A few words, spoken quickly: “I spoke to Xi from Taiwan. We agree… we will stick to the Taiwan Agreement, ”said Joe Biden. “We have made it clear that I don’t think we should do anything but respect the agreement.” A comment thrown there to reporters at the White House, met after his return from a trip to Michigan, which sparked a flurry of interpretations, just as Taipei-Beijing relations reach the lowest level ever recorded, as declared by the same defense minister of the island, Chiu Kuo-cheng, who after the latest massive Beijing air raids in the skies of Taiwan said: “It is the most difficult situation I have seen in more than 40 years of my military life (…) The Chinese Communists already have the ability to attack us now, but they have to think about the cost and consequences of starting a war ”.
But what exactly did Biden mean? What “agreement” were you referring to? Pending some official clarification from the White House, the merry-go-round of hypotheses and interpretations has started. The only thing that seems certain is that the American president wanted to refer to the long phone call (90 minutes) he had with the Chinese president on 9 September (their first talks in seven months) in which the two officially discussed the need for ensure that competition between the world’s two largest economies does not turn into conflict. But until today no mention had been made of the possibility that the two most powerful men in the world had also discussed what, in recent times, has become the most delicate and sensitive topic in the world: Taiwan, in fact.
Logic, and conjectures, want that in his cryptic statements today Biden intended to recall the official position of the United States on the thorny question of the de facto independence of what – for China – is instead only a “rebel province”, which will be reunified to the communist motherland sooner or later, if necessary by force. That is the long-standing policy according to which Washington adheres to the “one China” principle, so dear to Xi Jinping, according to which the US officially recognizes Beijing, rather than Taipei; an explicit reference to the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes it clear that the US decision to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing instead of Taipei is based on the expectation that Taiwan’s future will be determined by peaceful means. The same treaty that – in perfect contradiction – states that the United States must help Taiwan defend itself, and under which they continue to sell arms.
A prospect – that of an imminent peaceful resolution of the “Taiwan affair” – after all, which the escalation of tension in recent days seems to have removed a great deal. And then the legitimate suspicion arises among international observers that perhaps Biden does not have very clear ideas on how to deal with the issue, while the fear that the US is going to slip into a new international quagmire, after the Afghan one from which they came out recently, and certainly not with their heads held high.
And to add to the uncertainty – and the feeling that there is some confusion in the White House on the matter – are the statements on Sunday by State Department spokesman Ned Price, who said: “The United States is very concerned about the provocative military activity of the People’s Republic of China near Taiwan, which is destabilizing, risks making miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability ”. For its part, China does not take a step back, insists on considering – in fact – democratic and independent Taiwan, its territory and promises to take control of it, intensifying military intimidation against the island where, only since last Friday , flew 150 warplanes, including fighters and bombers, some equipped for the transport of nuclear weapons.
One thing is certain, for some time now the Chinese military incursions into the skies of Taiwan have become practically daily. And they are added to the other “usual” provocations of the Beijing army, the Pla, with increasingly frequent naval maneuvers and military exercises with an evidently aggressive tone in the waters of the Taiwan Strait and all around the island. A genuine escalation of aggression on the part of China that prompted the Taiwanese Defense Minister to declare that “by now Beijing can attack us at any time, and by 2025 it will be able to keep the cost of this conflict to a minimum, the which means it already has the “full capacity” to start a war, but “Chiu Kuo-cheng added,” it will do well to consider various factors before doing so.
The reference is to the massive rearmament of the island on which Chiu has been pressing a lot in recent days, convinced that Taiwan “must not rely on others for its safety and must be able to repel the enemy’s aggression on its own”, while a Taiwanese parliamentary committee is expected to approve a special budget for military spending of NT $ 240 billion (US $ 8.6 billion), which will mainly go to naval weapons. The new purchases require legislative approval and would add to military spending of more than US $ 15 billion already planned for next year. Coastal anti-ship missile systems, Tien Kung III (Sky Bow III) surface-to-air missiles, attack drone systems, the Wan Chien (Thousand Swords) missile system and the Hsiung Feng IIE also included in the Taipei Defense Minister’s shopping list. (Brave Wind). Some extra funds would also be used to purchase another 10 Ta Jiang stealth missile corvettes – dubbed “aircraft carrier killers” – after the Taiwanese navy commissioned the first last month. On the fact that Taiwan has managed to develop the much feared Yun Feng missile, which has a range of 1,200 km, allowing it to threaten the internal areas of the Chinese mainland, Chiu said that “we are working on it”. “As members of the army we have only one conviction”, the Taiwanese minister declared, “that we cannot rely on the words of others, and we must be able to defend ourselves”, in a clear allusion to the commitment of the United States to help Taiwan, on which, evidently, not even he seems to rely much on.
Meanwhile, not only concrete threats arrive from Beijing on the military level, but also an escalation of aggression through a real war of words. The tabloid Global Times, the voice – in English – of the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, today published an unsigned editorial, with exaggeratedly aggressive tones, which make it clear, from the very first lines, what we are talking about: “There is no it is a force in the world whose will to “defend Taiwan” is stronger than China’s will to fight secession and achieve reunification “writes the Party newspaper.” To be precise, the two are totally incomparable. China has the courage and the will to fight to the death against any force that stands in the way of our reunification, but no foreign force dares or is willing to fight to the death against the world’s second largest economy, as well as a nuclear power, al in order to prevent this reunification “.
“Taiwan’s practices of acting as a strategic outpost against China in exchange for the protection of the United States are the craziest bet in the history of international politics,” continues the columnist, who then explicitly refers to an interview given Monday to ABC. Australian news from Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, in which he states that the island is preparing for war with mainland China, drawing on the help of Australia, and an article by Taiwanese president Tsai, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, where he warns that “the” fall “of Taiwan will be catastrophic for the United States and its allies”. “It seems clear that the Taiwanese authorities are really scared” continues the editorial, “because by now they have understood that their attempt at secession has reached a dead end. They, as the anti-Chinese outpost of the US Indo-Pacific strategy, will sooner or later be wiped out by mainland China, but they themselves have no confidence that the US and its allies will really defend the island. ” “The more the Taipei authorities walk the path in collusion with outside forces, the closer they get to their grave,” the CCP tabloid concludes threateningly.
But, as usual when it comes to China, the words must be read correctly, bearing in mind the rhetorical need to take “three steps forward and two steps back”. Nationally, Beijing’s military pressure is at the service of Xi Jinping’s propaganda and political agenda. The political idea that defines Xi is to promote the “Chinese Dream” to his people, which in part involves becoming “a strong nation with a strong army”. China just celebrated a national holiday on October 1st, and a public show of force on Taiwan is a visual embodiment of that narrative. Not surprisingly, the same Global Times went so far as to define the raids on the “rebel island” as a form of “military parade” for the national holiday.
The Communist Party of China is about to face a key period that will lead to a possible leadership reshuffle. In fact, next month, the CCP will hold its sixth plenum, a very important meeting, in which the party heavyweights will discuss and build consensus on forming a list for the next generation of party leadership (which will eventually install itself of 2022). At this critical moment, as Xi faces significant internal dissent due to the Evergrande crack and the energy crisis, a demonstration of muscle strength seems a natural tool to generate a feeling of national unity based on “feeling under attack” all “united around to the flag “.
A strategy that – internally – will certainly prove useful to Xi who, in all likelihood, will remain the supreme leader, whatever happens, while through this display of nationalist strength the chances that in the shortlist for the key positions just below will increase. there are his protégés, the men he trusts and he can continue to trust. But this same strategy could prove to be a double-edged sword, pushing Taiwan to try to assert a stronger identity on the global scene and new strategic and military alliances, but above all by distancing Taiwanese more and more from Beijing.
At least judging by the most recent polls, which consistently show that less than 10% of Taiwanese are in favor of unification with China and only a negligible 2.7% identify their national identity as “Chinese”.