Biden should not confuse Taiwan with Ukraine

Publisher’s note: David A. AndelmanCNN contributor and two-time winner of the Deadline Club Award, is a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happenand has a blog at Andelman Unleashed. Previously he was a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to its author.

(CNN) — Taiwan is not Ukraine. China, especially in that part of the world, is not Russia. However, with his impromptu comments that the United States will come directly to Taiwan’s rescue if Beijing decides to take the self-governing island by force, President Joe Biden has awakened China’s worst nightmare. It looks like a simple thing: There will be no easy or peaceful accession of Taiwan to the mainland anytime soon, if at all.

As China has come to recognize, the United States is determined to resist or at least curb China’s ambitious expansion into the seas and around the islands off its coast. The goal is to make clear to China the price it could pay for any attack on Taiwan or any US ally in the region. All of this only raises the stakes for China and raises the diplomatic and military temperature throughout the region.

There is no doubt that the United States is focused on establishing military ties with other nations in the region that can be worthy allies if the worst happens. When Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in Tokyo on Monday, the joint declaration of the leaders noted that “their basic positions on Taiwan remain unchanged, and they reiterated the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element for security and prosperity in the international community. They encouraged the peaceful resolution of the issues related to the strait”.

Japan has been quietly developing the capacity to be a worthy partner of such interests. Last month, the country’s ruling party proposed doubling Japan’s defense budget from 1% to 2% of gross domestic product, the same level NATO requires of its members.

There is also the Quad. Biden’s meetings with the leaders of the major Asian powers, South Korea, India, Australia and Japan, are designed to demonstrate that the United States has the backing it needs to confront and curb an aggressive China whose actions may backfire. of other regional interests in the strategically vital waterways surrounding the Asian continent.

At least for the moment, Taiwan is the most contentious point. “All Quad members share an interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Jake Sullivan said, Biden’s national security adviser, to reporters at a White House briefing ahead of Biden’s trip. The president, he observed, “he doesn’t want to see unilateral changes to the status quo and we certainly don’t want to see military aggression.”

All this said, it is not at all sensible, or even prudent, to provoke China or to show off the power of the United States in the region. That could be eminently counterproductive. To demonstrate its resolve, China this week announced a series of air and sea exercises in the south china seacoinciding with Biden’s visit.

And China has begun to directly warn the United States. His top diplomat, Politburo member Yang Jiechi, called Sullivan last week to say, as Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.that “if the US insists on playing the ‘Taiwan card’ and goes further and further down the wrong path, it will surely lead to a dangerous situation.”

Beijing’s biggest concern, and what could ignite a new round of Chinese preparation, is its perpetual paranoia combined with the inordinate ambition to be considered a great power, especially in their own backyard. This largely explains China’s construction of outposts on at least 20 islands. in the Paracel and seven more in the Spratlymany of them fully militarized with airfields and missile launch facilities.

At the same time, China’s military has previously deployed a vast arsenal of thousands of short- and medium-range cruise and ballistic missiles off its own coastline, many of them headed for Taiwan, while the number of military aircraft flying daily around and within Taiwan’s immediate airspace has increased dramatically. Between September 2020 and August 2021, the Chinese air force carried out 554 intrusions into Taiwan’s air defense zone, according to the Small Wars Journal. China also has the largest armed coast guard of the worldmost regularly deployed in these waters, according to a Pentagon report.

From a defensive point of view, Taiwan is not prepared for a full-scale amphibious invasion by air and sea.

Apparently, bill with a standing army of 188,000 peopleand many of its troops are too poorly trained to sustain a determined assault, especially given that China has the largest active military force in the world, more than 2 million vs. 1.4 million in the United States, according to the International Center for Strategic Studies. Also, unlike US forces, which are widely dispersed, virtually all of China’s military is deployed in and around its mainland.

That said, a confrontation over Taiwan, or especially a Chinese invasion, would leave the island and the United States worse off than Ukraine, where long land borders allow regular shipping of materiel by NATO forces.

Furthermore, unlike Russia, China has been practicing and preparing for such an attack on Taiwan for more than 72 years, ever since the Mao Zedong People’s Liberation Army drove Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces from the mainland into exile in Taiwan. The gray area tactics” of Beijing are designed every day to make clear to the people of Taiwan about the danger they are in. They have even practiced sending huge sand dredgers to the outlying islands of Taiwan, in an effort to pulverize their will to resist. Also, Taiwan is an island, so resupply would only be done by air or by sea, both of which are potentially very vulnerable to Chinese air and naval assets.

That said, China acknowledges that it has weaknesses. It still does not have a nuclear arsenal remotely comparable to that of the United States or Russia: barely 350 nuclear warheads compared to the 5,500 of the United States, according to the 2021 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Nevertheless, the pentagon estimates that China has proposed to triple that arsenal. Comments like Biden’s certainly provide ammunition for China’s leadership watchers to push for a rapid expansion of its deployable nuclear weapons.

The last thing needed now is an obvious reason to push China in this kind of direction. China has been spending years and billions of dollars on its New Silk Road Initiative, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, trying to earn the kind of respect it so desperately wants, and it would be destroyed in an instant by an invasion. Taiwan Navy.

At the same time, Biden and Sullivan, after excluding China from their talks on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity this week, were right to leave Taiwan out as well. China has for years understood the position of a succession of US administrations on how it should deal with Taiwan militarily. There is no reason to rub things in China’s face again.

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