As soon as Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Taiwan from the US, Beijing began a three-day military exercise surrounding the island. This is the second significant military countermeasure that is targeted. The previous instance took place after Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. This time, it was anticipated that China would use caution, but the outcome was unexpected.
Taiwan miscalculated the outcome entirely. Taiwan took the initiative to transfer the meeting to the US because the governing DPP believed that holding the meeting between Tsai and McCarthy in the US would be less embarrassing for China and prevent more military exercises surrounding the island. Beijing, however, seems unappreciative, and Xi is trying to convey that the “meeting” is more important than the “place.”
The American media misread this occasion as Beijing hosted President Macron of France and President Von der Leyen of the European Commission. It would be embarrassing for the two European dignitaries and detrimental to Sino-European ties to escalate military tensions at this time.
Beijing does not want the international community to misinterpret China’s desire for peace. Expecting China to reach a compromise on the Taiwan issue is simply wishful thinking. Xi spoke directly to von der Leyen and the West; anyone who did so will merely hoist a stone and crush his own feet.
Taiwan is central to China’s essential interests; therefore, its call for peace does not entail giving up on that front. China will not be reluctant to demonstrate its willingness to protect its sovereignty if the West seeks to test this tenet, even if its precise measures may harm Beijing’s ties with the West. In other words, China’s diplomacy is built on the principle that the Taiwan problem should not be brought up internationally.
Tsai Ing-wen’s visit got a frosty reaction because of the Biden administration’s inclination to interact with Beijing. Tsai’s public comments were minimized by the White House, which forbade communication with any government employees with her. In order to demonstrate Washington’s restraint, the US ruling party used this to portray the scene as an opposition party event or even McCarthy’s behavior rather than the official US position. However, mutual trust between the US and China is a requirement for the Chinese side to understand Washington’s restraint.
Since the Biden administration often makes bogus promises to Beijing while advancing US-Taiwan ties, there is no foundation for confidence between the US and China on the Taiwan issue. The disparity between words and deeds leaves little room for faith. This is another American “sausage tactics” method, according to Beijing, which involves moving forward and then taking a step back. As a result, China’s proportionate “restraint” was not what the US had anticipated. There may have been no missile launches over Taiwan this time, which is a reasonable amount of restraint.
McCarthy’s cancellation of his trip to Taiwan and reiteration of the US’s “one-China policy” in front of Tsai seem to have been a surrender by Washington, which is fully aware that manipulating the Taiwan issue is equivalent to handing Beijing permission to overreact and damage the US. The Republican Party has also restricted its urge to perform, merely demonstrating the barest amount of support without sacrificing decorum, yet the results have been beyond expectations.
Is Beijing’s strong stance towards Taiwan conflicted with its call for peace? In reality, they aren’t. The US may read it as follows: China’s “thin-skinned diplomacy” and “overreaction” are meant to contrast China’s image of peace with the US’s aggressiveness. Every time the US crosses the border, it aids China in maintaining the moral high ground and reversing the trend of the Taiwan issue’s globalization.
A regional conflict is not something that ASEAN or India, which are both growing, want to see. As a devoted ally, Japan is adhering to US requests to increase its military, but this does not imply that they are prepared to participate in the Taiwan War.
Washington will discover that the more it plays the Taiwan problem, the more China’s neighbors will hate the US, necessitating China’s military reaction in an effort to maintain peace in the area. A regional conflict is not something that ASEAN or India, which are both growing, want to see. As a devoted ally, Japan is adhering to US requests to increase its military, but this does not imply that they are prepared to participate in the Taiwan War. On the one hand, Beijing advocates for a peaceful reunion with Taiwan, but on the other, it employs a grey zone policy designed to reclaim Taiwan progressively and reduce any opposition from its neighbors.
China is different from Russia in that it will gradually influence events in its favor until it is certain that even the worst outcomes won’t prevent China’s resurgence. Only then will it reveal its true intentions? The “Neocons” depicted Taiwan as the Ukraine of East Asia provided China a “peace loudhailer” to urge its neighbors to support the anti-war cause and allowed China to “overreact” under this pretext to increase military deployments.
The Neocons in the US is both a blessing and a burden for Beijing. Is a war between China and the US over Taiwan inescapable? In other words, the challenge for the US is how to use the inevitable confrontation to its advantage, while the question for China is how to do away with the notion of the US.
Beijing believes that the US would give up on resolving the Taiwan issue via confrontation and instead look for a peaceful solution through accords if it cannot successfully unify the West to undermine China on the issue.
The independence of Europe is essential to achieving this aim, while the independence of other areas like the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America serve as examples for Europe to imitate. This goal requires a clear shift towards a multipolar world. The United States won’t have enough friends once multipolarity becomes an unstoppable trend to influence the Taiwan Strait conflict.
There will be many stressful circumstances along the process, and it won’t be easy. The observation point is which side has established an unchangeable “new normal” in order to determine which party successfully furthers its objectives during the crisis.
What objectives did Beijing want to accomplish with this meeting between Tsai Ing-wen and McCarthy? The “United Sword” military exercise is nothing new since comparable exercises are already commonplace. The “combat readiness patrol,” a new naval inspection operation that lasts for three days, is the actual surprise this time.
In order to “ensure the safety of the ships’ navigation,” the southeastern provinces of China conducted “on-site inspections” of engineering and cargo ships in the northern and central Taiwan Strait. This non-military action aimed to revoke Taiwan’s sovereignty. This indicates that Beijing is attempting to create a new non-military normal to assert its authority. There will undoubtedly be further “sovereign override” measures in the future; the three-day operation is an example.
Although the former president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, visited China during Tsai’s “transit” to the US and performed a peace aria there, leading much Taiwanese elite to believe that Beijing would not discuss peace on the one hand and bolster its deterrence on the other, well, they also misjudged the content of China’s peace strategy. Xi wants to convey that peace and trust should not be taken for granted but rather must be earned.
Beijing no longer accepts that Washington and Taipei use double-dealing to provoke China while masking their hostile activities to push for Taiwan’s independence.
The 2024 election in Taiwan will not stop Beijing from escalating its military threats. Beijing currently thinks moderate tension would lead the Taiwanese people to treasure the existing calm and resist any aggressive moves instead of temporary tolerance.
Beijing’s countermeasures this time outperformed expectations, reminding the McCarthy and Biden administrations that Taiwan is China’s bottom line and that not a single step should be crossed. If you take two steps ahead, you must take two steps back. China is free to decide what “restraint” means.
Since China has rejected the US desire to abandon the current guardrails and try to create a new one by limiting communication, there are already muted voices in the US calling for an end to the radical remarks on China. The wise choice Americans have realized is that overreacting will have unbearable consequences. A new fence would require China to compromise, which is not doable.
Asma Khan Durrani is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. She is a student of Defence and Strategic Studies. She has done M.Phil. from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She has also been published internationally. She tweets @AsmaKhan_47 Mailed @ firstname.lastname@example.org