by Dr. Mona Suleiman – Interregional for Strategic Analytics
On August 4, the Chinese army launched the largest military maneuvers in its history in response to the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this month. Beijing also imposed sanctions on Pelosi and suspended political cooperation with Washington. for its support of Taiwan’s separatist demands. This American support for Taipei is considered by Beijing as incitement against it and a targeting of its sovereignty and independence, and recalls the deliberate American support for Ukraine to confront Russia; What prompted Moscow to launch a military attack on it last February; What raises the possibility of converging between the two cases and raises the question about the possibility of China launching a military attack to regain control of Taiwan, and about other Chinese pressure cards on Washington – if the attack falters – to respond to Pelosi’s visit.
Chinese American recruiting
Beijing rejects the independence of the island of Taiwan, given its strategic importance as part of China, despite its demand since 1949, amid international support for the “one China” policy. The Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is the most important US official to visit Taipei in a quarter of a century. A state of regional polarization has begun in Southeast Asia since the visit of the American official; The countries of the region were divided between the American axis that supports Taipei’s right to defend its independence, and the Chinese axis that rejects any military solution to the conflicts in the region. There were many manifestations of this polarization and the reactions to the visit were:
1- Mutual military exercises: China launched the largest maneuvers in its history, the day after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and fired 11 Dong-feng ballistic missiles. Beijing called these exercises a “necessary and legitimate measure” after Pelosi’s visit. Taipei criticized the maneuvers as being in Taiwanese territorial waters, and announced that 16 Sukhoi-30 fighters and 11 Chinese aircraft had penetrated the breakaway island’s airspace. The Taiwanese military said it was “preparing for war without seeking it.” On the other hand, the US-Indonesian “Super Garuda Shield” military exercises began on August 1, with the participation of four thousand soldiers in the islands of Sumatra and Riau in Indonesia, with the participation of Australian, Singaporean and Japanese forces for the first time, and is scheduled to last two weeks to enhance “regional cooperation,” as Washington described.
2- Russia’s support for China: The Russian Foreign Ministry, the Kremlin and the Russian State Duma (parliament) criticized Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, describing it as “unjustified inconvenience,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also stressed that the strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing is one of the foundations. The movement for the rule of law in international relations, and criticized Washington’s attempts to spread its hegemony over more regions of the world, and compared the American agitation of Ukraine against Russia with the American agitation of Taiwan against China.
It is worth noting that Russian-Chinese relations have begun a new stage of cooperation between them since the presidential summit in Beijing on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in February 2022; Where the two countries signed a strategic cooperation agreement between them, then came the Chinese support for Moscow and Beijing’s refusal to condemn the Russian military operation in Ukraine or impose sanctions against it. Today, Russia takes a “similar position” on the Taiwan crisis and supports China in confronting the Western axis. Of course, the escalation of the confrontation between Beijing and Washington strengthens the Russian position regionally and internationally; As it will distract them from competing with Moscow, as well as strengthen the alliance between Russia and China, with their enormous economic, conventional and nuclear power; What will harm American interests in the short and medium term, and Washington may want to drain the economic power of China and Russia in regional wars to impede their international rise and change the international order promoted by Russian President “Vladimir Putin” and supported by China since the start of the Ukrainian war on November 24, 2022.
3- Fears of an international conflict: On August 4, Japan announced that four Chinese ballistic missiles had landed in its exclusive economic zone for the first time. This prompted Tokyo to lodge an official protest with Beijing through diplomatic channels, and Tokyo also declared that “the Taiwan issue is the political foundation of Sino-Japanese relations.” In the same context, the G7 countries issued a statement on Taiwan supporting its independence and sovereignty, which Beijing described as a “false statement.” On August 4, the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a statement urging Beijing to exercise restraint and warning against The seriousness of the current escalation, which may lead to “open conflicts”.
In turn, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear that China should not exaggerate its reaction to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan; Which resulted in the presence of two axes in the crisis: the first is the American axis from Washington, Taipei and their allies in ASEAN, Japan, India, NATO and the Group of Seven, and the second is the axis of China and Russia and their allies in the Indo-Pacific countries, Cambodia and Myanmar; What are the effects of fears that any military escalation between China and Taiwan will turn into an international armed conflict in Southeast Asia? What will affect international peace and security, and result in a change in the structure of the international system according to the winner and loser of that conflict.
The positions of Washington and Beijing regarding Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan were characterized by sharp political rhetoric and mutual military escalation; As the ruling American Democratic Party is working to mobilize votes for it before the mid-term congressional elections next November, Chinese President Xi Jinping is also seeking to raise his popularity before the ruling party’s twentieth general conference scheduled to be held at the end of this year, especially after the American challenge to Beijing and insistence On the visit, despite constant Chinese warnings to reject that visit, and to threaten the use of force against Taiwan. Nevertheless, a military confrontation between them is unlikely, and the US position in support of Taiwan has changed. Therefore, there are a number of Chinese pressure papers to respond to the “provocative visit”, as described by Beijing, namely:
1- China adopts a political-diplomatic escalation: Beijing announced the suspension of political cooperation with Washington, including the high-level military dialogue, climate talks, cooperation to prevent cross-border crime, and the return of illegal immigrants, as well as the suspension of cooperation in the field of space research. This is facing escalating crises after stopping US-Russian cooperation since the Ukraine crisis. On the other hand, there is an American escalation; US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken declared that “Washington opposes any unilateral efforts to change the status quo in Taiwan, especially by force, and its policy on Taiwan has not changed,” while US military analysts warned that Beijing would be ready to retake Taiwan by force in 2027; This represents an American incitement to Taipei against Beijing. The political escalation can continue by recalling and expelling diplomats, leading to the severing of diplomatic relations.
2- Threatening to besiege Taiwan’s “silicon shield”: Taiwan is the center of the electronic chip and semiconductor industry, and accounts for 80% of the global industry, and it is called “silicon shield”; Because this industry represents a bulwark to defend the island against any Chinese military attack, it also requires Washington to support Taipei to ensure the continued export of semiconductors to it. In this context, Beijing may resort to imposing a blockade on the island and threatening to carry out attacks affecting the trade of electronic chips and semiconductors; This will make Beijing control most of the technological industries in the world, and paralyze the movement of the Taiwanese economy that depends on it. It should be noted here that China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. On August 3, it imposed a ban on 2,000 Taiwanese products, and imposed a travel ban on a number of Taiwanese leaders. More Chinese sanctions are expected on Taipei.
3- Waging an economic and cyber war on Washington: China is currently the first trading partner of Washington and most countries of the world, and therefore it can launch an economic war against the American economy, which suffers from successive crises, and Beijing can disrupt the movement of international trade and shipping in the Taiwan Strait, which will negatively affect the chains of Global supply, especially after Beijing asserted that the strait is not “international waters.” Beijing can also launch cyberattacks against Taiwanese and American institutions, which has already happened in conjunction with Pelosi’s visit; Where the Taiwanese presidency website was subjected to an anonymous external electronic attack, which blocked the service for 20 minutes. These attacks can be reciprocal; Any cyber-attacks against Chinese enterprises.
4- Fomenting regional conflicts in the Indo-Pacific: China is a party to a number of regional disputes in the Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific region; Where Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire islands of the South China Sea, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei – who are allies of Washington – assert that they have rights to some islands in that region, and Washington accuses Beijing of militarizing the sea by building a number of artificial islands and building a military base on her.
Beijing and Washington are competing for influence and expansion and building strategic relations with the island states of the Pacific Ocean; As Beijing succeeded in signing economic security agreements with some countries in the region, such as the Solomon Islands; This enhances its influence in the Indo-Pacific, as well as the possibility of provoking conflict in the East China Sea, in which Beijing and Tokyo dispute a number of islands and share borders. Beijing also provides continuous support to North Korea and Iran in the face of American pressure, as well as the intersection of Chinese and American foreign policy in several other files. Therefore, Beijing can provoke a number of regional conflicts to drain American power in Southeast Asia or the Middle East.
5- Strengthening the Chinese military presence abroad: During the past decade, China succeeded in building a number of military bases abroad in regions vital to American influence; What are the effects of Washington’s anger? Beijing has established a military base in Djibouti and Cambodia, is developing the Pakistani military port of Jodar, and seeks to strengthen its military and political influence in Afghanistan to fill the political vacuum after the US withdrawal last year. In the African continent and Latin America, and Beijing can compete with the American influence militarily and politically in those regions.
6- Expanding the option of military escalation: Beijing can take several steps for a military escalation against Taipei and Washington, which it has already started by launching massive military exercises in Taiwan’s territorial waters. It can also attack small Taiwanese islands away from the main island, or impose a naval military blockade on Taiwan. as well as the continued development and modernization of the Chinese arsenal, in particular the testing of supersonic missiles and the construction of new aircraft carriers; Which the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General “Mark Milley” warned of, by saying that “the Chinese army has become significantly more aggressive and dangerous” over the past five years; Because the number of interceptions of Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region against Washington and its allies has doubled; This threatens Washington’s goal of making the Pacific “free, open, and peaceful.”
7- Accelerating the pace of military support for Russia: Ukraine may turn into an arena for indirect confrontation between Washington and Beijing in the context of the Chinese response to the visit of the US House Speaker to Taiwan; Until now, Beijing has been cautious in providing direct military support to Russia in its war in Ukraine, but Beijing may recalculate to expand its support to Moscow, especially since Moscow needs some Chinese weapons to strengthen its operations in Ukraine. This is similar to the advanced drones that Beijing has.
In sum, there are a number of geopolitical variables that lead to a different situation in Ukraine from Taiwan. Because the balance of power in Southeast Asia is more complex than that in Eastern Europe; There are many economic forces and political alliances that must be taken into account when deciding war or peace between Beijing and Washington. But nevertheless, Beijing still possesses a set of cards that allow it to negatively influence the interests of the United States in various regions and files.