‘Ripple effect from U.S. surrender in Afghanistan; Beijing’s bullying of free Taiwan shakes East Asia

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

Beijing’s communists are good at bullying; look at political crackdowns in prosperous Hong Kong, the suppression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and of course China’s ongoing military harassment of Taiwan, a democratically ruled island which the communists claim as part of the People’s Republic of China.

Over the past year, PRC military aircraft in waves have deliberately provoked and bullied Taiwan by entering the sovereign island’s air identification zone and sometimes its direct airspace in a bid to cower what it sees as a “renegade province.”

Just recently, five inclusions of over 155 military jets including J-16 fighters and nuclear capable H-6 bombers skirted and entered airspace near Taiwan. These are not air raids but deliberate military probes to assess the speed, mode and the reaction of Taiwan’s defensive response.  There have been 500 such inclusions this year alone!

A Taiwanese F-16 fighter jet flying next to a Chinese H-6 bomber in Taiwan’s airspace. / Taiwan Defense Ministry / File

Presently, the PRC planes are usually met by Taiwan’s tough but hard-pressed air force which uses its American built F-16’s to shadow the intruders.  Clearly this high-altitude game of  shadow boxing puts an undue strain on Taiwan’s numerically smaller forces and serves as a blunt reminder to Taiwan that China’s overwhelming airpower lurks nearby.

Though Beijing’s regime has never renounced the use of force to retake the island, recent moves raise the very real medium-term threat that Chairman Xi Jinping’s increasingly authoritarian and bellicose regime in China may change tactics from coercion to confrontation.

But at least for now, it’s about intimidation not the threat of immediate invasion.

Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) comprises a very tight area extending into the narrow and disputed Taiwan Strait separating the island from the Mainland as well as other approaches to the small New Hampshire sized island.  Tight Airspace with fast flying military jets does not allow much space for error.

Recall that occasional Russian bomber inclusions into the U.S. ADIZ off Virginia are taken very seriously.

The dangers of an accident, miscalculation or a deliberate armed provocation by the Chinese remain dire possibilities.  Such probes are part of what is called Grey area conflicts, actions short of shooting wars to harass and assess capabilities.

Chinese President and Communist Party leader said Xi Jinping stated that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled”, as heightened tensions over the island continue.  Chairman Xi said unification should be achieved peacefully, but again warned, “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled and will definitely be fulfilled.”

The very next day Taiwan’s democratically elected President Tsai Ing-wen stated forcefully at the Double Ten National Day ceremony in Taipei; “Taiwan will not bow to pressure from China and will defend its democratic way of life.”

The issue stems from the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when Mao’s communists seized the Mainland, setting up the People’s Republic of China, while the losing Nationalist government retrenched on the island of Taiwan. Thus, two de facto and politically opposite Chinese states were formed; much like the two Koreas or the two Germanys.

Plainly stated, while South Korea has a formal military treaty with the United States, Taiwan does not; the Carter Administration abrogated the U.S. defense treaty with Taiwan in 1979.

While the subsequent Taiwan Relations Act can be interpreted as a military arrangement, it’s not a binding treaty.

Though United States political and economic ties with Taiwan remain strong but unofficial, the island fortunately has strong bipartisan support in Washington. Yet in multinational forums such as the United Nations, Taiwan is harshly excluded. During the recent UN General Assembly debate nonetheless, twelve of Taipei’s diplomatic allies raised the Taiwan issue.

U.S. National Security advisor Jake Sullivan told the BBC this week, the U.S. will “stand up and speak out” over any actions that may “undermine peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait.  Did we tell that to the Kurds or the Afghans of late?

Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated earlier, “The actions we’ve seen by China are provocative and potentially destabilizing.” That should scare Beijing’s blustering Generals.

In the wake of Washington’s Afghan debacle, there’s serious concern throughout Asia concerning American resolve; significantly the appalling fiasco has incentivized rogue regimes worldwide.

John Ratcliffe, former Director of National Intelligence told FOX news, that there’s an unmistakable, “ripple effect from Afghanistan to test American resolve.”

Taiwan’s vibrant democratic system and the rule of law starkly contrast with communist China’s authoritarian system and rule by law. Beijing’s bullying of a free Taiwan disrupts the fragile status quo in East Asia.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]