BANGKOK (AP) — China’s response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was anything but subtle: It sent warships and military aircraft to all sides of the self-governing democratic island. and fired ballistic missiles into nearby waters.
The dust hasn’t settled yet, with Taiwan this week run drills on your own and Beijing announcing that he has more maneuvers planned, but experts say a lot can already be gleaned from what China has and hasn’t done so far. China will also draw lessons about its own military capabilities from the exercises, which looked more like what an actual attack on the island claimed by Beijing as its own territory would look like, and from the US and Taiwanese response.
During the almost one week maneuvers Following Pelosi’s visit in early August, China regularly sailed ships and flew planes across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, claiming that the de facto boundary did not exist, missiles fired over Taiwan itself and defied established norms by firing missiles at Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
“I think we are in a risky period of testing the limits and finding out who can achieve scaled dominance in the diplomatic, military and economic domains,” said David Chen, an analyst at CENTRA Technology, a US-based consulting firm. .
Pelosi was the highest-ranking member of the US government to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and his visit came at a particularly sensitive timeas Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to seek a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party later this year.
Under Xi, China has been increasingly forceful in declaring that Taiwan must be under its control. by force if necessary – and US military officials have said that Beijing may seek a military solution in the coming years.
Tensions were already highwith China conducting regular military flights near Taiwan and the US routinely sailing warships through the Taiwan Strait to emphasize that these are international waters.
China accuses the United States of encouraging the island’s independence through arms sales and compromise between US politicians and the island’s government.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying called Pelosi’s visit “serious provocation” and accused Washington of breaking the status quo and “interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
“China is not the old China of 120 years ago, and we are not Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan; we will not allow any foreign force to intimidate, suppress or enslave us,” he told reporters in Beijing. “Whoever wants to do it will be on a collision course with the Great Wall of steel forged by the 1.4 billion Chinese.”
The US continues to insist that it has not strayed from its “one China” policy, recognizing the Beijing government while allowing informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.
China delayed its maneuvers until Pelosi left Taiwan, and backed off its forces before they got close to the coast or Taiwan’s territorial airspace, which showed a “moderate minimum,” Chen said. But, he pointed out, another congress visit following Pelosi triggered the announcement of more exercises.
“We are probably entering a period of regular military demonstrations in and around China’s maritime domain,” he said.
“The Chinese Communist Party is also quite capable of creating cross-domain responses, as has been seen in the cyber realm. Beyond that, we could see staggered motions in space, in the South China Sea, Africa, the Indian Ocean, or the South Pacific.”
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said the scale and timing of the exercises suggested that China I was looking beyond Taiwan toward establishing dominance in the western Pacific. That would include controlling the East and South China seas across the Taiwan Strait, and having the ability to impose a blockade to prevent the United States and its allies from coming to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an attack.
Apart from an armed conflict, a blockade of the Taiwan Strait, an important route for world trade, could have important implications for international supply chains at a time when the world is already facing disruption.
In particular, Taiwan is a crucial supplier of computer chips to the global economy.
Although it was ostensibly a reaction to Pelosi’s visit, it’s clear the China exercises had been planned for a long time, said Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund think tank.
I think they were looking for a opportunity to climb,” she said. “This is not something that is prepared after the announcement (of the visit) and then carried out so quickly and easily.”
The United States held back during the maneuvers, keeping an aircraft carrier group and two amphibious assault ships sailing in the region, but not near the island. Taiwan avoided any active countermeasures.
Kurt Campbell, coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs for the Biden administration, said this week that the US was taking a “calm and determined” long-term approach that would include continued transits across the Taiwan Strait, supporting self-defense capabilities. from Taiwan and otherwise. deepening ties with the island.
To that end, the US announced Thursday that it was starting talks with Taiwan on a wide-ranging trade deal.
Campbell said that Washington sees China’s actions as “part of an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan, which is not over.”
“We expect it to continue to develop in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
The US Department of Defense has recognized China’s increasingly capable military, saying it has become a real rival and has already surpassed the US military in some areas, including shipbuilding, and now has the US Navy. biggest in the world.
The reserved US response to the recent exercises seemed calculated to avoid any accidental confrontation that might have aggravated the situation, but could also boost China’s confidence, Ohlberg said.
“The basis of China’s thinking is that the US is in decline and China is on the rise, and I suppose the response in Beijing would have been seen as confirmation of that thinking,” he said.
The US and China came perhaps closest to blows in 1996, when China, angered by what it saw as increased US support for Taiwan, fired missiles into the waters about 30 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast of Taiwan. ahead of Taiwan’s first popular presidential election. .
The United States responded with its own show of force, sending two carrier groups to the region. At the time, China had no aircraft carriers and few means to threaten US ships, and it backed down.
China subsequently embarked on a massive modernization of its military, and recent exercises demonstrate a “quantum leap” of improvement since 1996, showing joint command-and-control coordination never seen before, Chen said.
However, before it is confident enough to launch an actual invasion of Taiwan, the Chinese military still needs to do more to assure the country’s political leaders that it will succeed, he said.
“These latest exercises are probably part of the test of that capability, but more work needs to be done before they can be confident of carrying out a full-scale amphibious invasion of Taiwan,” he said. “Only the sea blockade and air control portions of that campaign have been demonstrated, unopposed.”
After the visit, China released an updated “white paper” on Taiwan outlining what it envisioned an eventual annexation of the island would look like.
He said he would follow the “one country, two systems” format applied in Hong Kong, which critics say has been undermined by a sweeping national security law that asserts Beijing’s control over political speech and participation. The concept has been completely rejected in Taiwanese public opinion polls in which respondents have overwhelmingly favored its current de facto independence.
Tellingly, the new white paper scrapped a promise in its previous iteration not to send troops or government officials to an annexed Taiwan.
China has refused all contact with the Taiwanese government since shortly after the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2020.
China’s bellicose response to Pelosi’s visit may have the unintended effect of strengthening the DPP in this year’s midterm elections, said Huang Kwei-bo, deputy dean of the College of International Affairs at National Taiwan Chengchi University.
Ideally, it would be in Taiwan’s best interest if both sides backed down and found “reasonable ways” to resolve differences, he said.
“There’s an old saying that when two big elephants fight, the ant and the grass suffer,” he said.
AP reporter Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.
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