Following the visit of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan, China has carried out military exercises near the island that raise fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
Biden and Pelosi question almost half a century of US “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan
Pelosi visited the autonomous island this week in defiance of a series of threats from Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, and warned that she would see the visit as a major provocation.
As tensions across the Taiwan Strait escalate, what is at stake for China, and how concerned should we be?
How has China responded to the visit?
The Chinese military announced joint air and sea exercises near Taiwan. This Thursday they started. China has fired long-range missiles, according to its military, which has also said it has carried out multiple conventional missile launches at three different areas in Taiwan’s eastern waters. The Government of Japan has affirmed this Thursday that five ballistic missiles fired by China during its maneuvers have fallen into waters belonging to its special economic zone (EEZ).
Before the exercises, Taiwan said 27 Chinese warplanes had entered its air defense zone.
Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China and claims that it is already a sovereign nation without the need to declare its independence. You want to keep the security of the status quo and he does not want a conflict, but he has said that he will defend himself.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has called China’s moves an air and sea blockade of Taiwan.
“This is a big deal because a blockade is a legal act of war,” says Blake Herzinger, an expert on Indo-Pacific defense policy. “I think Taiwan needs to be made to see that this is not the time to stir things up any further.”
This week, Taiwan has also been hit by a series of cyberattacks, although it is still unclear who was responsible. China, Taiwan’s largest trading partner, has also suspended several imports from the island.
How worrying are military exercises?
Live fire exercises are a test of an army’s ability to perform missions in conditions that most closely resemble real warfare. In this case, they are designed to show the level of force that China could unleash against Taiwan if Beijing decided to take control of the island.
Experts agree that neither the United States nor China wants the tension to escalate to war. According to Justin Bassi, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, China’s military exercises are likely being calculated to prevent an escalation by the US.
Herzinger says the United States has been very careful not to express support for Taiwan independence, since that is China’s “red line.” “In America’s engagement with Taiwan, they are always careful to make sure they strike the right balance between supporting Taiwan, but not emboldening the island to do something that could cause further conflict.”
Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at Crisis Group, says that while China’s military escalation is worrying, it’s not an unexpected response.
“And that means that the military response it chooses at this point has to be visibly superior to the military activities it has previously carried out around Taiwan, and that starting point is already quite high,” he says. “I think the intention of military drills is more of a pose and a show of military force.”
the chinese newspaper Global Times He stated on Wednesday that the drills were intended to demonstrate that the Chinese Army is “capable of blockading the entire island.”
Has the situation been so tense before?
There have been several crises across the Taiwan Strait, the latest in 1995. That incident was known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis and preceded the island’s announcement that it would hold its first democratic presidential elections. China flexed its military muscle with months of military exercises, including launching missiles 56 kilometers from Taiwan’s ports.
Although there is a history of military displays across the Taiwan Strait, Hsiao told Guardianbefore the start of the exercises, that this time it seemed that the missile tests planned by China in response to Pelosi’s visit were going to be closer to the island.
What is Xi Jinping at stake?
Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that unification with Taiwan is one of his priorities. Still, some experts say Xi’s response to Pelosi’s visit is likely as much about China’s internal problems as a show of power. China is mired in a real estate crisis that has sparked protests and an economic slowdown stemming from its strict “COVID zero” policy and continued lockdowns.
“Pelosi’s visit may be an opportunity for Xi Jinping to shift attention away from domestic affairs and focus on foreign affairs as a method of distraction,” says Jennifer Hsu, a researcher at Australia’s Lowy Institute.
According to Jade Guan, a Chinese foreign policy expert at Deakin University, Xi’s actions to come across as tough on Taiwan and against the United States are likely also influenced by the upcoming 20th National Congress of the Communist Party, a meeting held every year. five years to announce major leadership changes.
“[Xi] it is projected as the protector of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, of which Taiwan is a central part,” says Guan. “So the Xi government cannot afford to appear weak in the face of [el Congreso Nacional]”.
Translation of Lara Lema