While the media continue to focus on developments from the recent summit between Pyongyang and Seoul and the upcoming meeting between Pyongyang and Washington, Beijing has taken advantage of the diversion to increase pressure on Taiwan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a highly-charged speech before the National People’s Congress, warned that Beijing was ready to fight its enemies in a “bloody battle” to regain its past glory and preserve its empire. Subsequently, an editorial in the Global Times, a state-owned but unofficial outlet for ideas that Beijing wishes to float for reaction, said China must prepare for a “direct military clash in the Taiwan Straits”. These are not just words.
In fact, Taiwan is indeed beginning to openly discuss full independence. It is noteworthy that Xi has stated that resolution of the issue of Taiwan cannot be left to the future.
In recent weeks, Beijing sailed its aircraft carrier and associated support vessels through the Taiwan Strait, conducting live-fire exercises, and flew its bombers and fighters around the island nation at least twice last month.
This is not the first display of force by China in the area and China has not hesitated to engage in actual hostilities with regard to Taiwan.
China has always hungered to rein in the renegades on Taiwan, claiming the island is nothing more than a wayward province of the mainland. Also, those recent threats and shows of force by Beijing for the benefit of Taipei were not without precedent. There have been three series of clashes between China and Taiwan in the not-so-distance past.
So, in view of the threat by China to conduct overflights of Taiwan, is that merely talk? Well, there are those three Taiwan Strait incidents that establish the precedent for military action. Regardless of whether the odds of such an event happening are low or high, both Taipei and Washington must be prepared.
The question becomes one of how to respond. Even if China makes only an aerial bluff by running bombers and fighters at the island but turning away at the last minute, such a challenge cannot go unanswered. Verbal or diplomatic protest are not effective in rebuffing such actions – and Taiwan along with its allies would be seen as impotent, thus encouraging more such incursions.
The US added more fuel to the fire by flying two B-52 long-range nuclear-capable bombers within 250 kilometers of Guangdong on the mainland to the west of Taiwan late last month. This is in addition to the Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations conducted by US warships in the South China Sea, not too distant from Taiwan.
Events in the airspace and seas around Taipei are certain to heat up this year, and while it is clear that bullies understand and respect only force, what is not known is how things will play out. Taiwanese independence and Xi Jinping’s face are at stake.