Why tensions are rising in Taiwan
WASHINGTON DC: Tensions have skyrocketed in recent weeks over Taiwan, the autonomous democracy claimed by China – and allied with the United States.
How far tensions will accelerate – and what the US response will be – is hotly debated among experts.
What is the position on each side?
The Chinese Communist government regards Taiwan as a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Chinese nationalist Kuomintang fled to the island in 1949 after losing the civil war on the mainland. The island of 24 million people has since evolved into a vibrant democracy and a major tech hub, leading many – including President Tsai Ing-wen – to assert Taiwan’s distinct identity.
The United States moved from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, concluding that the Kuomintang would never retake the continent, which has become one of the major world powers and Washington’s main rival.
The U.S. Congress in 1979 asked the United States to supply Taiwan with arms for self-defense, but Washington remained deliberately ambiguous as to whether it would defend Taiwan in an invasion.
Why are tensions rising?
President Xi Jinping asserted Chinese nationalism and, following protests in Hong Kong, severely clamped down on freedoms in the financial center, which had been promised a separate system before his transfer from Britain.
“Beijing’s dramatic demolition of this model in Hong Kong has had a significant impact on the attitudes of many in Taiwan, even among those who previously might have been in favor of closer cultural or economic ties between the two shores,” said Carl Minzner, Principal Investigator. at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Tsai was easily re-elected last year in what was once a very divided population.
China has significantly stepped up military activities in recent years with a record number of planes entering near the island in early October.
What is China’s goal?
Concerns are growing in the United States that Beijing is planning a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, although many experts dismiss these fears as exaggerated.
“Over the past year, it has been recognized that the Chinese military has already achieved or is about to achieve the capability to invade and control Taiwan,” said Bonnie Glaser, Asia director of the German Marshall Fund. of the United States.
“For a long time this was seen as a real factor,” she said.
She pointed to disturbing signs, including exercises, that simulate bombing of Taiwanese ports or landings.
Glaser, however, is among those who doubt China has an invasion schedule. Taiwan is the only problem that could bring the United States and China to war – which could escalate to the nuclear level.
“Having a military confrontation with the United States is something that China has been trying to avoid for years,” Glaser said.
Xi would “endanger all the other goals he has for his country,” she said.
“China’s goal, in my opinion, is to instill psychological despair among the people of Taiwan to give up and say, well, we’ll just have to concede to Beijing and be part of China. really want to win bloodless. “
What will the United States do?
A growing number of experts, including Richard Haass, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, have called on the United States to come out of its “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan and explicitly warn China that the United States will intervene if there is. has an invasion.
Critics say such a wish would backfire, with Chinese leaders already convinced the United States is encouraging Taiwan’s separatist forces despite repeated assurances from the United States that it only recognizes Beijing.
On October 21, President Joe Biden triggered Chinese warnings stating that the United States would defend Taiwan, although the White House was quick to make it clear that he was not changing policy.
For now, the Biden administration appears to be seeking measures to support Taiwan without triggering a crisis, for example by encouraging its inclusion in international institutions.
Tsai expressed his confidence in an interview with CNN this week. When asked if the United States would defend Taiwan, she replied, “I have faith.