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The tension over Taiwan: the height of a superpower crisis that could escalate even more

PARIS.– “Those who play with fire end up getting burned,” warned the Chinese president Xi Jinping on July 28 to his American counterpart, Joe Bidenduring a videoconference, alluding to the consequences of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Despite these threats, and her own administration’s attempts to dissuade her, the Speaker of the House of Representatives landed on the island this week, stating that her arrival did not “contradict” US policy regarding China. .

However, for many specialists consulted by LA NACION, Pelosi’s challenge -in many cases described as “provocation”- marked “the height of the crisis between Washington and Beijing”. That is precisely the opinion of Marc Julienne, responsible for China at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). In his opinion, the tensions between the two countries, which have intensified especially since 2020, will persist.

A soldier of the People’s Liberation Army looks through binoculars during a military exercise, with the Taiwanese frigate Lan Yang in the background

“This is not an isolated case that will soon end Beijing’s show of force with these military exercises around Taiwan. I believe, on the contrary, that this crisis has been installed to last”, he affirms.

Pelosi is the third most important personality in the US state and has always been a bitter critic of Beijing. However, she is not the first speaker of the House of Representatives to visit Taiwan: in 1997, 25 years ago, the ultra-conservative Newt Leroy Gingritch also made the trip. For Marc Julienne, the world is facing a “new intolerance” from Beijing.

“Other members of the US Congress regularly traveled to the island. Before it was something totally normal, which now the Chinese government has decided to stop tolerating, ”she specifies. Julienne compares this situation to poker.

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“When you raise the stakes, there’s a point where you can’t fold and you’re forced to go all the way. The more offensive China is, the harder it is for them to back down. Consequently, it is increasingly demanding regarding the relationship of any country with Taiwan, in particular the United States”, he analyzes.

The current status of Taiwan responds to the arrival of the communist forces of Mao Tse-Tung to power in Beijing, after the overthrow of the government of the Kuomintang nationalist party, which ruled the country since 1912. With the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, the overthrown Executive went into exile on the island of Taiwan, installing the Republic of China. Both regimes then claimed control of Chinese territory.

Taiwanese fighters at Hsinchu Air Base, Taiwan
Taiwanese fighters at Hsinchu Air Base, Taiwan
Johnson Lai – AP

Today, more than 70 years later and when the archipelago has ceased to claim that control, Beijing continues to believe that Taiwan should be reintegrated into the communist regime. And the country of President Xi Jinping does not hesitate to show its muscles in the face of any independence attempt.

Proof of this, the Beijing authorities have continued to increase pressure on the island since the current president came to power in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, member of a pro-independence party. “Especially at a time when the 20th congress of the Communist Party (PCC) is approaching – it will probably take place in November – and Xi will play his future there,” says Sylvie Bermann, former French ambassador to China.

At the head of the country for ten years, Xi Jinping managed to get the previous congress of 2018 to accept a modification of the Constitution that will allow him to remain president indefinitely. In November, then, that 67-year-old autocrat known for his policy of exalting national sentiment and his absolute control of the PCC, considered the most powerful and authoritarian Chinese leader since Mao Tse-Tung“He will probably get his re-election as general secretary of the party, president of the Republic and president of the Central Military Commission”, adds Bermann.

In any case, Xi’s objective is clear: to unify the country, above all by recovering Taiwan, which, according to Beijing, forms part of its territory. The communists want to do it peacefully, “by force, only if there is no other solution.” In Julienne’s opinion, it is the United States that allows the status quo to be maintained.

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“Even though the United States decided in 1979, for strategic reasons, to end its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in order to concentrate it exclusively on Beijing, it never left the island. The US Parliament passed a law on relations with Taiwan through which the United States adopted a policy of strategic ambiguity. Thanks to her, Washington continues to maintain unofficial relations with Taipei”, he explains.

It’s about cultural, commercial and even military relations: the United States is committed to helping Taiwan be prepared to defend itself, mostly by selling him weapons and providing training to his forcesas is the case in Ukraine today.

Chinese military helicopters fly near Pingtan Island, one of China's closest points to Taiwan
Chinese military helicopters fly near Pingtan Island, one of China’s closest points to Taiwan HECTOR RETAMAL – AFP

“The objective of this strategic ambiguity is not to have to say if Washington is going to intervene directly or not if Taiwan is attacked by China. This is a diplomatic stance aimed at both Beijing and Taipei. To preserve the peace until such time as both sides come to a peaceful settlement,” he notes.

Julienne Supplemental Accuracy: No official White House source ever confirmed that Pelosi would travel to Taiwan. “The visit was never on his official agenda. She traveled as a US citizen and not as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Even though she is a political personality of the first order, above all a Democrat, that trip was not official. You might think that since Pelosi is close to the White House, she agreed with President Biden, and she surely did. But the idea of ​​not making an official trip responded precisely to the desire not to provoke Beijing”, he affirms.

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The important thing now is to know if Beijing’s anger could have serious consequences, not only for the region but for the rest of the world. For Julienne, there is no doubt that the visit aggravated Sino-US tensions.

“However, there is nothing to suggest that the Chinese regime decides to launch a disproportionate attack that endangers world peace. The bilateral diplomatic relationship between Beijing and Washington was very bad before Pelosi’s visit and will continue to be bad. Actually, it has been degraded for several years. The only additional gesture that China could make now, after officially suspending its cooperation in numerous fields, as announced on Friday, is to call its ambassador to the US government. It would be a very strong sign of discontent and protest.”

In any case, what most worries specialists are the military consequences. For Bermann, “although no one believes that Xi Jinping will take the absurd decision to imitate Vladimir Putin with Ukraine, in the current conditions, with these maneuvers -officially with live ammunition- around Taiwan, which have already violated the exclusive economic zone of Japan, the situation could easily slide. Beijing announced military actions with the aim of defending China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. And that’s not good for anyone.”

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