Are the United States and China about to go to war over the island
Weeks after the US president warned China against Taiwan, Beijing delivered its strongest rebuttal yet, saying it will “resolutely crush” any attempt at Taiwan independence.
On Sunday, Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe essentially accused the United States of supporting the island’s independence, saying it was “breaking its promise to Taiwan” and “interfering” in the China business. “Let’s be clear: if anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs and we will fight until the end. It’s the only choice for China,” he said at the Shangri-la Dialogue, an Asian security summit in Singapore.
His comments follow US President Joe Biden’s recent message to China that it is “flirting with danger” by flying its fighter jets near Taiwan. He promised to militarily protect the island if it was attacked.
Taiwan, which considers itself a sovereign nation, has long been claimed by China. But Taiwan also sees the United States as its greatest ally, and Washington has a law that requires it to help the island defend itself.
The escalation of rhetoric comes as China sends more and more warplanes into the Taiwan air defense zone – their biggest flight of the year last month – as the United States sends military ships through Taiwanese waters. Watch out for the gap
A major fear is that if China invades Taiwan, war will be triggered. Beijing has said in the past that it could retake the island by force if necessary. But most analysts say that’s unlikely for now.
It has been debated whether China has the military capability to succeed in an invasion, and Taiwan has significantly strengthened its air and naval defenses. However, many agree that Beijing recognizes that such a move would be too costly and disastrous – not only for China but also for the world.
“There is a lot of rhetoric, but the Chinese have to watch the gap very carefully if they want to launch an invasion of Taiwan, especially so close to the Ukraine crisis. China’s economy is much more integrated into the global economy than Russia’s,” said William Choong, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
China’s consistent position has been that it seeks “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan – something General Wei reiterated on Sunday – and would only act if faced with a provocation. One of the triggers would probably be Taiwan’s official declaration of independence. But that’s something its chairman, Tsai Ing-wen, has strenuously avoided, despite insisting they are already a sovereign state. Most Taiwanese support this position, known as “maintaining the status quo”, although fewer and fewer say they want to move towards independence.
Likewise, the United States would be reluctant to be drawn into a costly military conflict in Asia and has repeatedly signaled that it does not want war. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, also present at the Dialogue, said in his speech that the United States does not support Taiwan’s independence nor does it want “a new Cold War.”
“Both sides are keeping their weapons on Taiwan. They have to look tough, they don’t want to be seen as regressing or deteriorating, ”said Collin Koh, a researcher at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
“But at the same time, they are very thoughtful when they get into a total conflict. They look wide-eyed at each other’s rhetoric and both sides try to mitigate the risk. ”
The fact that both General Wei and Mr. Austin met on the sidelines of the Shangri-la dialogue was a welcome sign, as it meant that both sides wanted to show that they “are still willing to sit down and understand it.” , reach a consensus and agree to disagree, “Koh said.
This, he said, would likely lead to more operational discussions between the two armies, reducing the chances of miscalculations on the ground that could lead to conflict, and a general “renewed momentum for dialogue” that was lacking during the administration. . † That said, both China and the US are expected to continue their rhetoric for the foreseeable future.
China may even escalate its “war in the gray zone” designed to exhaust Taiwan’s military forces and patience – such as sending more warplanes – or disinformation campaigns, said China expert Dr. Ian Chong. at the National University or Singapore. Taiwan previously accused China of conducting disinformation campaigns ahead of the island’s elections, and the island will hold key local elections at the end of the year.
At least for the United States and China, there is “for now no political will to change position”, especially in view of major events: the mid-term elections in the United States in November and the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. in the second half of the year when President Xi Jinping is expected to further consolidate power. “The silver lining is that neither side is willing to let things get worse,” Dr. Chong said.
“But non-escalation doesn’t mean we will get to a better position. So we’re all stuck in that position for a while.”