In the past week, China has publicly been increasing its military exercises around the island of Taiwan. Sunday, video footage released by the People’s Liberation Army showed an H-6K bomber and 2 Su-30 fighter jets circling the island. The three warplanes were said to be conducting “encirclement” patrols. Sunday’s release echoes the footage released just last week by the Chinese air force, which also showed warplanes encircling Taiwan.
PRC (the People’s Republic of China) has also allegedly increased intelligence gathering. The Taiwanese defense ministry reported on Monday that they have spotted two know reconnaissance aircrafts near Taiwan in the past few days. Last month, mainland China’s largest intelligence gathering aircraft was also spotted near Taiwan. This aircraft, the Tu-154, specifically possesses the advanced radar capabilities to map out and survey military bases.
One China? Or Two Nations?
Taiwan separated from China after a bloody civil war that left the communists in power. The communist dictator Mao Zedung, who had defeated the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek, proceeded to drag mainland China into a period of famine, oppression, and near unprecedented violence that saw the death of 45 million in just four years.
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The war forced Chiang Kai-shek and the Republic of China to retreat to Taiwan in 1949, where the two forces have maintained their status as ideological enemies although they sit just across the Taiwan Strait from each other. Most historians hold that the civil war ended in 1950, but no peace treaty was ever signed. Officially both governments, still adhere to what is called the one-China Policy, which holds that Taiwan and China are one nation. Taiwan has been seen as moving away from the one-China policy since the 1990s and the third Taiwan Strait Crisis. While the PRC claims that the one-China policy gives them autonomy over Taiwan, many Taiwanese dream of day where the two nations will be united under a non-communist, democratic government.
Although Taiwan functions as a sovereign state, there has yet to be a formal declaration of independence from mainland China. The PRC government views Taiwan, not as an independent entity, but as a rebellious province. That being the case, China believe they have the right to use force to bring the autonomous island back under mainland control.
Taiwan is also the first in a chain of islands known as the “first island chain.” This archipelago stands between mainland China and the Pacific Ocean. According to China, the US uses this archipelago to “contain” China, highlighting the role of the United States in the ongoing conflict. An autonomous and antagonistic Taiwan literally stands in the way of China’s access the world’s largest ocean.
The increased military drills surrounding the island have led many to consider whether or not mainland China is planning a military engagement with Taiwan. These fears were stoked last week when PRC media reported that a Chinese diplomat in the US stated that China was willing to use force to reclaim Taiwan should they feel threatened by the US, specifically if a US warship were to dock in a Taiwanese port.
Tensions between Beijing and Taipei were emphasized last year when then President-elect Trump took a phone call with his Taiwanese counterpart President Tsai Ing-wen, greatly upsetting Beijing. The phone call, which at the time many analysts believed to be a diplomatic faux pas, was a key moment in President Trump’s transition to power, especially considering that taking a tougher stance on China was one of his key campaign platforms. While on the campaign trail, Trump often accused China of taking advantage of the US.
Last week, Beijing lodged an official complaint with the US, after President Trump signed the new defense budget. The defense budget, signed last Tuesday, stated that the US could “consider the advisability and feasibility of re-establishing port of call exchanges between the United States Navy and the Taiwan navy.” In short, the defense budget would allow for US warships to visit Taiwan. PRC authorities hold that such a visit not only “constitutes an interference in China’s domestic affairs,” but actually would be in violation of the one-China policy.
China also fears that the US might sell arms to Taiwan, with a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, stating, “We firmly oppose any form of official exchanges or military links between Taiwan and the US, as well as US arms sales to Taiwan.” Last summer, President Trump approved as $1.3 billion arms deal to the island.
Although President Trump must rely on China to a certain extent to help manage the ever growing North Korean threat, the American president seems to have increased his anti-China rhetoric. Yesterday, President Trump gave a speech on his National Security Strategy (NSS).
In the speech, the President labeled China as a “rival power” pointing to their attempts to “challenge American influence, values, and wealth.” The document released by the White House outlining the President’s security strategy actually labels China (and Russia) as a “revisionist power” attempting “to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests.” It also draws attention to China’s use of online propaganda and cyber attacks, while calling China a risk to the sovereignty of other states, a potential allusion to the situation with Taiwan.
Chinese authorities did not take kindly to the statements, with a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry claiming that the statements were reminiscent of the Cold War. She went on to say, “China will resolutely safeguard its sovereignty, security and right to develop. No one should have the fantasy of expecting China to swallow the bitter fruit of harming its own interests,” in essence echoing the nationalist, America First agenda of President Trump. Economic nationalism holds that each nation has the right to defend its own wealth, self-interests, and sovereignty. In fact, it is a nation’s duty to its people to do so.
President Trump’s National Security Strategy clearly indicates that China is seen by the administration as a key competitor in the realms of economics, military, and politics, raising question over whether China’s military “drills” over Taiwan are meant as more of a challenge to the government in Taipei or in Washington D.C.