China took several aggressive actions this weekend following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, including launching ballistic missiles into Taiwan territory and imposing sanctions on Pelosi. While the incident may not lead to all-out war, it is a further step in the unraveling of the relationship between the US and China — and gives the Chinese military the training it needs to carry out future attacks.
Pelosi is the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since former Speaker Newt Gingrich left in 1997. In the 25 years since then, China has grown both its economy and military exponentially. Along with this came the nation’s desire – and increased ability – to claim Taiwan. taiwan, which is self-governing independently of Beijing and under current President Tsai Ing-wen, has increasingly challenged Beijing’s tactic to “reunify” Taiwan with mainland China.
Now, the US is hoping to avoid a diplomatic and possibly military crisis with China. The relationship between the two superpowers has deteriorated rapidly in recent years due to a host of issues including the abuse of Uyghur minorities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the crackdown on pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, increased coordination between the US and Taiwan under the Trump administration , and alleged espionage and hacking by the Chinese government.
“There is a lot to object to in Chinese behavior, but, that said, there is a lot of behavior that the Chinese object to that various stakeholders in the U.S. are simply ignoring and bypassing, and perhaps doing so at their peril,” said Daniel Russell. , the vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Institute told Vox.
Previous governments have practiced “strategic ambiguity” – seeking to reassure Taiwan without inflaming China. In May, Biden pledged that the US would go above and beyond the support it has already provided to Ukraine if China invades Taiwan, although members of his administration, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, insisted that Biden’s statement was in line with policy of One China — the official admission that the mainland is China and Beijing is the seat of power.
Now, China is conducting large-scale military exercises in the Taiwan Straits— allegedly launched 11 ballistic missiles in the area of the island, Reuters reported on Thursday. This is the first time China has made such a move since 1996 – showing how much has changed since the last time the US and China faced off against Taiwan.
20 PLA aircraft (SU-30*10, J-16*4, J-11*4, Y-8 ASW and Y-20 Aerial Refueling) and 14 vessels conducted an air-sea operation in the vicinity of the ROC on August 6; 2022. Check our official website for more information: https://t.co/Tj6C1y0WHR pic.twitter.com/apjMe6IYMn
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, ROC (@MoNDefense) August 6, 2022
“[The Chinese military is] probably not even halfway through the various things they have in mind,” Daniel Russell, vice president of international security and diplomacy at the Asia Institute, told Vox. “I think it’s pretty clear that the Chinese are in the action phase, the retaliation phase, as they call it, and they’re not interested in resting until they’ve completed this round of punitive measures.”
The ultimate goal, at least when it comes to Taiwan, is not necessarily a military takeover — China is not yet capable of that, Russell said. Instead, each crisis is calibrated “to bring Taiwan, in effect, to its knees, to force the Taiwanese leadership to capitulate to the mainland’s terms for political negotiation.”
China’s military power has grown significantly over the past three decades
China has become more aggressive in defending its interests in many areas, including militarily in the South China Sea and with a hostile crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong — both of which pose a threat to Taiwan’s democratic system.
China has claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea and several islands in the vicinity, including Taiwan, Territorial Sea Act 1992. This document also outlines the conditions under which military vessels and aircraft may enter Chinese territory. Now, 30 years later, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has the means to impose sovereignty and it did so with increasingly challenging sea action including the militarized islands in the South China Sea
The US maintains that it has significant economic and security interests in the region and behaves regularly freedom of navigation and other exercises there, using military sea and air power to maintain the freedom of the maritime areas. The US also sells weapons systems to Taiwan for defense purposes under the Taiwan Relations Act 1979, but these capabilities are simply no match for what China’s military has produced over the past 25 years. Additionally, just last year, both American and Taiwanese stakeholders expressed concern that Taiwan’s military was suffering from low morale and readiness among reservists and conscripts. That’s partly due to a lack of funding and a disorganized reserve system, as well as the belief among many Taiwanese that the U.S. will support their military in the event of any major attack, according to Wall Street Journal survey since last October.
China’s military development currently based on civil-military integrationwhich includes significant investment in technical research and development and dual-purpose technology aimed at strengthening both the military and the economy. This resulted in significant weapon system developments, including the so-called “carrier killer” missile. which reportedly can attack ships as large as modern US aircraft carrierstherefore potentially preventing US warships from operating in what China considers its own territory.
The situation is a far cry from the 1995-1996 crisis in the Taiwan Straits, when a visit by Lee Teng-HuI, who would become Taiwan’s first democratically elected president in 1996 at Cornell University, stoked tensions between the US and China. China then deployed missiles and conducted military exercises in Taiwan territory, but the US was able to fend off these provocations with sending two carrier groups transiting the Taiwan Straits.
Since suffering this humiliation, the Chinese government has pushed to build a military capable of facing — and defeating — the US in a conflict. What the People’s Liberation Army lacks is war zone experience, Russell told Vox. “They’re exercising and that’s not good for us,” he said. “And it’s something that directly remedies the People’s Liberation Army’s biggest shortcoming – namely, that unlike the US military, they haven’t spent the last 50 years at war.” Therefore, Pelosi’s visit was the perfect excuse to gain battlefield experience in the ideal context.
“The Chinese are taking advantage of what they see as a challenge,” Russell said. “They take advantage of this to practice things that, under normal circumstances, would be so challenging that they wouldn’t dare rehearse. So these are joint exercises that are actually dry runs for a military action against Taiwan — whether it’s a blockade or an attack of another kind.”
Is there a diplomatic solution to the crisis?
There’s no reason to believe that China will launch an all-out amphibious assault on Taiwan at this point, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t currently serious risks.
“When it comes to de-escalation, rule number one: Don’t do anything that makes things worse,” Russel said. But that is easier said than done when the diplomatic relations that would normally serve to diffuse such tensions are as frayed as they are now. The White House was called Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang on Friday to reprimand him for the military exercises; Now, China has called for discussions on other critical issues and its military officials they do not respond to Pentagon initiatives — increasing the likelihood of accidents and misinterpretations getting out of hand.
“You have a lot of US, PRC and Taiwan assets floating around, in a relatively limited space. In the past there have been accidents where perhaps overzealous or inexperienced Chinese pilots have collided with US planes – even more recently there have been many more examples of very dangerous maneuvers by Chinese pilots and Chinese ship captains,” Russel said. “So that risk is real, and what makes it dangerous is not that an American plane and a Chinese plane could crash, but that the US and China don’t have the mechanisms — the relationships, the dialogues, etc. — that serve to prevent escalation, prevent an incident from turning into a crisis and a crisis that leads to conflict.”
A complicating factor appears to be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s need for a show of strength to shore up his power ahead of China’s 20th Party Congress later this year, where major leadership changes will be announced. Michael Raskaassistant professor at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Bloomberg that China’s exercises in the Taiwan Strait are “a show of force that consolidates Xi’s political power at home and paves the way for a third term of. election.”
It’s also a distraction from the fact that “things are going to hell in a handbasket in Xi Jinping’s China,” Russel said. Among the technology usage limits, social control and major economic issues like a severe housing crisis, Chinese citizens are ridiculous the government’s policies for the social network Weibo — Giving Xi every reason to put pressure on Taiwan and the US, Russell said.
China announced it too will not continue talks with US officials on climate change, an area where the US and China had willingly cooperated until Pelosi’s trip. “Whenever there is an event that causes tensions between Washington and Beijing to rise, as Nancy Pelosi’s visit did, [it] it leaves the relationship, when it calms down, much worse,” Russell said, noting that Taiwan is not the only issue the US and China need to negotiate on.
“It makes the prospects for any kind of real progress — not negotiating the fate of Taiwan, but the two great powers on planet Earth learning how to share the globe without blowing it up — make this mission even more difficult.”