Peace and Sabers
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After the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California – an event echoing former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year – the Chinese military staged a massive drill around the independent island that Chinese President Xi Jinping considers a breakaway territory.
As the Washington Post explained, the drill also occurred soon after French President Emmanuel Macron left China after a failed bid to tone down tensions in the region and extract promises that China wouldn’t help Russia with the war Russian President Vladimir Putin started more than a year ago.
Macron made news during his three-day visit to China by saying that France was an ally of the US, not its “vassal,” reported the BBC. The comment cast doubt on whether the West was unified against any Chinese aggression that might aim to annex Taiwan in the same way Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, claiming it was sovereign Russian land.
The uproar over Macron’s comments was so great that Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock felt impelled to speak up and say her country would help the US ward off a Chinese invasion of the island, Politico noted.
Chinese military leaders were unequivocal in at least threatening violence to gain suzerainty over Taiwan as their ships and planes flew around the region. “The troops in the theatre are ready to fight all the time and can fight at any time, resolutely crushing any form of Taiwan independence separatism and foreign interference,” the Eastern Theatre Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army said in a statement to Reuters.
As the military drills were ongoing, meanwhile, Taiwanese officials vowed to maintain vigilant air defense systems and closely track China’s forces, particularly the Shandong aircraft carrier and its support craft, as USNI News illustrated.
Still, Taiwan is highly vulnerable to any Chinese air attack, according to leaked US intelligence documents.
Global affairs guru Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, didn’t think China would invade Taiwan anytime soon, however. In a commentary in Time magazine, Bremmer argued that Xi has been acting as a peacemaker lately – offering plans to end the Russia-Ukraine War and receiving diplomats from Europe to the Middle East. That diplomacy has resulted in Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Iran but also anti-Taiwan developments, like Honduras dropping its recognition of Taiwan to improve relations with officials in Beijing, as CNN reported. But analysts say it also shows that Xi is not in the mood to start conflicts.
When Foreign Policy magazine surveyed international relations scholars about the chance of China invading Taiwan, only 6 percent thought it might happen.
Saber-rattling is always risky, though.