Chinese aggression toward Taiwan testing US resolve in wake of Afghanistan withdrawal
Recent aggression toward Taiwan by the Chinese communist regime shows that Beijing is looking to test the resolve of the Biden administration, particularly in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, experts tell Fox News.
Beijing, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, has sent dozens of warplanes over the last month towards the territory’s air defense zone, part of a muscular approach to the region which has been escalating for months. President Xi Jinping has also renewed calls for it to be brought into China, calling for “peaceful reunification.”
Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and claims that it is part of its own territory. The two countries split in 1949 and China has been increasing pressure on the self-ruled nation, while opposing its involvement in international organizations such as at the United Nations. The U.S. does not formally recognize Taiwan, but maintains an unofficial relationship and is supportive of its democratic government.
Experts say that, while there are many aspects to why China has been increasing its aggressive maneuvers recently toward the U.S. ally, including domestic power struggles, the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is one of those contributing factors.
“They periodically ratchet up the pressure to pressure Taiwan, to pressure the United States and to probe weaknesses, to test our resolve,” James Anderson, President of the Institute of World Politics and a former senior defense official in the Trump administration, told Fox News. “And probably the proximate cause of the most recent escalation and probing has to do with our sloppy and unfortunate disaster with respect to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
The withdrawal at the end of August is seen as having damaged U.S. standing and commitment abroad, and Chinese state media used the chaotic departure as an opportunity to mock the U.S.
“U.S. just showed the world that it’s unable or unwilling to confront a small adversary in Afghanistan with very basic weapons,” the state-controlled Global Times tweeted. “So in the future, when it urges its allies to challenge major powers like China and Russia, very few would follow.”
Heino Klinck, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, noted that aggression has preceded the withdrawal, but he believes it feeds a narrative of U.S. weakness.
“We have seen a marked increase in Chinese aggressiveness and assertiveness over the past year, so you could argue this is not something new and associated with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, although the withdrawal from Afghanistan feeds the Chinese narrative of inevitable decline of U.S. power,” he said.
He warned that a failure by the U.S. to support Taiwan could be even more damaging to the U.S. reputation abroad.
“If the U.S. commitment to Taiwan falters, that will send a signal to the rest of the world that the Afghanistan debacle will pale to in comparison,” he said.
It was an assessment shared by Anderson: “[The Chinese] are certainly trying to create a narrative and promote and further a narrative that the United States is an unreliable ally and partner, and that needs to be countered.”
Isaac Stone Fish, CEO of Strategy Risks, a firm which measures China risk, told Fox that recent aggression seems to be intended “to test U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan, and Beijing seems to be gathering information about where U.S. red lines and to a lesser extent where Taiwanese red lines are as well.”
Stone Fish, however, downplayed the importance of the U.S. withdrawal and the change in U.S. administration had on the Taiwanese situation, and instead said domestic and political issues in Beijing were a larger factor.
“Like so many things related to China, it has a lot more to do with Chinese political changes than U.S. political changes, and it’s almost certainly closely tied to the possibility of a power transition in 2022 and the way that Xi is sending signals to other members of the political elite,” he said.
He also raised the possibility that Beijing saw the withdrawal from Afghanistan not as a sign of weakness, but as a way for the U.S. to be able to focus its resources more on countering China.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations have sought to project strength on the question of Taiwan. Nicholas Burns, President Biden’s nominee for Chinese ambassador, told lawmakers on Wednesday that Beijing’s actions against Taiwan were “especially objectionable” and that the U.S. should “oppose unilateral actions that undermine the status quo and undermine the stability of the region.”
“The Biden administration has for the most part continued with policies and priorities that were instituted and established by the Trump administration,” Klinck said. “In some respects they’ve even doubled down.”
How China will move forward is a subject for debate, and the likelihood of a skirmish or even a full invasion of Taiwan in the next few years divided experts.
“It feels like we’re in a short period where things could really explode and next year the focus will be this power struggle,” Stone Fish said, referring to the 2022 Party Congress. He also noted the importance of Taiwan to both China and the U.S.
“It allows the US to project power in the south sea and the east sea or at least prevent China from projecting power into those seas, so Taiwan would make it much more likely for China to achieve dominance in Asia and it would be difficult navally if it didn’t have Taiwan,” he said.
Anderson described a “relentless” approach of pressure by the Chinese as they look to assert dominance in the region and present the U.S. as in decline.
“What happened in Afghanistan has solidified those views and moreover, on top of that they are trying to create a narrative that will promote America’s decline, there is a very wide ranging, comprehensive approach to displace the United States as pre-eminent world power,” he said. “That includes stealing our technology, sowing divisions between the U.S. and its allies, campaigns to heighten political divisiveness in the US, the list goes on and on.”
“We’re entering a very dangerous period, there is no question, and Taiwan is a potential flashpoint,” he said.
Klinck said that he believes that Xi does not want to invade Taiwan as “the risks are too high” but warned the goals are broader than a military conflict.
“I think Xi Jinping wants to deter Taiwan from taking any precipitous action, specifically a move to de jure independence and I think Xi wants to convey first and foremost to the U.S. and to other regional actions that China’s resolve and commitment with respect to its ‘sovereignty and geographical integrity’ should not be questioned,” he said.