11 Aug 2022 8:59 am
Since the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan last week, the political and military landscape in the region has changed dramatically. Is it all just a bluff, or is the reunification that Beijing is aiming for soon to follow?
Guest Commentary by Dr. Karin Kneissl
On Wednesday, the Office of Taiwan Affairs of China’s State Council released a white paper titled “The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.” One of the statements that has actually been known since time immemorial is: “We are one China and Taiwan is a part of China. This is an undeniable fact, supported by history and the law. Taiwan was never a state; its status as part of China is immutable,” says the white paper. The two previous documents date from 1993 and 2000. In the current version, the authors insist that reunification should be accelerated. Among other things, there is talk of surrounding the island and taking it over by peaceful means, similar to the liberation of Beijing in 1949.
Blockade coming with economic war?
The release of this paper coincides with the temporary halt to China’s massive maneuvers. Chinese forces simulated a military takeover of the island seeking sovereignty. The White Paper states that the use of military force is only a last resort. But what does this mean?
Beijing cannot simply return to business as usual, given the harsh reactions repeatedly announced by the authorities and the heated mood among the growing group of nationalists. Expectations have arisen which the Council of State and the Politburo must fulfill in some form before the Communist Party Congress. So far, numerous bilateral dossiers between the USA and China have been broken off, agricultural products from Taiwan have been included on the sanctions list like other things.
If I am reading the summary of this white paper correctly, certain actions are intended to be accelerated. But here, too, a tangible economic war by China would shake global semiconductor production, which is concentrated in Taiwan, so to speak. This affects everyone – just as sanctions always boomerang.
China undoubtedly finds itself in a real dilemma, which is accompanied by a loss of face both internally and externally.
The Russian proverb of the “last Chinese warning”
The final “Chinese Warning” is a term coined in the USSR during the tightening of US-Chinese relations in the 1950s and 1960s precisely because of Taiwan. The first warning was issued by China on September 7, 1958 in the Taiwan Crisis during the Second Coastal Island Conflict. The United States, which did not recognize the communist regime in China but did recognize Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Taiwan, conducted reconnaissance flights over Chinese territorial waters. The People’s Republic of China registered all violations of its air and water space by the United States. For each of these violations, the government of the People’s Republic of China sent a so-called “warning to the American side” through diplomatic channels, but took no action.
Daher nannten die Sowjets es scherzhaft “the last Chinese warning”, also die “letzte chinesische Warnung”.
In Russia, this term found its way into everyday language as a dictum. One gets the impression that the Soviet Union, as a result of decades of ups and downs in relations between the two neighbors and in their ideological competition, had a deep, perhaps correct, appreciation of Chinese “war drums”.
Government officials often bluff, as do business people in negotiations. But in order to emerge successfully from a game of red lines and threats, the scenarios must actually be correctly grasped in all their consequences. For every option and sub-option of military escalation, there must be instructions for action, which must then be adapted to the respective situation. It is still unclear whether and, if so, what steps Beijing will take to carry out the threats announced in connection with the provocation of Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. If the new White Paper, ie an announced “encirclement” by peaceful means like the battle for Beijing in the civil war of 1949, has its way, then economic blockades of all kinds can still be expected. How the USA and its allies could react can be interpreted from their announcements to the effect that the West is very well prepared to engage in an economic war with China. The EU wants to support all possible US sanctions.
The world is reorganizing
China, for its part, was already beginning to decouple from the US prior to this latest escalation. This has significant implications for US Treasuries, which China has been buying for decades, enabling US debt policies. A deterioration in economic relations with Europe will have massive consequences for the German automotive industry, which makes more than 50 percent of its sales in China.
With a view to security, Beijing wants to become more involved in new regional multilateral forums. This includes BRICS or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). While the Chinese People’s Liberation Army last saw action in Vietnam in 1979, the Russian armed forces have actual combat experience.
The US must now ask itself whether the Taiwan question is worth gambling so high. The possibility of waging a two-front war has been discussed in US trade magazines for almost a year now. Some authors firmly believe that this is possible, while others warn against it. Much depends on the results of expensive US involvement in Ukraine. Trillions of US dollars have been and are being invested in weapons for Ukraine, while the budget for the rather fragile Taiwanese army and the entire Pacific Fleet is meager.
As a reminder, until the rapprochement of the United States with the People’s Republic of China and the meeting between President Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong in 1971, Taiwan sat on the UN Security Council and maintained relations with many Western countries. The Comecon states, on the other hand, had previously recognized mainland China, i.e. the People’s Republic of China. The first Western country to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing was France in 1964 under Charles de Gaulle. In the 1970s, Taiwan was abandoned as a result of the US volte-face prepared by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in secret missions with his Chinese counterpart, Premier Zhou Enlai. Washington maintained relations with China from then on, but maintained military and political support for Taiwan with a policy of “strategic ambivalence”.
But strategic ambivalence also has its costs. It seems that the economic war, which has been waged against China at least since the US punitive tariffs under US President Trump and the Huawei affair, will increase in intensity in the near future. One of the biggest losers will be Germany, whose automotive industry is the backbone of the export surplus. Sanctions are decided by politicians, entrepreneurs and the affected population have to pay for them.
more on the subject – China wants to conduct “regular drills” off Taiwan after Pelosi provocation
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