There’s been some commotion over President-elect Donald Trump’s recent call to Taiwan, but most of the media seems to have missed the fact that China itself is trying to precipitate a change in the status quo with brute force.
China flew bombers around Taiwan recently, in a move that seems to only have been noticed now that Trump has drawn attention to the Taiwan issue. The most recent incident occurred on 26 Nov, when two Xian H-6 strategic bombers, along with a Tupolev Tu-154 and Shaanxi Y-8 in tow, flew deep into the Pacific before making a loop around Taiwan.
The H6 strategic bombers are primarily intended to deliver nuclear weapons to long and medium range targets. The support aircraft (the Tu-154 and Y-8) were used to collect information and conduct surveillance. Additional Chinese aircraft, J-10 and Su-30 fighters, joined in to provide an escort on the long flight, which also included surveillance of outlying Japanese and American assets. Japan scrambled eight F-15 fighters to intercept the flight northeast of Taiwan.
The flight marked a first for China, as Taiwanese defense officials stated that never before, had Chinese aircraft completely encircled the island in one flight. China has been steadily building up its military infrastructure and staging assets near Taiwan for many years, and incidents like the rocket fire during the 1996 Third Taiwan Strait Crisis during the Taiwanese elections have demonstrated China’s increasing belligerence.
Others took note of Taiwan’s growing vulnerability:
“China has steadily built up a massive military capability in the area around Taiwan. This isn’t simply a matter of flying bombers…” “Taiwan faces a much more serious Chinese challenge than it has ever faced before.” – Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
The legal situation between the People’s Republic of China (the Communist mainland, referred to as “China” in this article), and the Republic of China (Taiwan, and a few islands under its control), is very complex. Both Beijing and Taipei (Taiwan) claim to be the legitimate government of the entirety of historical China. The government in Taiwan is the successor to Chang Kai-Shek and his nationalist Kuomintang faction, which ruled China until being driven to Taiwan by Mao Tse-Tsung and the Communists in 1949.
As of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States recognizes the Communist government in Beijing as the legal government of China, but maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and pledges to assist Taiwan in its self-defense. Taiwan has gradually gravitated towards its own, separate identity away from China, and increasingly pro-independence. Tsai Ing-Wen, whom Trump referred to as the “President of Taiwan” (officially, she holds the office of “President of the Republic of China”), comes from the Democratic Progressive Party. Despite the American connotations of the name, the DPP is somewhat more nationalist and conservative in its outlook and advocates a more distinct identity from the mainland People’s Republic.
While Trump’s phone call has some raising concerns over his methodology, many are feeling that Trump did nothing wrong. It is Communist China, not Donald Trump, who is attempting to use bullying and military force to intimidate the people of Taiwan from deciding on their future, in accordance with their right of self-determination. Since both Democrats and Republican presidents have supported Taiwan, and since Beijing shows no inclination to let up the pressure, there is great concern that this will place America and China on a collision course.