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China is ramping up pressure on Taiwan. What will the US do next?

For two days in a row, Chinese military officials have been delivering a message of victory to the public. The People’s Liberation Army is punishing Taiwan for hosting U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s drill with “multiple firsts,” gloating on state television.

“Our firepower covers all Taiwan, we can strike at will,” said Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Naval Research Institute. “We are very close to Taiwan. We surrounded Taiwan. We have demonstrated that we can effectively prevent foreign interference. “

Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, the first by a House speaker in 25 years, was designed to show support for the country at a time many in the United States see as a growing threat of a Chinese invasion.

But some in Washington now fear the visit could have the opposite effect — giving Beijing a chance to demonstrate its military coercion capabilities and making Taiwan more vulnerable to the growing rivalry between the two superpowers.

Analysts say Beijing hopes to shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival through the military exercises. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the aviation and shipping routes that support its central role in the global technology supply chain. China also wants to question the willingness and ability of the United States to help defend the island from Chinese aggression.

A PLA aircraft refuels in the air.China sends a record number of fighter jets over the centerline of the Taiwan Strait to protest Pelosi’s visit © Eastern Theater Command/Handout/Reuters

Gary Roughead, a retired admiral and former U.S. chief of naval operations, said it was clear that the Chinese exercise would significantly change the military dynamics in the region.

“It shows that Beijing has a plan because they are executing a more fragmented response than ever before,” Lovehead said. “This is a change in the way China is now dealing with events in and out of Taiwan. We will see this as a step change in the way they operate.”

Foreign defense experts caution against reading Chinese militaryMock Beijing, which sees squeezing Taiwan as a direct route to annexation, warns it may try one day.

But they agreed that the show of force was a watershed in the 73-year-old island conflict and, more broadly, in the balance of power between China and the United States.

John Culver, a former senior CIA official who has spent decades studying the People’s Liberation Army, said U.S.-China relations have entered a “new era” after the Chinese exercise included several unprecedented elements, including the launch of a maiden flyby. The island’s missiles and effectively closed the sea. The Chinese Air Force also dispatched a record number of fighter jets to the centerline of the Taiwan Strait. Some of the target areas designated by China are within Taiwan’s territorial waters.

“We’re in a new status quo. I don’t see how this will end. It might just be a day or three of military exercises on the island, but we’re in a new period,” Culver said. “It’s going to be their benchmark, and they might even make it a routine.”

Prelude to the lockdown?

China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit has been immediate and dramatic.

The PLA imposed a three-day blockade of six areas around Taiwan in sea and airspace with extremely busy shipping lanes and shipping lanes — enough to draw accusations from Taiwan that it amounted to a blockade of its ports. Not interfering with major shipping routes and merchant shipping routes goes against the PLA’s previous practice.

“This is a pre-blockade demonstration, as a full blockade would include threats to shoot down airliners and submarines, mining of ports, and deployment of air and sea forces in a full circle around Taiwan,” said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at U.S.-based think tank International Assessment and Strategy center. “This is the first opportunity for the PLA to prove to itself and Taiwan that it can conduct the large-scale combined air, sea, missile and space operations necessary for a complete blockade.”

While few flights were canceled, the drills forced airlines and shipping companies to change routes as they approached Taiwan. Experts believe the PLA has not yet been able to withstand such pressure on the country for a long time, but warn it could repeat similar actions.

China launches ballistic missiles and deploys fighter jets in largest-ever military exercise in Taiwan © PLA Eastern Theater Command/ESN/AFP/Getty Images

“We are still a long way from closing Taiwan for a long time. But if the PLA announces that there will be a second and third round, it will be another game. Shipping through conflict zones increases insurance costs and leads to Delays and disruptions,” said Christopher Tomei, a China expert at the U.S. Navy’s Monterey Naval Graduate School. He added that Beijing’s intention was to spark a debate in Taiwan about the benefits of the country’s firm opposition to reunification with China, stressing the cost of doing so.

Beijing has characterized the exercise as a violent retaliation for Pelosi’s trip. But there are signs that it planned a show of force for months. Since Pelosi’s intentions for a visit were first made public in April, Beijing has privately threatened a strong response, according to Taiwan’s intelligence services.

“It gives them the opportunity to do what they think is necessary in military training that might otherwise be politically impossible,” said a senior Taiwanese government official. “If deemed ‘unprovoked,’ launching a ballistic missile over Taipei could spark a global outcry and even sanctions,” he said, comparing the move to North Korea’s 2017 launch of a missile over Japanese territory. “Now they’re getting farther and farther away from it.”

Michèle Flournoy, a former Pentagon official, said that while China’s exercises were “extremely provocative,” the People’s Liberation Army did not appear to have mobilized for a major conflict with Taiwan at this time. However, she added, “there is always a risk of miscalculation”.

However, Taiwanese and Western officials fear Beijing will take other steps on both sides of its military campaign aimed at establishing a new status quo around Taiwan. In recent months, Chinese military officials have said in interactions with their U.S. counterparts that the Taiwan Strait is an important artery for trade in energy and industrial goods between East Asia and the rest of the world, and that U.S. warships frequently pass through the Taiwan Strait, which is not international waters.

Nancy Pelosi met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during her visit. There are signs that Beijing has been planning such a show of force since her April visit was made public © Chien Chih-Hung/Office of the President/Getty Images

“They can use the Pelosi incident to justify changing the status quo, as they did around the Senkakus,” a Western official said. Following Japan’s nationalization of the small islands in the East China Sea in 2012, the Chinese government began sending coast guards and warships to the contiguous zone of the archipelago to challenge Japanese control over them.

In the disputed South China Sea between China and several of its neighbors, Beijing has gradually built artificial islands and militarized them with missiles and planes — possibly the plane the U.S. Air Force steered Pelosi from Taiwan to South Korea for. potential causes in the area.

“It’s not clear if they’re going to do similar salami slices in the Taiwan Strait like they did in the South China Sea, or if they’re going to cut one very large slice at a time like they did with the Senkakus, but obviously it’s a Critical moment,” said Western officials.

“One China” Policy

Even before Pelosi’s trip, Beijing had a view that the United States was gradually eroding its “One China” policy. In Washington, a key question is whether that perception will now intensify.

The People’s Republic of China has claimed Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to occupy it by force since the government of the Republic of China fled to the island formerly ruled by Japan following its defeat in the mainland’s civil war in 1949.

This threat was contained for decades — first by the United States and the Republic of China forming a military alliance on the Taiwan issue, and after Washington shifted diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China in 1979 through the United States’ one-China policy, acknowledging Beijing’s position, That is, Taiwan is a part of China but does not look at Taiwan’s future.

This intricate balance has been shaken since Taiwan democratized in the 1990s, and China has become more bellicose.

The Biden administration has made subtle changes to how it engages with Taipei after Trump took office, such as easing restrictions on U.S. officials meeting with Taiwanese officials. While the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwan independence, Biden warned China of military intervention if China attacks Taiwan.

White House condemns China for launching ballistic missiles in response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan © Michael Reynolds/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Raghead said the events of the past week have highlighted the need for the United States to send more troops to the Pacific. But he said the U.S. could lose focus over domestic politics, which is especially dangerous after November, when Xi will gain an expected and unprecedented third contingent as Communist Party leader.

“We saw the event, reacted and moved on, but Beijing embraced the event and thought, ‘how does this fit into our roadmap’,” he said.

Military experts say the PLA’s rapid modernization, reflected in this week’s operations, has left the U.S. military with rapidly diminishing options to deal with it without risking war.

“It will be very challenging for the United States to send the right signal to China due to the shift in the military balance, and [for] Allies should not be coerced by these signals,” Twomey said.

Pedestrians in Beijing watch news reports about Chinese military exercises near Taiwan © Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Fisher said it was time for Washington to air a massive airlift of arms to Taiwan to build a war stockpile ahead of China’s total blockade. “There must now be clear informal military coordination between Taiwan, Japan and the United States for effective military action against China,” he said, even suggesting the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on or near Taiwan. However, most observers see these steps as highly escalating.

Flournoy said the idea that the U.S. military must respond immediately to the situation around Taiwan is wrong.

“The name of the game is to stop China from actually invading Taiwan. That means working closely with Taiwan to seriously improve its self-defense capabilities and make it more like a porcupine,” she said, referring to the fact that the U.S. must help Taiwan become harder to attack Target.

Many Taiwanese believe that non-intervention would be America’s second betrayal. As Foreign Secretary Joseph Wu waved goodbye as Pelosi’s plane taxied into the sunset on Wednesday, the scene evoked memories of the departure of the last U.S. military commander after Washington abandoned Taipei for Beijing in April 1979. .

The shift left Taiwan isolated on the international stage, but nascent engagement between the U.S. and China eased tensions, and the resulting domestic pressure led to reforms, an economic miracle, and ultimately the transformation of Taiwan into Asia’s most dynamic one of the democracies.

This time, the outlook is completely different. As Taiwanese government officials put it: “We are always trying to make Taiwan better. But for now, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future.”

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