ANALYSIS-China’s emphasis on military option for Taiwan increases risks with US


By Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING, August 12 (Reuters)As the dust settles after Chinese military exercises around Taiwan, the message is clear: the military will uphold China’s claim to the island in a challenge to the United States that will keep tension high and increase the risk of showdown.

China failed to prevent Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi from traveling to democratically-ruled Taiwan last week, a trip which China says destroyed the base. political trust between the world’s two largest economies.

The trip likely also prompted a shift in China’s military calculations, analysts said.

“This crisis has reinforced the view in China that unification with Taiwan is probably only achievable through coercive means,” said Zhao Tong, security scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

China’s immediate response to Pelosi’s visit was its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan.

For the first time, the People’s Liberation Army practiced operations aimed at blockading the island, probably the first step towards an invasion.

Also for the first time, missiles flew over the island and ships crossed the unofficial center line of the Taiwan Strait, established by the United States in the 1950s but never officially recognized by China.

Security analysts expect Chinese forces, particularly the navy, to maintain extensive patrols around Taiwan, crossing the median line and establishing long-term dominance over the waterway.

Even before the drills, China claimed sovereignty over the strait, which the United States and Taiwan say is an international waterway.

“China has shown that it has the power to enforce its words and that its words are not just hollow diplomatic posturing,” said Wang Kun-yi, who chairs the Taiwan Society for International Strategic Studies.

“The exercises have changed the status quo of the Taiwan Strait, which was originally established by the Americans. We are waiting to see if the Americans will take steps to reverse this status quo.”

The White House has rejected any new status quo and has pledged to conduct air and sea transits across the strait in the coming weeks.

Taiwan’s government says the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island and has no right to claim it or decide its future.

MILITARY RISKS

As the drills wrapped up on Wednesday, China released its first white paper on Taiwan since 2000, reaffirming its preference for “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan.

But he withdrew his promise not to station troops in Taiwan after taking control.

While the assertion of peaceful unification shows that China does not foresee an imminent invasion, the suspension of some military communication channels after Pelosi’s visit has weakened the guardrails to manage inadvertent conflict with states. states, increasing longer-term military risks.

“The confrontation between China and the United States will shift into high gear,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University.

“An intentional conflict is still unlikely, but China’s decision to suspend military communications has surely made it more difficult to prevent an accidental confrontation.”

In a protest against Pelosi’s visit, China also suspended cooperation with the United States in areas such as climate change and anti-narcotics operations and announced unspecified sanctions against Pelosi and his family members. .

NATIONALIST PASSIONS

The drills and harsh responses from some Chinese diplomats have stoked nationalist passions, with many citizens going online to call for “reunification of the motherland”.

But political insiders and calmer intellectuals say there is no real danger that Xi’s hand will be forced by public outcry to act on Taiwan before he is ready.

“Chinese leaders can use the nationalistic feelings of the people to justify their policy decisions and put pressure on other countries, but it doesn’t work the other way around – the leader will not be driven by public sentiment to act in ways reckless,” a political insider told Reuters. on condition of anonymity.

“Using force against Taiwan is not the best solution right now.”

Reflecting Taiwan’s economic value, China has imposed restrictions on agricultural imports from Taiwan but spared its electronics, suggesting the trade measures are largely symbolic.

Citrus fruits and fresh and frozen fish on Beijing’s trade suspension list accounted for just 0.01% of China’s total imports from the island, according to Reuters calculations based on Chinese customs data. in 2021.

The Taiwanese public remained largely nonchalant in the face of warnings from officials in Beijing, mocking messages from hackers protesting Pelosi’s visit that were played on display screens at convenience stores and train stations.

Analysts say China’s threats are counterproductive to winning hearts and minds.

A hard line from Beijing in Taiwan’s presidential elections in 2000 and 2020 pushed voters towards candidates like Chen Shui-bian and Tsai Ing-wen, respectively, who China sees as supporters of independence.

Elisa Cheng, 28, who works in advertising in Taipei, told Reuters that people her age doubt China will invade Taiwan.

“But if it really happens, we will be like Hong Kong. China will eat us.”

(By Yew Lun Tian; Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Kevin Yao, Greg Torode and Aleksander Solum; Editing by Ryan Woo and Robert Birsel)

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