Source: AUN News
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has grown increasingly anxious this summer about China’s statements and actions regarding Taiwan, with some officials fearing that Chinese leaders might try to move against the self-governing island over the next year and a half — perhaps by trying to cut off access to all or part of the Taiwan Strait, through which U.S. naval ships regularly pass.
The internal worries have sharpened in recent days, as the administration quietly works to try to dissuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from going through with a proposed visit to Taiwan next month, U.S. officials say. Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, would be the first speaker to visit Taiwan since 1997, and the Chinese government has repeatedly denounced her reported plans and threatened retaliation.
U.S. officials see a greater risk of conflict and miscalculation over Ms. Pelosi’s trip as President Xi Jinping of China and other Communist Party leaders prepare in the coming weeks for an important political meeting in which Mr. Xi is expected to extend his rule.
Chinese officials have strongly asserted this summer that no part of the Taiwan Strait can be considered international waters, contrary to the views of the United States and other nations. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in June that “China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait.”
American officials do not know whether China plans to enforce that claim. But Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who is close to President Biden and deals with the administration often on issues involving Taiwan, said “there is a lot of attention being paid” to what lessons China, its military and Mr. Xi might be learning from events in Ukraine.
“And one school of thought is that the lesson is ‘go early and go strong’ before there is time to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses,” Mr. Coons said in an interview on Sunday. “And we may be heading to an earlier confrontation — more a squeeze than an invasion — than we thought.”
Chinese officials are aware that Biden administration officials, also applying lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are trying to shape their weapons sales to Taiwan to turn the democratic island into what some call a “porcupine” — bristling with enough effective armaments and defense systems to deter Chinese leaders from trying to attack it.
U.S. officials say they are not aware of any specific piece of intelligence indicating the Chinese leadership has decided to move soon on Taiwan. But analysts inside and outside the U.S. government are studying to determine what might be the optimal time for China to take bolder actions to undermine Taiwan and the United States.
A central question is what top Chinese officials think of the evolving strengths of the Chinese military relative to those of Taiwan, the United States and regional U.S. allies that include Japan and South Korea.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the Chinese military’s behavior in the Asia-Pacific region was “significantly more and noticeably more aggressive.”
Senior U.S. official travels to Taiwan have drawn criticism from Chinese officials, who view the visits as equivalent to formal diplomatic interaction with the island. After learning that she had tested positive for the coronavirus, Ms. Pelosi postponed her visit that she had originally scheduled for April.
At a regularly scheduled media briefing on Monday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, stated: “If the United States insists on moving forward, China will take firm and resolute measures to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the U.S. will be responsible for all of the serious consequences.”
Despite the growing controversy around it, U.S. officials acknowledged that the preparations for Ms. Pelosi’s travel were continuing.
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As is customary for such visits, Ms. Pelosi would probably fly to Taipei aboard a U.S. military aircraft. According to some observers who have studied Chinese criticisms of the planned visit, China could dispatch aircraft to “escort” her plane and prevent it from landing.
Although unlikely, this scenario is a real fear, according to U.S. officials, and Washington would view any such action as a major escalation. Due to the delicate nature of diplomatic issues, the officials who were interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Despite not announcing her travel intentions in public, Ms. Pelosi stated last week that “it’s crucial for us to express solidarity for Taiwan.”
Since 1979, when Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in order to restore relations with Beijing, the highest-ranking U.S. government officials to visit Taiwan in a working capacity were a cabinet member and a top State Department official. The last House Speaker to go to Taiwan was Newt Gingrich, 25 years ago.
Last Wednesday, in response to a question from reporters regarding the planned visit, Mr. Biden stated that “the military feels it’s not a smart idea right now.” Additionally, he declared that he would speak with Mr. Xi, the Chinese president, within the following ten days.
The two last communicated via video chat in March, during which Mr. Biden threatened “implications and consequences” if China supported Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
In order to prepare for the party’s 20th congress in the fall, Mr. Xi and other top Chinese officials and Communist Party elders are anticipated to attend private meetings in August in the beach resort of Beidaihe before the official conclave. According to analysts, Mr. Xi will almost definitely defy convention by running for president a third time, as well as continuing to serve as party secretary and head of the Central Military Commission.
In the months leading up to the party congress, when Xi hopes to be approved for an unprecedented third term, Susan L. Shirk, a former senior State Department official and author of “Overreach,” a forthcoming book on Chinese politics, said: “The domestic political situation in China right now is extremely tense.”
She warned: “There is a possibility that Speaker Pelosi’s visit will be seen as a betrayal of Xi’s leadership, even by Xi himself, and that he will act hastily to demonstrate his power.” We can’t rely on his caution in his military response to Pelosi’s trip given his recent errors in judgement that have hurt the nation and generated internal strife, including the harsh management of Covid, supporting Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, and the crackdown on private businesses. Delaying is preferable to starting a conflict.
Officials from the Pentagon and the White House have been in contact with Ms. Pelosi’s office to discuss the political climate and potential hazards of the trip. The choice is hers, according to the authorities.
The goal of Beijing’s military response, according to Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, is to be viewed as strong without being overly aggressive and igniting a wider confrontation.
Nobody, according to Mr. Shi, “can forecast in any detail what China will do militarily.”
Hu Xijin, a former editor-in-chief of the Communist Party’s nationalist Global Times, warned on Twitter that Chinese military aircraft could follow Ms. Pelosi’s aircraft and enter Taiwan’s airspace as it flew over the island. He added that the steps taken by China will result in “a shocking military response.”
According to analysts, China might take a less inflammatory action. For instance, Beijing may do what it did in 2020 in response to a visit by Alex Azar, then the U.S. secretary of health and human services, by sending planes across the median line down the centre of the strait between China and Taiwan.
Since 2020, Chinese fighter jets have increasingly frequently violated that boundary and flown within the island’s air defence identification zone.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou stated on Monday that Taipei had not been given any “concrete” information regarding Ms. Pelosi’s visit.
Any such visit by the speaker would be warmly received by representatives and politicians from Taiwan’s two major political parties.
Alexander Huang, the Washington representative for the opposition party Kuomintang, stated that Speaker Pelosi has a large following in Taiwan and that her visit will be a powerful declaration of American support for Taiwan democracy.
Many in Taiwan are concerned that if the trip is cancelled, Beijing will think that its intimidation tactics are effective.
Republicans in Congress have publicly urged Ms. Pelosi to go with the trip as a way to protest China.
Cancelling the trip could jeopardise Washington’s efforts to improve Taiwan’s relations with other democracies and to raise its profile in international organisations and venues, according to Ivan Kanapathy, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a China director on the National Security Council under Presidents Trump and Biden.
According to Mr. Kanapathy, “China worries about what the U.S. does in large part because we make room for others.” “And that’s what China actually worries about the most – greater international legitimacy for the Taiwanese administration.”
There are, according to some commentators, less dangerous ways to show your support for Taiwan. For instance, Washington might establish a bilateral trade pact or send a senior military officer to the island, which would help it become less dependent on China economically.
According to U.S. military officials, the People’s Liberation Army would find it challenging to launch a sea and air invasion of Taiwan today. If China were to act against Taiwan earlier than anticipated, it might do it gradually, possibly by first citing their previous statement regarding the status of the Taiwan Strait and carrying out a modest operation to ascertain how Washington would respond. Another hypothesis is that Beijing may attempt to take a nearby outer island.
According to American officials, it is improbable that China’s leadership has chosen whether or not to conduct an operation. But in Washington, wargames and simulations of the topic are frequently conducted.
The national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, stated on Friday at the Aspen Security Forum that Taiwan was taking lessons from Ukraine. He claimed that after years of spending a lot of money on defence hardware, Taiwan was now focusing more on “citizen mobilizations” and “information warfare.”
He added that supplying Taiwan will put further strain on the manufacture of American military weapons.
Longer-term issues include making sure that our defence industry basis, the American defence industrial base, and the defence industrial bases of our allies can support the level of security assistance that we will need to continue providing to Ukraine, Taiwan, and ourselves.
Advocacy Unified Network is analyzing the potential conflict situation.