China and Taiwan – one of the world’s oldest and most dangerous diplomatic tensions today – exchanged barbs again this week, after four consecutive days of Chinese aircraft flying over the Taiwanese air defense zone.
This Chinese military action has sparked a series of warnings in the region, with officials and experts warning of potentially dire consequences if tensions continue to escalate.
Taiwan’s defense minister said tensions between China and the island had reached the worst point in 40 years.
According to Chiu Kuo-cheng, China will already have the military capacity to invade Taiwan, but by 2025 it can increase its military power. A Taiwanese parliamentary committee is considering a billion-dollar bill to build missiles and warships.
The words that came from the Chinese side were also harsh. China’s state-run English-language newspaper, Global Times, warned that Taiwan should not be “playing with fire”.
The diplomatic battle between China and Taiwan led other countries to demonstrate. US President Joe Biden said he had spoken with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who would have agreed to abide by the agreement that guarantees peace in the region.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the BBC Thursday (7/7) that the country is “extremely concerned” about tensions between China and Taiwan.
“We will speak up and raise our voice, both in private and in public, when we see activities that are fundamentally destabilizing,” Sullivan said in Brussels on Thursday, a day after he met China’s top diplomat in Europe, Yang Jiechi.
Asked if the United States was prepared to take military action to defend Taiwan, Sullivan said, “Let me say one thing, let’s act now to try to prevent that day from coming.”
Asked if the United States was reluctant to use force after its recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, Sullivan said that “trying to learn lessons” from this conflict was a “fatal mistake.”
“Trying to argue that getting out of Afghanistan somehow tells any country about the depth and level of US commitment elsewhere is a huge mistake.”
China will “vigorously defend its view of the world,” Sullivan said.
“It is up to us, the United States, to work with allies and partners to make clear where we are, defend our friends, and defend our interests…and that’s what we intend to do,” he added.
Last week, China sent about 150 warplanes to the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), something that had not been done on such a scale before. In recent years, China has increased this type of activity, with frequent military exercises in offshore areas close to the island.
Many people speculate that China is considering ways to invade Taiwan – something that could take decades or just a few years to happen. The incursions by Chinese aircraft will be part of those exercises and planning.
China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijing has always said the island would be reclaimed by the Chinese at some point in history. And by force if necessary.
Many also speculate that Taiwan may formally declare its independence. But Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said she has no plans to take such a step because Taiwan is “a truly sovereign country”.
However, Ing Wen said that a Chinese power grab would have “serious consequences” for regional peace and the system of democratic alliances.
How do relations between China and Taiwan work?
In 1949, at the end of the Chinese Civil War, the defeated Nationalists (known as the Kuomintang) fled to Taiwan and formed a government on the island. The victorious communists called the mainland the People’s Republic of China.
Both sides claim to represent all of China.
Initially, many governments, including the United States, recognized Taiwan instead of communist China.
But in the 1970s, when both China and the United States were on edge with the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War, there was a shift in relations.
The Americans and Chinese got closer, which led to the United States and other countries severing formal relations with Taiwan in 1979 and beginning to recognize the Beijing government.
The embassy in Taipei was closed, but relations were not completely severed. In 1979, the United States passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which guarantees the island’s support, including arms sales, so that the Taiwanese can defend themselves.
The United States maintains an informal presence in Taipei through the American Institute in Taiwan, a private entity through which it conducts diplomatic activities.
What is the “one China policy”?
The one-China policy is international diplomatic recognition of the existence of a single Chinese government – the view espoused by the Beijing-based government. Within this policy, followed by Brazil, the United States of America and most countries of the world, governments establish official relations with China, and not with the island of Taiwan.
China considers Taiwan a rebellious province, which will one day be completely re-placed in China.
The one-China policy is the foundation of China-US relations. It is also a fundamental basis for Chinese policy-making and diplomacy.
While the government of Taiwan claims to be an independent country officially called the “Republic of China,” any country that wants to establish diplomatic relations with mainland China must sever formal ties with Taipei.
This has resulted in Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation from the international community.
The one-China policy is an attempt by US diplomacy to establish a delicate balance in the region, and it has persisted for decades, despite various times of tension.
what is happening now?
Many of Taiwan’s western allies have expressed concern about the events of the past few days. Biden said the one-China policy should be respected.
“I have spoken with [Sr.] Something about Taiwan. “We agree…we will respect the Taiwan Agreement,” President Biden said.
For the BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonnell, both sides of the tension are now trying to prevent any accidental military incident that would make the situation worse.
“Many people, especially those living in Taiwan, expect Xi Jinping to have pledged to Joe Biden the way the US president reported that he did — and that a bloody cross-strait solution is not a serious option.”
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