan, Japan, and Poland to reevaluate Washington’s promises to come to their aid in times of trouble.