Five points to understand the new military escalation between China and Taiwan that puts the U.S. on alert
As if it were Groundhog Day, China and Taiwan are reliving every year the tensions of a conflict that remains entrenched. Any element that could be used to destabilize relations between the island and mainland China is systematically responded to with weapons, threats and, on occasion, military maneuvers that put the world on alert.
This is what has happened on this occasion. The meeting in California last Wednesday of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, and the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing Wen, has raised blisters in Beijing. The response has not been long in coming and on Monday the Chinese Army began maneuvers just a few kilometers from the island. These are the five keys to understand what is happening in the new episode of tension in the area.
A stalemated conflict
The civil war in China ended in 1949 with the flight to Taiwan of the Nationalist forces that lost the conflict. The communists, despite having won, did not have the capacity to cross the strait separating them from the island and finish conquering the territory that was historically Chinese.. Taiwan’s dominance was never completed and the two began at that time to compete internationally for official status as the ‘real China’.
Today, only fourteen countries recognize Taiwan as an independent state. None of them are Western powers. During the Cold War the U.S. began an alliance with Taiwan, which opened the door to the South China Sea for them. and to be able to stay close to the Asian giant.
Until 1979, the United States and Taiwan had a mutual defense treaty that obliged them to come to each other when another country attacked them. However, after Jimmy Carter’s change of position, the U.S. no longer has an obligation to defend Taiwan. in the event of war. However, they do not deny their military and diplomatic support to Taiwan, which generates friction with the Asian giant.
The meeting between Kevin McCarthy and Tsai Ing Wen
Historically few senior U.S. representatives had set foot on the island before last August 2, when Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Taiwan, sparking major friction between Washington and Beijing..
His position passed in January 2023 to Kevin McCarthy, who four months later did not hesitate to hold a bilateral meeting with the President of Taiwan, within the framework of Tsai Ing Wen’s trip to the United States. During a press conference held by the two after the meeting, the American reiterated that “America’s support for the people of Taiwan will remain steadfast.unwavering and bipartisan.”
Likewise, in this meeting both leaders talked about the. shipment of arms to the island. “I promise you, Madam President, we will send those arms,” McCaul proclaimed, referring to a batch of defense items valued at 17.285 million euros which Washington agreed to sell to the island last December. The congressman also pointed out that “showing weakness invites aggression and conflict,” while “showing strength deters and promotes peace.”
The president affirmed that this this meeting is to prove that the Taiwanese “are neither isolated nor alone”He used the meeting to remind the congressmen of “Taiwan’s commitment to maintain and defend a peaceful ‘status quo’ so that the people of Taiwan will continue to live in a free and open society”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang quickly condemned the meeting and asserted that it was “a serious violation of the one-China principle. “Violates China’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity, and sends an egregious wrong signal to the separatist forces of ‘independent Taiwan,'” he said.
Although the United States assured to maintain “open lines of communication” with China, the truth is that Beijing’s response did not remain only in words. Last Friday the Chinese Army announced new military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. Throughout last weekend and until this Monday, all branches of the Chinese Army have carried out artillery exercises, naval and air deployments and missile launching drills that have “Surrounded Taiwan island from four directions.“, Eastern Command spokesman Col. Shi Yi explained.
70 fighter jets and eleven Chinese Army ships have approached its airspace
The spokesman has confirmed that these exercises are intended to send a “stern message” against “secessionist forces demanding Taiwan’s independence and their “collusion with outside forces.” in a “necessary move to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The military maneuvers conducted simulated attacks on key targets on the island and in surrounding waters on Sunday.
Taiwan’s Air Force Command denounced Monday that. 70 fighter jets and eleven ships of the Chinese Army. have approached its air and sea space, as they have been doing repeatedly over the past few days in a series of military maneuvers. Specifically, 35 of the Chinese fighters have reportedly entered the air defense identification zone southwest of Taiwan, the country’s Defense Ministry has detailed in a message on the social network Twitter. In response, Taiwan has monitored the situation and has assigned Air Force aircraft, Navy vessels and land-based missile systems.
U.S. sends destroyer
Although the United States no longer has an obligation to defend the island, the fact remains that. continue to assure that they will not allow a Chinese invasion.. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged that any unilateral Chinese action on Taiwan would pose an imminent danger to global stability. “It appears that Chinese leaders no longer find acceptable the status quo that has set Taiwan’s course for the past 40 years and has helped preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Blinken has lamented.
The US secretary has clarified that, while he does not explicitly support Taiwan’s independence, he will provide its authorities with “whatever they need to defend themselves against any attack.“.
In this regard, the U.S. Army announced Monday that. a destroyer missile launcher is already sailing in waters near islands in the South China Sea that Beijing disputes with countries in the area. According to a statement released today by the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Milius is sailing “close” to the Spratly Islands, which China disputes with the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, in an exercise in defense of the “freedom of navigation consistent with international law.”
In particular, the text adds that the vessel performs. “normal operations.” in the twelve nautical miles (the limit established by the UN to designate a state’s sovereignty over maritime territories) of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, which China has occupied and which is disputed by Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
For its part, China considers this a provocation. “The USS Milius illegally entered the waters near the Spratly islands without the approval of the Chinese government“, the spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA, Chinese Army), Tian Junli, said Monday. According to Tian, the PLA’s Southern Theater of Operations organized “naval and air forces to track and warn” the U.S. warship. The spokesman said China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters.
Elections in one year
In addition to the tensions produced by the visits and meetings between the US and Taiwan, another element is generating uncertainty in the region: the Taiwanese elections. In 2024, elections will be held on the Asian island and relations with China will also depend on who wins. In this regard, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Michael McCaul, has warned that China could conquer Taiwan “without a shot fired.” thanks to its influence through the victory of the Kuomintang or Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP), considered akin to Beijing, in the presidential election on January 13, 2024.
“There is a political debate here with two different parties. One party wants to talk to China (the Kuomingtang). President Tsai Ing Wen’s party (the Democratic Progressive Party, DPP) does not want to be part of China,” McCaul said in an interview with the television network NBC. “The upcoming elections are going to be of enormous importance. because I think that since former President Ma (Ying Jeou of the Kuomintang) is in China right now, China is going to try to influence these elections and conquer the island and without firing a single shot,” he added.
McCaul is right now in the middle of a tour of Taiwan, South Korea and Japan that began after the meeting in California.