The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part II

Joe Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack seems to have been an off the cuff move by the American president. It certainly raised eyebrows and alarm bells across the world, signaling a shift in long-standing US policy. In one instant Biden removed all ambiguity over the US military’s role in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Or did he? Even now, weeks later, it’s difficult to determine how sincere Biden’s comments were. There was a considerable amount of backstepping by the White House in the days after Biden’s pledge especially on the matter of how the US now regards the One-China policy.

In the eyes of many in Taiwan and in other areas of the Western Pacific, the United States is now committed to Taiwan’s defense should hostilities break out. Biden’s pledge carries a considerable amount of weight. If China managed to call Biden’s bluff somehow, the ramifications the security and stability of the Western Pacific would be altered significantly and not in Washington’s favor. An outbreak of fighting between China and Taiwan would have a similar effect of US forces remained on the sidelines.

With a new Taiwan Strait crisis lurking on the horizon, the Biden Administration needs to come to terms with the fact its pledge might bring the US and China to blows.

Note: The week has sort of gotten away from me here. I was hoping to get this out earlier, but the opportunity never came about. I want to discuss the US pledge to defend Taiwan more. Hopefully I can get another more detailed entry out by the end of the weekend on this subject.

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.

A Quick Glance At The Western Pacific (More Tomorrow)

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.

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.

Western Pacific Update 1 June, 2022: Chinese ‘Readiness Patrols’ and A US-Taiwan Trade Initiative

Earlier today, China’s military announced it had conducted a ‘readiness’ patrol in the waters and airspace around Taiwan, claiming the move is in response to “collusion” between Washington and Taipei. On Monday, thirty Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense zone, prompting a coordinated response. Fighters were scrambled, and air defense, as well as radar sites were activated. 2022 has seen over 450 incursions of Taiwan’s ADIZ by Chinese warplanes. Since the start of Russia’s war with Ukraine the tempo of Chinese operations around Taiwan has decreased significantly. Following Monday’s ‘readiness’ patrol, there is growing suspicion that the lull is over.

President Biden’s comments on defending Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack was obviously not appreciated by Beijing. The PRC continues to regard Taiwan as its own territory. A primary purpose for the PLAAF and PLAN maneuvers in close proximity to the island nation is warning the United States to stop meddling in ‘Chinese affairs.’ Flexing its military might has not yielded the results Beijing has anticipated, however.

In the wake of Biden’s trip to Asia, the US is moving to establish stronger economic ties with Taipei. A US-Taiwan trade initiative was announced today and is expected to begin trade negotiations between the two nations before a formal free trade agreement can be signed. The initiative comes after Taiwan was excluded from the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.