A War Looms Between China and the US on the Taiwan Front

Murad Jandali | 2 years ago




One of the most contentious issues between the United States and China is the Taiwan issue, which has recently emerged as a serious flashpoint, with US officials fearing imminent Chinese action against the autonomous island.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan recently, which is the first visit by a US official in Congress in 25 years, led to an escalation of tension between the two largest economies in the world.

Pelosi's visit also came at a sensitive time for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is preparing to run for a third term at the upcoming Communist Party Congress.

Pelosi's visit drew opposition from China; the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement describing the visit as sending the wrong signals to the separatist forces seeking independence for Taiwan.

The ministry added that "Pelosi's visit seriously violates the one-China principle and the provisions of the three US-Chinese agreements," noting that this visit is a huge political provocation.

China has always pledged to control the island of about 24 million people, by force if necessary, and reacts vigorously to any gestures that treat Taiwan as an independent state.


Provocations and Threats

In defiance of stern warnings and threats from China, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan late in the evening of August 2, 2022, and met its officials, while Beijing responded to the visit by launching military exercises near the island.

The Chinese military said it is on high alert and will launch a series of targeted military operations in response to the visit, announcing plans for a series of military exercises in the waters around the island starting on August 3, 2022.

On the other hand, the Taiwan Defense Ministry said that "China's exercises around Taiwan demonstrate its intention to destroy regional peace and stability."

It added that "its military carries out air and sea activities near Taiwan and has the capacity to defend national security" after reports of Chinese movements near the island.

In the first comment of the US official, Pelosi said, during her reception by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, in the capital, Taipei, that her visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan, and it in no way contradicts long-standing United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, US-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

Pelosi noted that her visit to the island shows unequivocally that the US will not abandon Taiwan, adding that Washington's resolve to maintain democracy in Taiwan and the rest of the world remains solid.

On her part, the Taiwanese president announced that her country will not back down while China prepares to conduct live-fire military exercises around the island in response to Pelosi's visit.

"In the face of deliberately escalating military threats, Taiwan will not back down, and we will continue to stick to the line of defense of democracy," Tsai said.

After the arrival of the US House of Representatives speaker to Taiwan, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng summoned the US ambassador to China, R. Nicholas Burns, and presented him with strong objections and a note of protest against Pelosi's visit to the island.

Xie was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying: "This move is very gruesome in nature, and the consequences are very grave," adding that "China would not stand idly by."

He stressed that the US will pay for its mistakes, urging Washington to immediately address its wrongdoing and take practical measures to undo the negative effects of Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

"Taiwan is China's Taiwan, and eventually, Taiwan will return to the bosom of the motherland," Xie told Burns.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on MSNBC on August 2 that "Beijing should not view Pelosi's visit as a provocation.

"It is worrying that the Chinese may use this as a pretext to stir up tensions in order to create some sort of crisis of conflict," he added.


Strained Relations

Pelosi's visit to Taiwan has led to a new escalation at the core of US-China relations.

On August 1, 2022, the Axios website revealed that John Kirby expected that China would make military provocations, such as firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait or penetrating the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone in response to Pelosi's visit.

During a phone call on July 28, 2022, Chinese President Xi warned US President Biden not to play with fire over the island of Taiwan, which has been ruled by an anti-Beijing regime since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, but Biden told Xi that Congress is independent of the White House and that Pelosi makes its decisions privately.

Despite the US canceling the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan in 1979, China should consider the possibility of the US military being drawn in, according to analysts.

Biden said in May that Washington would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China. However, the White House later clarified that he meant the US would defend Taiwan by providing military arms in line with existing agreements.

The Wall Street Journal had reported that China had conducted military exercises off its southern and northeastern coasts this week in preparation for Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the Chinese newspaper, Global Times, reported that "the Chinese army will conduct live-fire military exercises in 6 regions around Taiwan from 4 to 7 August 2022."

China had issued a pre-emptive decision for Pelosi's visit to Taiwan and decided to ban imports from 35 Taiwanese food companies that export biscuits and pastries, according to the local newspaper, United Daily News.

"Among the 3,200 Taiwanese companies registered with Chinese customs under the food category, 2,066 were included in the import suspension list," the newspaper said.

Biscuits and pastries are an important trade item between Taiwan and China, as about two-thirds of exports from Taiwan in 2021 were biscuits and pastries, with a total value of about $646 million.

After Pelosi's arrival in Taiwan, China stopped natural sand exports to Taiwan as well as stopped importing some fish and fruits from the island.

A statement issued by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said the move was based on the provisions of the relevant law but did not give further details, according to Bloomberg.


Possible Scenarios

It is noteworthy that visits by lower-level US lawmakers to Taiwan in the past have already led to military responses from China.

In November 2021, Chinese warplanes circled the eastern side of the island after a visit by a delegation from the US Congress.

The last major crisis in Taiwan occurred between 1995 and 1996 when China launched missiles into the sea near ports, and then-President Bill Clinton sent two carrier battle groups to the region.

After that incident, then-US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan and China in 1997 and told Beijing that the US would defend the island.

During a television interview with CNBC Arabia on August 3, Adam Roosevelt, an expert in US national security and foreign affairs, indicated that "Pelosi's visit to Taiwan will have serious consequences, expecting that there will be a strong reaction from China to the visit."

"The first measures expected by Beijing is to deal with Taiwan by imposing severe economic and trade sanctions on it, given that China is its largest partner, among them: blocking supply chains to Taiwan, as well as intelligence on monitoring communications with Taiwan," he added.

Mr. Roosevelt saw that a military option would not be on the table between China and the US, pointing out that each country is looking at the available options, and there may be a military confrontation through cooperation with China's partners such as Russia or a hostile party to the US.

The researcher explained that "Biden's permission for Pelosi to visit Taiwan at the present time is to achieve many foreign gains and demonstrate the strength and hegemony of the US over the world."

Mr. Roosevelt pointed out that "Washington is seeking to prove the fact that it is the only one capable of maintaining security and peace, and not giving the opportunity for Russia, China, and Iran to dominate that."

On his part, Radwan Ziadeh, a senior fellow at Arab Center Washington DC (ACW), said in a statement to Al-Estiklal that the possibility of the US-Chinese tension turning into a military conflict is very small, noting that the US wants to send a strong message to China that it will intervene to protect Taiwan, as it did with Ukraine.

"The US has become more sensitive to the rise of China and wants to build an international coalition to contain China and try to pressure it in various ways," he added.

"Although China is already achieving impressive economic growth, its political system that allows genocide against the Uighur minority in Turkestan, limits freedom of expression and belief, etc., makes it very fragile and unsustainable in the long run," according to Ziadeh.

In turn, lawyer Marwan al-Rifai confirmed in a post on his Facebook account that "Pelosi's visit to Taiwan has put China before two options."

"The first option is to suffice with condemnation and intimidation, and thus China will accept humbly that the US today and for years to come is the only power and pole in the world," he added.

"As for the second option, it is China's military action in the coming days, after the withdrawal of the American naval and air forces accompanying Pelosi, in an attempt to restore sovereignty over Taiwan, emphasizing the principle that China is one country whose territorial integrity cannot be compromised, and that it has become a force that cannot be ignored," Mr. al-Rifai said.

From another point of view, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, Andrei Klimov, believed that "Pelosi's visit to Taiwan could lead to a military conflict if Washington or Beijing resorted to the military option."

"An emergency situation may occur if Beijing takes severe pressure measures on the Taiwanese and American authorities, which are behind them, prior to the convening of the Chinese Communist Party Congress," he pointed out.

"What was planned on Taiwan was a move from Pelosi's illustrious PR campaign before the election, but that it could cost the US what it hasn't paid since 1945," Klimov argued.

If China forcibly seized Taiwan in the same way that Russia did when it invaded its neighbor Ukraine on February 24, some Western experts believe that China would be free to project its power in the western Pacific region and perhaps even threaten US military bases extending as far as the islands of Guam and Hawaii; but Beijing insists that its intentions are very peaceful.