The prospect of a military clash in the Taiwan Strait is rising precariously, the Taiwanese foreign minister warned Wednesday, urging "extreme caution" in the island's dealings with a Chinese leadership in Beijing that he described as both increasingly emboldened and insecure.
The Chinese military has held a growing number of exercises that simulate an invasion of Taiwan, a self-ruled island about 80 miles off China's east coast that considers the United States its main military and diplomatic backer. The pace and scale of China's drills, as well as those of U.S. naval and air forces deployed to the region, have risen in recent months as relations between Beijing and Washington plummet on numerous fronts.
Relations took another sharp turn Wednesday after the State Department said it ordered China to close its consulate in Houston.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this week the United States would sell more arms to Taiwan as part of a $10 billion deal approved by Congress. He also said the U.S. military would reposition forces across Asia to prepare for a confrontation with China in flash points including self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory and has vowed for decades to take by force, if necessary. Inside China, the government has faced growing calls from hawkish military pundits and nationalist commentators to grasp the current strategic window to seize Taiwan, an accomplishment that could rally the Chinese population and burnish leader Xi Jinping's political legacy.
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Wednesday he was worried China has conducted an "unprecedented" number of sea and air drills around Taiwan in 2020, with the pace rising to nearly once every day since June. "The threat is on the rise," he said.
Wu speculated that tensions in the Taiwan Strait - one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world - could continue to deteriorate as China grapples with a steep economic slowdown, the lingering fallout from covid-19 and devastating flooding across the Chinese heartland.
In recent months, Wu said, China has tangled in quick succession with neighbors in the South China Sea, with India over border territory and with Western countries over Hong Kong, where the Chinese government passed a national security law that effectively cemented Communist Party control over the city's police and courts.