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.”

The Seemingly Irreparable US-China Relationship

The time has come for Washington to accept that the US-China relationship is faltering and likely beyond repair at this point. President Biden continues to publicly identify China as a ‘peer competitor’ while dismissing the fact China is moving more aggressively to achieve its strategic goals in Asia and beyond. This is wishful thinking or naivete on Washington’s part in the hopes that not branding China as an enemy will keep the relationship civil. The writing is on the wall though and its apparent this will not be happening. Beijing has passed the point of no return and is moving forward with minimal regard for the US positions on several issues that are of importance to both nations. So, why is this the case?

The simple answer is that China no longer needs the United States. In the eyes of Beijing, the People’s Republic of China is now a superpower in its own right. Beijing is less willing to compromise now compared to twenty years ago because it does not believe it has to. China now has the economic and military strength to carve its own path without a care about the rules-based structure of the Liberal international order.

Nancy Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan presents an almost perfect opportunity for China to flex its muscle and begin to mark its territory in the Western Pacific, so to speak. In yesterday’s call with Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping supposedly warned the US not to ‘play with fire’ and explained China’s concerns with Pelosi’s trip. From China’s viewpoint, a visit to Taiwan by the third-ranking member of the US government signals a quiet acceptance of Taiwan as a sovereign nation-state. Fear of Pelosi’s visit giving off even the slightest hint of a US acknowledgement of Taiwanese independence prompted Xi to advise Biden US should continue to abide by the terms of the One-China principle. Biden responded by telling his Chinese counterpart that US policy on Taiwan remains unchanged and that the US opposed unilateral efforts to undermine peace and stability in Taiwan and the surrounding area.

With tension rising over Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan, US and Chinese naval and air units are monitoring each other in the South China Sea. China is already complaining loudly over remarks made by the US Secretary of the Navy on Friday about China’s growing aggressive actions on regional waterways. China responded by blaming US military deployments in the disputed waters for the rise in tensions and growing chance of a confrontation.

Nicaragua and Russia Resume And Deepen Military Ties

As the United States continues to supply Ukraine openly and generously with weapons and other materials in the midst of its war with Russia, it appears Moscow is rekindling a military relationship with Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government recently announced a new military collaboration with Russia. Beginning in July, more Russian troops, aircraft and ships will start arriving in the Central American nation. Officially, the Nicaraguan government is labeling the program a “military exchange, instruction, and training initiative to support humanitarian aid operations.” Between the lines, however, is the unstated intention to transform Nicaragua into a hub for Russian forces in the Caribbean region. Coincidentally, the announcement comes as relations between Managua and Washington continue to deteriorate. Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, certainly to friend of the United States, will use the program to annoy the US and relieve Nicaragua’s economic troubles, which he blames the United States for.

NATO expansion and the war in Ukraine are providing Russia with all the motivation needed to project military power in the backyard of the United States. This strategy is similar to the one pursued by the Soviet Union in the 1980s during Ortega’s first tenure as Nicaragua’s leader. During that period of time, the US mined Nicaraguan harbors to harass and dissuade Eastern Bloc shipping and undertook other covert activities to frustrate Soviet efforts to establish a toehold in Central America. The effort was ultimately successful, though it nearly caused the downfall of the Reagan administration through the Iran-Contra affair.

This time around, geopolitical dynamics are somewhat different, yet the US would be wrong to ignore an increased Russian presence in Nicaragua. Especially given the free rein the Nicaraguan government appears ready to allow Russian forces to operate with. Decree 10-2022 approved by the Ortega-controlled legislature authorizes Russian military forces to “patrol” Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Even though Russia has lost tremendous amounts of international support and respect, the prospect of MiGs and Russian warships operating in such close proximity to US waters and territory is too tempting to pass up. For Ortega, the new phase of military cooperation between Russia and Nicaragua gives him a propaganda victory which could entice otherwise reluctant international companies and nation-states to invest in Nicaragua.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Fights For His Political Life

Pakistan’s embattled leader is not giving up without a fight. Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation as a no-confidence vote prepares to make its way through parliament on Sunday. He told Pakistanis he has no intention of leaving office on anyone else’s terms. “I will not resign,” Khan said, invoking a cricket analogy: “I will fight until the last ball.”

Also in the address, Khan blamed the United States, claiming Washington has conspired with opposition parties to remove him from power. Criticism of the US war on terror, US drone attacks against targets in his country and Pakistan’s refusal to allow the US military to stage attacks against targets in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan from the country were cited as the primary reasons for the US to seek his dismissal. Khan also claimed the US is attempting to control Pakistan’s foreign policy.

It is no secret that Washington is dissatisfied with Pakistan’s geopolitical maneuvers in recent months and years. Khan has attempted to reach out to Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders and establish a rapport that could lay the foundation for a relationship down the line. Under Khan, Pakistan has continued to foster closer ties with China as US-China relations continue to deteriorate.

Khan has also had problems at home. Namely, the cooling relations between him and the military. Although Pakistan’s military is no longer the de facto ruler of the nation, it maintains a powerful presence in domestic politics. Some would even say it continues to control Pakistan from behind the scenes. The fact it now perceives Khan as a possible threat speaks volumes about the vast political instability that exists just beneath the surface in Pakistan.

Author’s Note: Back to Ukraine later this evening or tomorrow, as well as some changes to the blog’s theme and layout. The present setup is only permanent. Once I get some time tomorrow, I’ll work on it.