Taiwan: The Unplanned Visit to Taiwan by Pelosi
By: Khaled A. BaRahma
Damon Winter/The New York Times
Across disputed territories, Beijing has demonstrated a willingness to take advantage of perceived missteps by its rivals. Taiwan is now experiencing that. Taiwan's People's Liberation Army has recently conducted a series of exercises intended to establish a revised status quo. Following Nancy Pelosi's visit to the US House of Representatives, this is taking place. A vaguely defined buffer zone that has kept the peace for decades has shrunk in the wake of these moves, which include frequent trips across the Taiwan Strait median line and firing missiles over Taipei.
China's Xi Jinping outlined a clear plan for operating ever closer to Taiwan on Monday, even though the most provocative exercise areas near Taiwan had expired by then. From Wednesday to Sunday, more than 120 aircraft crossed the median line, triggering the Taiwanese Defense Ministry to report sightings of Chinese warships and warplanes nearby. There is a strong possibility that China will continue to do things similar to what it has done this week," says Taylor Fravel, director of MIT. It has become normal or status quo for China to have a military presence around Taiwan.
When the last Taiwan Strait crisis took place, then-President Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier groups into the area, escalating tensions further. This strategy places additional pressure on the US to craft a response that encourages China to pull back. A vast arsenal of anti-ship missiles and a world-class navy make China a risky place for American vessels operating off its coast. President Joe Biden's team has been tasked with confronting this situation.
For the past 25 years, Washington has discouraged any House speaker from visiting Taiwan because it has boosted ties with Taiwan. Beijing wants Washington to stop strengthening ties with Taiwan and restore diplomatic understanding. The island could be forced to participate in global organizations in a similar way that China has restricted its freedom to operate in the past following the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Christopher Twomey, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, said the Chinese are ratcheting up their response to subsequent crises. Their next signal will have to be more intense in response to a perceived or real provocation.
To assert clearer control over contested territory, China has repeatedly exploited rivals' unwillingness to risk open war. China began to build massive military facilities on reclaimed land in the South China Sea in 2012 after Washington declined to intervene when Scarborough Shoal was effectively occupied by Washington. Recent border clashes between China and India resulted in China taking control over disputed territory.
A similar show of force in the mid-1990s was smaller and further away from Taiwan than China's drills last week. Bonny Lin and other analysts with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report updated Monday that the PLA had carried out operations prior to Pelosi’s arrival that suggested it was ready to “escort” her flight if it had followed the typical route into Taipei.
A hypothetical invasion or blockade scenario on the six exclusion zones was tested by China according to the report. Accordingly, the PLA can launch attacks on Taiwan's eastern shores and bases. This is to prevent the United States and other countries from sending forces into Taiwan from the east as far as it is away from the mainland. Future blockades of key ports could launch from zones in the north and southwest, analysts said.
In Taiwan, the Institute for National Policy Research's director, Kuo Yu-jen, said that the Chinese attempt to deny the strait as an international waterway is another attempt to change the status quo. A grave effect will be felt by the international community.
It is clear from the official Chinese statements that Beijing views the drills as a strategic victory that demonstrates its ability to curb rival movements. Senior Colonel Shi Yi, the spokesman for Eastern Theater Command, said the missile tests confirmed that the PLA has the ability to “precision strike” and “denial of space,” a strategy China uses to deny freedom of movement to its adversaries in contested areas.
Beijing's National Defense University professor Meng Xiangqing told state broadcaster China Central Television that China defeated Taiwan's independence forces and destroyed the "strait median line." National reunification was possible earlier due to the drills.
Defense Ministers said the drills allowed the military to do practical training against combat scenarios. Although China's exclusion zones partly extend into Taiwan’s air space and territorial sea, no Chinese warships or planes have entered Taiwan’s airspace or territorial sea since Pelosi’s visit.
Biden's administration is yet to decide how to respond. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week that the USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group would remain in the general area for the purpose of monitoring the situation, and that standard air and maritime transits will also take place in the next few weeks across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan has a population of only 23 million people, about 100 miles from the Chinese mainland's 1.4 billion people. Compared to mainland China, Taiwan is a tiny piece of land. Places with a lack of geographical knowledge have problems. Please do not misunderstand this as pacifism. If an unprovoked Chinese invasion occurs, I believe that defending Taiwan's democracy is essential to U.S. national interests.