If China’s display of power over Chairman Nancy Pelosi’s trip was intended as a deterrent, it has not had the intended effect in Taiwan, where the military exercises have reinforced a careful two-pronged strategy to bolster international support and avoid open confrontation.
The exercises, which surrounded the self-ruled island and simulated a blockade, instead appear to have hardened Taiwan’s belief in the value of the island’s diplomatic, economic and military maneuvers to find a middle ground in the deadlock between the major powers. between China and the United States.
Under President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwanese officials have quietly courted Washington, making profits from arms sales and vows of support for democracy. They have also refrained from showing off that success, in an effort to prevent eruptions from China, which claims the island as its own.
While Beijing promises to normalize military exercises ever closer to Taiwan, that approach is likely to guide the island’s continued response and set up new rounds of brinkmanship around one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.
When Beijing recently sent dozens of fighters across the median line dividing the waters between China and Taiwan, the Taiwanese military said it would not escalate and took relatively soft countermeasures. Contrary to the lurid and violent warnings from Chinese diplomats and state media, Taiwan made sober statements and welcomed a letter from the leaders of the Group of 7 countries condemning the exercises.
In some ways, China’s military spectacle has been self-defeating, said Fan Shih-ping, a professor of politics at National Taiwan Normal University.
“This time, the world has seen through China’s actions,” he said. “Taiwan has become a new focus of the world.”
For all their shock and awe, the exercises have damaged some of China’s interests.
In Taiwan, they have fueled opposition to China, adding to the growing urgency over the need to defend and diversify the island away from its economic dependence on China. Within China’s political party, the Kuomintang, they have sparked internal disagreements over how to conduct relations with Beijing, while Taiwanese public opinion sours the prospect. Abroad, they have raised awareness about Taiwan’s plight, often overlooked and misunderstood, and condemned China’s actions.
“China’s exercises have already drawn so much criticism from the international community. This would make it impossible for Taiwan to reduce future foreign involvement. Instead, it will only hope to further strengthen its international participation,” said Mr. Fan.
Even the high political theater of Mrs. Pelosi’s visit herself can serve as an example for the future. Taiwan has become adept at courting high-ranking lawmakers from major powers in what has been called “congress diplomacy.”
The strategy has enabled Taiwan to strengthen international exchanges without sparking the specter of full diplomatic recognition and the ire of China, which may come with the visit of a president or prime minister. In July, Nicola Beer, a vice president of the European Parliament, visited the island, in a recent parallel to Ms Pelosi’s trip that caused less controversy.
“Maybe the new US Congress speaker will also visit Taiwan after the election, which would make it a routine,” Mr Fan said, adding that he thought it possible for Ms Pelosi to invite Ms Tsai to speak. of the United States Congress.
Understand the tensions between China and Taiwan
Understand the tensions between China and Taiwan
What does China mean to Taiwan? China claims Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy of 23 million people, as its territory and has long vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. The island, to which Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese troops withdrew after the communist revolution of 1949, has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
That attention could also make US arms sales to Taiwan even more urgent. The Russian invasion of Ukraine had already convinced many in Washington and Taipei that a Chinese invasion was a potential threat, and that a smaller army, armed with the right weapons, could retaliate by a larger force.
Nevertheless, Taiwanese officials have complained about delays and unfulfilled orders, in part due to production restrictions. Other systems that Taiwan wanted, including advanced naval helicopters, have been judged unnecessary by US officials for fighting China with an asymmetric strategy centered on mobility and precision strikes.
The delays and strategic disagreements could put Taiwan in a difficult position should a sudden conflict break out. US officials have considered building weapons in Taiwan over fears it would be difficult to resupply the island in the event of a Chinese military blockade.
“The arms sales process is one where Taiwan has to justify to Americans why we want those guns,” said Kitsch Liao, a military and cyber affairs adviser at Doublethink Lab, a Taiwanese research group. “And there’s nothing more powerful than empirical evidence of what’s happening on the ground, so the exercises would provide the hard evidence to support future requests.”
The exercises may also have helped improve coordination between Taiwan’s military personnel and the United States, as the two worked to ensure the safety of Ms. Pelosi’s landing in Taiwan. And the military exercises, which China has said it will continue to conduct in the Taiwan Strait, will provide Taiwan and the US with valuable experience to exchange observations and intelligence.
Su Tzu-yun, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, said the exercises provided a rare opportunity to assess China’s military capabilities, which he said were not developed enough to “manage Taiwan in an all-round way.” fall,” he said. .
The Chinese actions serve as a wake-up call of sorts and have bolstered support for the military in Taiwan, which has struggled with accidents and morale in the face of such a potential enemy like China. According to many reports, Taiwanese troops are poorly equipped and undermanned.
Although Ms Tsai’s government has discussed extending military service, she has struggled to impose a new strategic vision on the military leadership. The exercises, Mr. Su said, have increased the urgency and led to new calls for an increase in the island’s defense budget.
“It is not only the responsibility of soldiers in uniform, but also officials in suits,” he said of the need to strengthen the army.
The exercises could also pave the way for better ties with some of Taiwan’s neighbors. After five Chinese missiles landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, the country’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, condemned the exercises. That offers a possible opening for Taiwanese officials, who have called for a security dialogue with Japan.
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“What is needed is no longer just a bilateral discussion between Taiwan and Japan or Taiwan and the US, but dialogue, communication and contact between Taiwan and the US-Japan pact as soon as possible,” said Lai I-chung, a executive committee member at the Taiwan Thinktank research group, and a former official from the island’s Democratic Progressive Party.
Taiwan must learn from Ukraine, he said, and not allow China to dictate a new status quo that wears out Taiwan’s territory and autonomy. He called Ms Tsai’s approach “cautious,” and said some Taiwanese were eager for stronger action, pointing to a potential political risk to Ms Tsai’s approach.
“She is very careful, even to the point that some Taiwanese youth with a strong Taiwanese identity are not satisfied with her,” he said.
Perhaps just as important to Ms. Tsai is mitigating the economic impact of new Chinese bans on Taiwanese agricultural products. Despite China’s warmongering, it remains Taiwan’s largest trading partner, a position it further weaponized around the time of Ms. Pelosi’s visit by banning additional Taiwanese food items.
Those efforts are likely to encourage continued diversification. Taiwanese companies have already reassessed the Chinese economy, which has collapsed amid harsh Covid measures that have led to repeated lockdowns across the country.
Because Chinese companies depend on Taiwanese electronics manufacturers, Beijing’s measures have largely avoided that. Still, those manufacturers, many of which have factories in China, have also looked at moving production elsewhere in recent years.
That sentiment is reflected in Europe and the United States, which have worked to bring home more production of key tech products, such as semiconductors.
A billion-dollar US law to support the semiconductor industry has made it more feasible for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, one of the world’s leading chip manufacturers based in Taiwan, to expand production in the United States. Other manufacturers have brought a number of factories closer to customers, for example in Southeast Asia, India and Eastern Europe.
“A new sense has been created by the United States and Europe, that is, things should be delivered and bought locally, rather than relying solely on China,” said Liu Meng-chun, director of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.