Has Pelosi Helped Taiwan Away from the Wall in the Ditch?

At first glance, the visit of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan seemed primarily a celebration of democracy. Together with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, she took a strong stand in the full light of the international media against powerful Beijing, which had tried everything to prevent the visit.

But after her departure, the real party starts in earnest. Immediately after Pelosi’s landing on the island — seen by China as an inalienable part of China but de facto an independent island nation — China announced that its military would conduct live ammunition drills around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday. .

The exercises are exceptional and profound in many ways. China presented a nice map: it shows six areas encircling the entire island as a dotted circle. China has said that commercial aircraft and ships are not welcome during exercises in these areas.

As a result, Taiwan is effectively cut off from the outside world during the exercises. It “is a serious violation of our country’s territorial integrity,” Captain Jian-chang Yu said during a press briefing by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Security. It is not clear whether Taiwan, the United States or possibly Japan will intervene to obstruct or prevent the exercises.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Economy said that energy supplies are large enough to withstand such a period of isolation and that Taiwan had prepared for it.

Territorial waters

With the exercises, China also crosses three Taiwanese borders. First, there is the imaginary line that runs through the middle of the Taiwan Strait, on the west side of the island. For a long time, the informal division between China and Taiwan was where China ended and Taiwan began. Although China is increasingly crossing that line, all six areas where the training is taking place are this time located wholly or partially east of that line.

The exercises are all held in whole or in part within the so-called Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Taiwan asks aircraft entering the area to identify themselves to assess whether they pose a potential threat to Taiwan. China does not respect that.

Most unusually, three of the six zones where the exercises will take place are within the 12-mile zone around Taiwan’s coast, the island’s territorial waters. This means that some exercises take place only about 22 kilometers off the coast of Taiwan.

Isolate

With these exercises, China mainly shows that it does not need to take Taiwan in order to subjugate it to its power. If China can isolate the island for a long time, Taiwan will not survive in the long run.


This will only work if Taiwan, the US and neighboring Japan do not oppose it. The exercise therefore appears to be aimed at learning more about their response to Taiwan’s isolation. Do they manage the exercises on their side, also because it is only for a few days? Or are they ignoring the Chinese rule of staying out of the training area and holding on to a right of free passage?

This is interesting information for China. It shows the leeway it has to put some more pressure on Taiwan to further increase its power over the island.

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China likes such salami tactics. It also expanded its influence in the South China Sea and did something daring and bold, such as artificially raising uninhabited islands for military posts. If it does not face significant opposition, China will then assert a new status quo. It is a much more efficient and profitable way of gaining power and influence than waging an expensive and risky war.

Communist China has always said that Taiwan, which was never under communist rule, would sooner or later become part of a great, reunified motherland. This would preferably be done peacefully, but if necessary, China would use force.

For current President Xi Jinping, there is one overriding reason why he might decide to invade the island by force: if Taiwan declares its independence from China. The chances of that happening are slim, especially under the current president. But even if Xi believes that otherwise it will be forever impossible to bring Taiwan under Chinese rule, he may decide to intervene militarily.

However, such an invasion is a very difficult operation from a military point of view, if only because Taiwan is an island. Furthermore, there are great political and economic risks involved. There is a real chance that China will then go to war with the US. But even if that didn’t happen, China would almost certainly face tough international sanctions.

The war in Ukraine has also made a military incursion less attractive to Xi: Xi has seen how fierce resistance can be in a country that loathes the occupying forces, and Xi would certainly also face strong antipathy towards Taiwan. According to opinion polls, Taiwanese feel more and more Taiwanese and less and less Chinese.

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Xi would much rather see Taiwan join China voluntarily. China will always try to lend a helping hand to this “voluntariness”, for example by creating so much pressure and threats around the island that the government has no choice but to cooperate with Beijing and eventually accept Chinese sovereignty

If this time China can show with these military exercises that it is possible to isolate Taiwan without much effort, then China has significantly increased its grip on Taiwan.

For example, Pelosi’s visit would have achieved the exact opposite of what she and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen were hoping for. Then the chance that Taiwan can ultimately survive as a democratic beacon in the region has only diminished further.

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