BANGKOK: A recent spate of Chinese military flights from southwestern Taiwan have prompted alarm from the island, which Beijing claims as its own, and increasing tensions in an area already on the shore.
The flights are one piece of a complex puzzle in Asia, where the United States and its allies have stepped up their naval maneuvers and Australia announced last month that it would seek nuclear power in a deal seen as a direct challenge to Beijing. is acquiring energy-powered submarines. Meanwhile, Japan has become increasingly vocal about China becoming a security threat.
Experts agree that armed conflict is not imminent, but as military activity increases, there is a growing fear that an accident or miscalculation could lead to an unexpected escalation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month urged Beijing and Washington to mend their “absolutely bad” relations, saying “we need to avoid the Cold War at all costs.”
There are some issues going on here:
What are China’s goals?
China portrays its military profile as purely defensive, organized to defend its sovereign authority from Taiwan to the South China Sea and its long, disputed mountain range with India. The US and many of China’s neighbors see that stance as offensive and have strengthened their presence in hopes of arresting China’s attempts to irrevocably change the facts on the ground.
China, after years of soaring military spending, now boasts the world’s second largest defense budget after the US, totaling about $209 billion this year. This has allowed the development of advanced weapon systems including the J-20 stealth fighter, hypersonic missile and two aircraft carriers, with a third under construction.
President Xi Jinping, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army, has overseen the construction of military facilities on man-made islands in the South China Sea to expand China’s territorial waters, and has said the next step is to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control. But cannot be abandoned. generation. Their threats to the self-governing island democracy have been heightened through military exercises on Taiwan’s opposite coast and the flight of a large number of Chinese warplanes over Taiwan’s air defense detection zone, including a one-day record of 56 on Monday. Which is capping the total out of 149 flights over a period of four days.
Xi is scheduled to deliver a speech on Saturday, the eve of Taiwan’s National Day. The unusually high-profile address would be watched carefully for signs of outreach to the Taiwanese public or any hardening of China’s line.
What is the American role?
The US, with bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, has a large military presence in the region and is pursuing a “pivot” to shift the focus towards the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s increasingly assertive posture. Is.
In a speech this week, US Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro told cadets that China “will be the challenge that will define your naval career,” adding that Beijing is using its military advantage to “threate its neighbors, violate established norms.” To challenge and strive.” To control international waters as its own. “
“Our job is to maintain peace by ensuring that the People’s Republic of China does not gain military advantage over the United States or our allies and partners,” he said.
To that end, the US regularly conducts exercises in the region with several allies, including most recently 17 ships from six countries that took off from the Japanese island of Okinawa, northeast of Taiwan, at the same time as There were Chinese flights south of Taiwan.
Washington’s long-standing policy has been to provide political and military aid to Taiwan, while not explicitly promising to protect it from Chinese attack.
Although the US has no base on Taiwan, US officials confirmed this week that the special forces have been training with Taiwan’s military for more than a year, including in recent weeks in maritime operations with Marine commandos. Is.
Pentagon spokesman John Supple said US military support for Taiwan is “based on Taiwan’s defense needs and its assessment of the threat posed by China”.
Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly last month, US President Joe Biden did not mention China by name, but emphasized that the US will “stand up for our allies and our friends and fight against weak ones being dominated by strong countries.” will oppose the efforts of
What is the status of Taiwan?
Taiwan is primarily concerned with consolidating its de facto independent position while maintaining economic ties with China and avoiding military conflict.
While Taipei and Washington have not had official diplomatic relations since the US switched ties to Beijing in 1979, US law requires that Washington assist Taiwan in maintaining a defensive capability and address threats to the island. Consider it a matter of grave concern. This includes the sale of advanced radar systems, fighter jets and warships, which has angered China.
As well as buying weapons from the US, President Tsai Ing-wen has promoted the domestic military industry, especially the development of submarines considered important for defence, but Taiwan was unable to buy from overseas due to Chinese pressure. Is. On Sunday, Taiwan will display some of its weapons at the first National Day military parade held since Tsai took office in 2016.
Taiwan is also fighting against a Chinese campaign to isolate it diplomatically, hosting US officials on recent visits and this week a delegation of French senators and former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who attacked China. Accused of bullying and expressed enthusiastic support for the government of Taiwan. Amidst a sharp deterioration in relations between Beijing and Canberra.
What about other regional players?
Australia made a stern statement last month when it announced it was striking a $66 billion deal with France for diesel-powered submarines in favor of a new deal with the US and Britain for a nuclear-powered sub.
The decision was seen as doubling down on the Australia-US alliance at a time when China is pressuring Australia for tariffs and import restrictions. Beijing rejected the deal, under which the US and UK would help Australia build at least eight submarines, calling it “highly irresponsible”, saying it would “seriously damage regional peace and stability”. “
The leaders of Australia, the US, Japan and India – a grouping known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – met in Washington shortly after the submarine deal was announced for comprehensive talks, including on keeping the Indo-Pacific “free and open”. discussion was involved. “
India has joined regional maneuvers, significantly sending ships through the South China Sea to participate in exercises with the US, Japan and Australia from Guam in August, which New Delhi said were aimed at “sea commitment to freedom of navigation”.
China and India are involved in a land border dispute that has led to clashes this year and last year. India is also concerned by the growing presence of Chinese research ships and fishing trawlers in the Indian Ocean region, which are permitted under international law but are suspected to be collecting data for military purposes.
Japan has long been cautious about its ties with China, a major trading partner, but now sees the country as a security threat. Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said dialogue with China is important, but Japan should also engage with like-minded democracies and advance its security alliance with the US and other partners.
What is Europe’s participation?
Britain has been most engaged in the region lately, combining an increased diplomatic outreach with the dispatch of a carrier strike group on a 28-week deployment, as it leans toward the Indo-Pacific as recommended by a British government review. “The chase. Defense and foreign policy.
As a maritime trading nation, Britain has emphasized the need to keep commercial shipping routes free and is using its naval presence to reinforce established international lanes, such as the frigate HMS Richmond through the Taiwan Straits. in a move criticized by China. Meaningless display of presence with insidious intent. “
The European Union last month unveiled its strategy to boost political and defense ties in the Indo Pacific, stressing the need for dialogue with Beijing but also an increased naval presence and greater security cooperation with regional partners. proposed.
France has regularly sent naval ships to the region, and currently both the Netherlands and Germany have ships participating in ongoing exercises with the US and other navies. In addition to increasing the military presence, the wide range of forces involved is one way to counter the Chinese position that it is reacting unilaterally to US actions.
In his speech, US Navy Secretary Del Toro said that “there is no substitute for the shared experiences of allies working together to deter our adversaries.”