US insists it will operate around Taiwan, despite pressure from China

The Biden administration vows to continue to sail warships through the Taiwan Strait and conduct air operations in the region in response to Chinese military drills that US officials say are moving towards a long-term pressure strategy increased military on the island.

Administration officials said they did not want to escalate the tense standoff, which China says was sparked by President Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island last week. But in interviews and public statements, US and Taiwanese officials have made clear they now believe China used Ms Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to step up operations to intimidate Taiwan for months or years to come. , and perhaps accelerate the timeline of his plans to establish control over the island’s 23 million people, just as he did in Hong Kong.

In a few weeks, officials said, the US Navy plans to sail ships through the Taiwan Strait, ignoring China’s recent assertion that it controls the entire waterway. Officials said they would not send the Ronald Reagan, the Japan-based aircraft carrier, because it would be too provocative.

Colin H. Kahl, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told reporters this week that China was trying to “coerce” Taiwan and the international community.

“And all I’ll say is we’re not going to take the bait and it’s not going to work,” he said.

He insisted the United States would conduct business as usual: “What we will do instead is continue to fly, navigate and operate wherever international law allows us, and this includes in the Taiwan Strait.”

Asked about rising tensions, President Biden said on Monday he was “concerned that they are moving as much as they are,” an apparent reference to the Pentagon’s assessment that China has sent 20 destroyers and frigates in the waters around Taiwan.

Asked if it was a “wise decision” for Ms Pelosi to visit the island despite warnings from China, Mr Biden simply replied: “It was his decision.

Interviews with various administration, intelligence and military officials, as well as outside experts, revealed a growing sense that the Chinese drills were not just a reaction to the speaker’s brief visit. , but a turning point in Chinese strategy. Several officials said they believed President Xi Jinping was seeking to demonstrate a greater willingness to use force to accomplish reunification, if necessary.

In a white paper the Chinese government released on Wednesday, Beijing said it would prefer unification through peaceful means, but also made clear it was keeping all options on the table. And although the Chinese army’s Eastern Theater Command said it had completed its exercises, which continued this week and included anti-submarine activities, it said it organize regular combat patrols directed towards the island.

On Tuesday, Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, said he suspected China of trying to “routinize its action with the aim of destroying the long-term status quo across the Taiwan Strait”, and was using its missile tests “to deter other countries”. to interfere with its attempt to invade Taiwan. Several US officials said they were designing responses to show they would not be deterred from defending the island.

The drills came just weeks after a new US intelligence assessment concluded that Mr Xi could try to move against the island over the next year and a half. Intelligence suggests that Mr. Xi fears his military advantage will diminish as the United States moves to arm Taiwan more quickly, including with weapons that proved effective against Russian forces during the invasion of Taiwan. Ukraine.

Now Taiwan has become such a central part of Mr. Xi’s agenda — and such a flashpoint with the United States — that it threatens to overwhelm Mr. Biden’s efforts to find a series of problems in which the largest and second largest economies in the world can work together.

The White House described a July 28 two-and-a-half-hour conversation between the two leaders as largely focused on that agenda. But on Friday, as live-fire exercises around Taiwan neared their climax, Beijing suspended all talks on climate change, trade and counter-narcotics operations and arms control.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said China “should not hijack cooperation on issues of global concern because of the differences between our two countries.” But other administration officials said China clearly sees climate cooperation as leverage in its relations with the United States, its Western allies and even its Pacific neighbors.

Adm. Scott H. Swift, former commander of the US Pacific Fleet, predicted that the past week will be seen as pivotal in the relationship. China’s stance will become “much more hardened”, he said, and Beijing will turn to “a playbook to provide much more timely, and perhaps pre-emptive responses” to efforts to prop up Taiwan.

Several officials have begun openly comparing Mr. Xi’s actions toward Taiwan to President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to take over Ukraine – a connection they were hesitant to make until a few weeks ago. Speaking at the commemoration of the Battle of the Solomon Islands 80 years ago, Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State, denounced leaders who “believe that coercion, pressure and violence are tools to use with impunity”. She did not name them but went on to say that they believe “the principles and institutions the world put in place after World War II” can now be “ignored and undermined, diminished and destroyed”.

There are early indications that China has alienated other powers with its show of force. Both the Group of 7 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued statements condemning the action or urging China to back down, something that was missing in the last Taiwan crisis in 1996, when the United States United were largely alone in speaking out – and sending two groups of carriers to the region.

Undoubtedly, the threats against Taiwan have hardened anti-China attitudes on Capitol Hill, where condemnation of Beijing is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement. Several lawmakers have started talking about China and Russia as common adversaries of the United States, even though there is little evidence that they are working together.

Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, called the threats against Taiwan “another reminder that we have entered a new era of authoritarian aggression led by dictators Xi Jinping of China and Putin of Russia.” They are increasingly isolated and dangerous, driven by historical grievances, paranoid about their democratic neighbors, and ready to use military force and other aggressive actions to crush the citizens of countries as we see them in the Taiwan Strait and Ukraine.

At the Pentagon, officials said China’s drills were far more complex than previous shows of force, demonstrating Beijing’s ability to deploy an armada of aircraft, warships and missile batteries on short notice.

China’s ability to sustain such operations for weeks or months, such as the war in Ukraine, is unclear and would be a crucial test for Beijing’s military, officials said. Even so, specific parts of the multi-day drills have impressed US analysts. China’s navy and air force have caught the public’s eye, and US analysts at the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have taken particular note of China’s missile prowess.

“China has the most advanced and largest missile inventory in the world,” said Eric Sayers, a former senior adviser to the US Indo-Pacific Command and fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. “They test these capabilities often, but seeing them employ missile strikes in multiple sea domains really shows how advanced their rocket force has become.”

The American reaction seems to be inspired at least in part by the scenario of the 1996 crisis. At that time, President Bill Clinton ordered a group of carriers to open the Taiwan Strait and send another in the region from the Persian Gulf.

In the latest case, the Pentagon – after extensive consultations with the White House – ordered Ronald Reagan and his strike group to remain in the region, near the Philippines.

US officials said the drills gave US intelligence analysts an unusual opportunity to get a sense of the strengths and potential vulnerabilities in China’s ability to mobilize and deploy its forces. Meanwhile, analysts say, the drills test for the first time China’s ability to perform complex military maneuvers amid commercial air and sea traffic, and ensure the accuracy and safety of nearby missile launches. heavily populated areas.

“It is clear from all Seventh Fleet air and sea platforms in the region that they are closely monitoring this exercise to ensure it does not become kinetic,” Sayers said.

In Japan, the surprise was that five Chinese missiles landed in what the Japanese consider its exclusive economic zone – launches widely seen as a message to Tokyo and Washington. The missiles were not far from American bases in Okinawa.

Still, Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat and research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, said China was showing restraint. “The immediate Chinese reaction is controlled,” Miyake said. “It’s booked.”

He added that Mr. Xi “really wants to survive. He wants to be re-elected for a third term. So he really doesn’t want to go to war with the United States right now.

But the missile attacks only reinforced moves in Japan to spend more on defense and loosen some of the constitutional interpretations that have kept Japanese forces close to their shores. “I think China may have sent the wrong message to the Japanese people,” Miyake said.

“For those who really want to strengthen Japan’s deterrence capability or defense capability, this is a golden opportunity.”

Comments are closed.