White House puts China on notice
The Biden administration is warning China over its increasing provocations against Taiwan, a critical flashpoint amid the ongoing poor relations between Washington and Beijing.
Taiwan raised the alarm after Chinese warplanes violated its airspace nearly 150 times over the course of about four days, leaving top Taiwanese — and some American — officials worried about a military confrontation.
“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan, and we have an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. That’s why we will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
The U.S. has a unique relationship with the island, providing military and other types of support since China’s Nationalist government fled there in 1949 following the Chinese Civil War. But the U.S. has held back from creating official ties with the Taipei as part of agreements with Beijing.
Taiwan considers itself the legitimate government of the Chinese people, while Beijing criticizes it as a rogue territory. Taipei and Beijing have gone through periods of rapprochement, but the Chinese Communist Party has increasingly threatened reunification through military intervention.
Beijing also takes exception with Washington’s support of Taipei, accusing the U.S. of meddling in internal Chinese affairs.
“Taiwan belongs to China and the U.S. is in no position to make irresponsible remarks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement on Monday, reacting to warnings issued by the Biden administration.
Psaki described the U.S. commitment to Taiwan as “rock solid” on Monday and said U.S. officials have been clear “privately and publicly” about the administration’s concerns related to China’s behavior toward Taiwan.
“We will continue to watch the situation very closely,” she said.
The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment regarding which defense officials had raised concerns with China over its aggression toward Taiwan, though the Defense Department last week held two days of talks “on a range of issues affecting” the United States’ defense relationship with China.
The Biden administration says it is not seeking conflict with Beijing, but relations with China nevertheless seem to be growing more tense on a number of fronts.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Monday that she will begin direct talks with her Chinese counterpart to press Beijing about its failure to comply with aspects of the Trump-era “phase one” trade pact.
“Our objective is not to inflame trade tensions with China,” Tai said during a speech on Monday, while emphasizing that the Biden administration plans to use the “full range of tools” to defend U.S. economic interests.
The administration has also sought to shore up its alliances to better direct resources toward countering Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Last month, Biden announced that the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia would form a new pact to cooperate on security in the region, which in part involves helping Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of August was also driven in part by his desire to focus on threats and competition from China and Russia.
Biden has spoken twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office but has yet to meet with him face-to-face. Asked Monday for an update on a potential meeting, Psaki did not offer any specifics but said the administration maintains “high-level dialogue” with China.
There is strong, bipartisan support in Congress for close relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.
The island nation is viewed as a democratic bulwark against the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party and as a key U.S.-trading partner for essential commodities like semiconductors and electronics.
“China’s intimidation tactics will only redouble our commitment to stand up for our democratic friend, Taiwan,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted on Monday.
CM @RepGregoryMeeks: This kind of aggression threatens peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
China’s intimidation tactics will only redouble our commitment to stand up for our democratic friend, Taiwan. https://t.co/DWRIZCGtEM
— House Foreign Affairs Committee (@HouseForeign) October 4, 2021
Likewise, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denounced China’s provocations in the region and called for supporting “the people of Taiwan” in a tweet on Monday.
This weekend, the #CCP air force sent 80+ aircraft to practice attack runs on #Taiwan. The world should be angered by this intimidation & aggression, & the threats from state-affiliated media that accompanied it. We must continue to support the people of Taiwan.
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member (@SenateForeign) October 4, 2021
Taiwan, meanwhile, said it is preparing for potential war with China and is poised to repel any strike. It has also reached out to regional friends, asking Australia to increase intelligence sharing and security cooperation, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s “China Tonight.”
“The defense of Taiwan is in our own hands, and we are absolutely committed to that,” Wu told ABC’s Stan Grant in an interview to be broadcast Monday.
“I’m sure that if China is going to launch an attack against Taiwan, I think they are going to suffer tremendously as well.”
The U.S. does not explicitly say it would come to the island’s defense in a conflict with China, due to its decades-old policy toward Taiwan, but in recent years debate in Washington has grown over whether to abandon strategic ambiguity.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in June said that while there would have to be a political decision for the United States to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, “we do have military capabilities” to defeat such a move.
But the American public, with the fallout from the war in Afghanistan still fresh, shows a higher threshold for military intervention abroad. A recent survey by the Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF) found that a small plurality of respondents, 42.3 percent, favored the U.S. defending Taiwan militarily, while 41.6 percent were unsure. The views differed slightly based on political parties, with over half of Republicans in favor of the U.S. defending Taiwan, while 39.4 percent of Democrats agreed to come to Taipei’s defense.
“It seems as though Americans are less interested in a militarized approach to competition with China in general, and potentially don’t have a very firm opinion about what to do in the hypothetical scenario of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in particular,” Mark Hannah, senior fellow with EGF, told The Hill.
Hannah noted that the survey also found that the younger generation, those under 45 and especially those under 30, are less likely to support increasing the U.S. military presence in Asia in an effort to counter China.
Their viewpoint is likely influenced by the “limitations” of U.S. military power in the Middle East, Hannah explained, especially in the aftermath of the 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban, who were ousted with the American invasion in 2001.