Taiwan: The Political, Economic and Military Dimensions of America’s Heightening of Tensions With China

The visit of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, to Taiwan at the beginning of this month has raised tensions between the United States and China to the highest levels since the 1997 visit of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, in the aftermath of China’s blockade of Taiwan during the presidential elections on the island in 1996 in which China sought to influence the Taiwanese voters and thwart Ting Wei Lee’s chances of winning due to his separatist tendencies.

This visit is not isolated from the snares and political maneuvers America has been carrying out since the previous administration launched its policy of portraying China as a rogue state that violated international norms, systems and principles by turning the spotlight on her human rights loopholes in Hong Kong and towards the Uighurs and slamming her foreign policy describing it as “disgraceful”.

In the past seven months, America dispatched a number of delegations on official visits to Taiwan including representatives from Congress, most notably Bob Mendes and Lindsey Graham, who are members of the committee that is currently studying the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 which calls for supporting Taiwan militarily, granting her the status of a major ally outside NATO and changing her mission in Washington from Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TERCO) to Taiwan Representative Office.

The provocative approach is conspicuously reflected in Biden’s recurrent statements since the Russian invasion of Ukraine regarding his willingness to defend Taiwan if it faced a military attack from China and in the dispatch of a group of former senior defense and security officials in March 2022 to visit Taiwan. Accentuating this approach, Pelosi stated that US solidarity with Taiwan comes at a time when “the world faces a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.”

However, what has been most remarkable about US policy toward China and Russia since the Biden administration took office is that there is a contradiction between what the United States announces and what is happening on the ground in terms of corroborating Taiwan’s secession from China, that China described a “serious violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The Biden administration had strengthened her alliances and partnerships to confront China including the AUKUS Security Pact, strengthening the role of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), i.e., QUAD, between India, Australia, Japan and the US, and secretly encouraging Japan to amend Article 9 of the constitution in order to return to strengthening her military capabilities, a narrative which is of concern to China; and thus the latter did not miss the opportunity to warn Japan through the launching of ballistic missiles during her extensive military drills towards Japanese territorial waters in response to Pelosi’s visit.

Hence, America’s statements about her commitment to China’s territorial integrity contradict her aversion to China’s annexation of the island of Taiwan. As for the visit itself, it is considered a departure from the Taiwan Relations Act 1979 which calls for the policy of “strategic ambiguity”, and a provocation to China, the Chinese President and the Communist Party which will hold its annual conference in November through which the Chinese president will seek to consolidate his rule by being re-elected for an unprecedented third term after he had amended the constitution to concord with his rejuvenating vision of the Chinese nation, through which he seeks to qualify China as a superpower”. The American provocation of China reached the level that led to triggering the crisis at a time when China has been trying to pursue a policy of restraint in its relations with India, South Korea, Japan and the South China Sea countries in an attempt to complete the arrangements for Xi Jinping’s appointment for a historic third term without foreign influences, and rebuild the interior economically and socially after the repercussions of the Zero-Covid policy. 

This escalation and international tension that the United States stands behind in Ukraine and Taiwan, in addition to the security arrangements in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf region, cannot be read in the context of traditional actions or regional conflicts of a field-oriented nature, but it rather refers to a process of redrawing the geostrategic, geo economic and security maps in order to achieve the policy, Biden announced upon taking office which is based on rebuilding partnerships, alliances and blocs on value-based principles, i.e., the war of political models, and arranging the world into two camps: an autocratic totalitarian one versus the free world that includes the West and its allies.

As for the issues raised, such as the Ukraine war, the Taiwan crisis, the air defense alliance in the Gulf, the political polarization of Turkey and the threat of Iran, they are merely mechanisms for redrawing geostrategic and security maps and building alliances through which the United States is restructuring international relations and dragging Europe to face the potential threats to her interests and her centrality in the international situation. Hence, Blinken said Washington had repeatedly made clear to Beijing it did not seek a crisis over Pelosi’s visit; “We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said. From this, it appears there is a plan to besiege China militarily by the United States, NATO, QUAD and AUKUS in order to contain her and prevent her from dominating the Indo-Pacific region, and to keep her facing value-based challenges which would lead to undermining her from within and forcing her to abide by the international system.

This is more evident from the statement of the commander of Freedom of Navigation Operations who said the purpose of the operations they had carried was to show who was the master; the operations included the sailing of the flagship of the Carrier Strike Group Five, USS Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyer, USS Benfold, carrying out confrontational operations with the Chinese navy in the strategic Spratly and Parcel islands.

This tension that America has generated, which Lavrov described as “provocative” and “deliberate,” is part of an attempt to underline Chinese nationalism in a country that includes 55 minorities ruled by the Han faction, and part of America’s endeavors to spotlight China’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and her persecution of the Uighurs in addition to her “disgraceful acts” such as lending money to several states for projects that are “economically unviable” such as the Chinese investments in Sri Lanka which America illustrated as an example of the failure and the perils of Chinese projects, not to mention the Belt and Road Initiative, information theft and cyber hacking.

The United States is also attempting to galvanize the hotbeds of tension for China and her regional surroundings such as her border dispute with India, with whom America carried out joint military drills on the Sino-Indian borders to warn Beijing, generate a pretext to intervene and be present in the region, mobilize the Pacific countries behind her, distract the Chinese leadership from the domestic situation, and undermine China’s attempts to achieve tangible results that give her political credentials which would shore up her position at the Communist Party Congress, through which new ruling traditions for China would be initiated; this in addition to the policy of demonizing China and turning her into a scarecrow for her neighbors and their people by turning the spotlight on China’s oppressive nationalist regime that supports the regime of Vladimir Putin.

It could be said that one of the reasons for America’s concern about China and her continued provocation lies in China’s attempt to dodge the world order that America imposes on the world. Hence, America seeks to find the pretexts to maintain the tension with China lest she should move in a manner that threatens the interests of the United States, whether at the international or regional levels, or enter into alliances that are inconsistent with America’s interest. This was pointed out by the spokesperson of the Chinese Mission to the European Union who said “the so-called rules-based international order, as mentioned in the statement by the G7 and EU foreign ministers, reflects no more than a logic of gangsters that whatever evil they do, others must not fight back.”

America has portrayed China and its Communist Party as the primary challenge today in the free world. Hence, Chinese maneuvers are described as “communist military operations”. America also formulated the National Security Strategy (NSS) in December 2017 to confront countries which impose their influence regionally and globally, and which are working assiduously to jostle for the US geopolitical advantages and gains and trying to change the international system to their advantage, a policy America entrenched in NATO strategy at its last summit in Madrid. This approach enjoys consensus among US decision-makers (Republicans and Democrats), and its conclusion is that US policy which was aimed at exploiting China’s prosperity at the expense of American concepts, Western democracy and security interests, on the condition that the Chinese would pledge to accept reforms, has failed and has not served its purpose. Hence, a change was needed. However, America, as a capitalist country with an avaricious system, is trying to reconcile her need for an ideological competitor or enemy whom she would exploit to implement her policies and cover the flaws of her ideology, with her desire to access China’s markets of more than one billion consumers whose spending power has increased after 40 years of economic prosperity, especially in financial services, insurance and corporate ownership.

As for China, since the era of Deng Xiaoping in the eighties, her policy has been based on the principle of one country, two systems; one is political, represented by the Communist Party, and the other is economic, represented by the socialist market economy. China has managed in four decades to capture 15% of the total global industrial market which equals the combined share of the United States and Germany, control global supply chains and invest directly in the most advanced industries such as robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing, until she was able to reduce American supremacy in all military fields, be they land, sea, air or space.

China’s military spending in 2020 amounted to “245 billion dollars”, which is equivalent to the total spending of all Asian countries combined, and with which China has been able to militarize the South China Sea. China adopts a policy of strategic patience in her dealings with the West, which was evident through her actions aimed at breaking away from American dominion and coming to terms with the American interests. Hence, she proceeded to establish an economic bloc with the group of ten ASEAN countries, namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is set to bring together an economy equivalent to 49.5 trillion dollars, or 39% of the world’s economy and half of its population, as well as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Also, under Xi’s leadership and in implementation of the vision of the Great Renewal of the Chinese Nation, China has pursued an economic policy based on state investment in basic and strategic industries, civil and military capabilities, banning foreign investment in strategic projects, and authorizing the participation of the Chinese private sector in any domestic investment in other industries. This has led China to transcend the geo-economic space into the geopolitical space due to the fallouts of economic influence on politics, which raises the concern of the United States who considers it a challenge and a breach of her economic superiority and unilateral dominion over the international situation. 

As for the invasion of Taiwan, there are several political, economic and military factors that prevent its execution at the present time. From a military viewpoint, the Chinese army has not been tested in a war since Vietnam in 1979, and a naval invasion is more complex, especially with American support for Taiwan through her warships and bases in Indonesia and the Philippines, in addition to the hostile regional environment on the part of India and Japan, and the American pressure tools in the issues of Hong Kong, the Uighurs and human rights abuses. As for the political and economic aspect, China today faces the consequences of a number of challenges, starting with the imposition of tariffs on Chinese exports by America and the failure of her efforts to benefit from fifth generation technologies due to criminalizing dealings with Huawei and the consequences of the Zero-Covid policy which led to an economic downturn in the last quarter in China, and has threatened the financial failure of a large number of real estate developers with debts estimated at billions of dollars.

 China perceives that while Chinese imports increase to meet people’s requirements for wellbeing, exports are facing a host of obstacles including high wages, which removed some of the competitiveness of her exports internationally, and the transfer of manufacturing operations to emerging countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Kenya.

This coincided with the development of robots, tax and financial incentives for companies and threats to the security of supply chains. This triggered a real shift in re-industrialization and services with the aim of remaining closer to consumer markets; and this approach, which is a political shift from excessive globalization, which was a major reason for China’s prosperity and her integration into the global economy, will have a negative impact on her, especially in light of further geopolitical threats.

It is common knowledge that Taiwan, which lies on China’s doorstep, is part of the hotbeds of tension and provocation between America and China. The US Department of Defense has been increasing the pace of naval operations to “protect water rights” in the East and South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait since 2019. This policy aims to limit China’s field, undermine her interests and control her as 80% of her exports pass through that region, and the South China Sea represents China’s “basic defense strategy by keeping potential enemies away from its shores as much as possible,” which is considered in the defense convention a “strategy of no-entry areas”, with the aim of “blocking America’s access in the event of a conflict.”

This is evident from the realization that China does not have an abundance of naturally deep seaports to protect her nuclear submarines, and her only base, which she established in 2008 in Yulin, i.e., in the caves of Henan Island is located at the head of the South China Sea. The US Navy conducts protection operations as a cover for carrying out naval intelligence to monitor and track Chinese submarines and explore their capabilities and weaknesses in order to weaken China’s ability to deploy her nuclear deterrent and to be able to target them in the event of a conflict.

Accordingly, the Taiwan crisis will lead to more escalation and tension between China and the United States as China will exploit it in a show of force to deter the countries of the region from overstepping her volition, and to skip the American embargo lines, show firmness and momentousness in preventing the independence of Taiwan, assert her authority in the South China Sea and her determination to confront the United States with regard to her sovereignty and her geopolitical and strategic space. China expresses this narrative through the regular maneuvers and the sanctions she imposed on the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, America will invest in China’s reactions to consolidate her presence in the region, intimidate neighboring countries, deepen their dependence on her and drag Europe to participate with her in confronting China through the gateway of the war of models and the alliance of the free world against the camp of tyranny represented by Russia and China.

Copyright © LCIR 2022

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