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Taiwan Between ‘Marketing Fear’ and ‘Managing Tension’

The continuous visits by Congress members and deputies to Taiwan imposed a state of political and military “uncertainty” regarding the steps that will be taken by the different parties and their allies. At a time when Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, views the Chinese maneuvers as an “introduction and a simulation” to the invasion of the island, the United States considers that the natural outcome of China’s actions in the East China Sea and the South China Sea is the “imposition of Beijing’s will” on the entirety of the “Taiwan Strait”. 

From an American point of view, this threatens their freedom of navigation in the Taiwan Strait, where it passes through it, as well as the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait with around two-thirds of world trade, i.e. about $72 billion. On the other hand, China says that it has no options when it comes to preventing Taiwan’s succession except to take measures ultimately aimed at protecting the “One China” and the unity and safety of all Chinese territories, especially in light of the known secession tendencies in other territories, such as Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and East Turkestan. 

So what are the American goals in arming Taiwan with around $70 billion worth of the latest weapons? What message does Washington want to send to Beijing through resuming maneuvers with China’s enemies, whether Japan and North Korea in the North, or Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam in the South? What are China’s options for subduing Taiwan without invasion or major military operation that can help avoid a Western sanctions scenario against Russia after entering Ukraine?

The US’ Goals

Some observers wonder about the goals the United States can achieve from the increase in the intensity of its conflict and competition with China over Taiwan. Why do Congress members, in the House of Representatives and the Senate, insist on intensifying their visits to Taiwan?

The “Teleology” theory answers these questions, where Washington won’t complete all these procedures without having short, medium, and long-term goals. These objectives can be monitored in several themes, which include:

  • First: Managing Tension

At first glance, it seems that the United States is taking steps that are conflicting and competing with China, yet the policy is not like that, where the American steps are perfectly calculated and very precise, completed by executives with full commitment. Additionally, the policy aims to “continue tension” near China’s most prominent maritime ports, while at the same time working on “managing tension” in the sense of not slipping from “tension” to “direct conflict”. According to the 2019 figures before the coronavirus pandemic, China’s national income reached around $13.4 trillion, while the American income at the same time reached $20.5 trillion. Thus, the United States realized that a direct war with China won’t be in everyone’s interest, so the White House considers that spreading tension around China is very sufficient to reach the American goal of preventing China from reaching the status of the “first country” globally in terms of national income and economic power, which are the most prominent elements of “overall power” in the conflict of states. This is why Washington believes that the “tension” around Taiwan benefits the United States and its western allies, where the tension raises freight and insurance costs on all Chinese goods passing through the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan, and the Gulf of Taiwan to reach the Malacca strait. Furthermore, this leads to the rise in the prices of Chinese goods and containers, which will lead to two results in the favor of the United States, the first of which is consumers searching for goods from more stable areas, or the second which is shifting to Western goods whose prices will become closer to Chinese ones, whose freight and insurance prices will be increased due to the “tension factor”. In practice, this U.S. policy succeeded in declining Chinese industrial growth beginning in 2022, according to the Chinese government itself.

  • Second: Marketing Fear

The American policy superbly succeeded in “marketing fear” in Europe from Russia after the Russian-Ukrainian War, and as a result of marketing and selling fear, Finland and Sweden joined as other countries are considering joining NATO, Germany is also gradually shifting towards further armaments. For this reason, the United States media is racing to highlight the Chinese maneuvers, especially the naval maneuvers or ships and airplanes overtaking the agreed midline in the Taiwan Strait, which is the line separating China and Taiwan. The Western media also blows up any Chinese statement or position that bears suspicion of threatening Taiwan, and the purpose is quite clear, to push Asian countries away from China and to throw under the United States and Western security and military umbrella. As a result of policy “marketing fear” from China, The United States has succeeded in achieving a series of goals in the Indo Pacific, consisting of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, including:

  1. The return of the joint military exercises between the United States and Japan or South Korea after they were halted during President Donald Trump’s era. Adding further, the goal this time is not only North Korea but also China, where the pattern of American maneuvers with its Asian allies includes for the first time a response not only to North Korea but to any movement done by China or Russia in the Pacific Ocean. These exercises are also accompanied by massive maneuvers that brought together the United States with its Asian allies in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore and Indonesia. 
  2. South Korea’s insistence on buying and operating the American THAAD system, is the most expensive of all defense systems globally. Moreover, when China and Russia objected to the deployment of this system, where Beijing and Moscow said that it detects and spies on parts of their territory in favor of the United States, South Korea refused the Chinese request, saying, in a statement, that the deployment of the US-made missile system THAAD is “non-negotiable”. This limits China’s efforts to oblige South Korea to freeze the deployment of THAAD batteries, where the Blue House is accelerating the work in the American base in the southern city of Seongju, which hosts the THAAD system. What’s more than that is that South Korea told China, in the words of their Minister of Foreign Affairs, Park Jin, that Seoul will not abide by the 2017 agreement, dubbed the “Three No’s” agreement, which was intended to ease tension between China and North Korea. Since 2016, the Korean government has been reluctant to deploy THAAD and PATRIOT systems for fear of China’s anger, where China announced a reduction in trade with South Korea when Seoul announced its purchase of THAAD nearly 6 years ago.
  3. Japan’s unprecedented military spending threatens to “fade the results of the second world war”, which has prevailed since 1945 when Japan and Germany were dependent on American protection. Moreover, Japan is currently working on a record budget of about $74 billion for 2023, which benefits Washington, since they can ease the American spending on some 50,000 US soldiers in Japan. The defense-only policy of caution has begun to decline for all Japanese parties due to what the United States called a “militarily tense environment” in the area. Moreover, Japan seeks to change its policy regarding nuclear weapons, where some political parties are calling to host “American nuclear weapons”, even though Japan is the only country in the world to have suffered a nuclear attack. Due to the attack, it adopted the “three principles” policy, which obliged Tokyo, since 1945, not to possess, manufacture, or deploy nuclear weapons, which is stipulated by the three principles “do not manufacture, do not possess, and do not permit the introduction of any nuclear weapons into its territory”, all of this is because of the success of the “intimidation” policy from China. 
  4. Australia is armed with the latest American weapons, for example, the famous nuclear submarine deal worth about $50 billion, and most recently the US sale of Black Hawk helicopters this week for about $2 billion to Australia.

Tension Without War

In order to maintain the policy of tension without slipping into direct war, Washington is taking some steps that appear positive towards China, including:

  1. Washington froze some of the customs duties on a portion of Chinese goods, which former President Donald Trump imposed on around $250 billion of Chinese imports to American markets. Washington is in dire need of this step because the majority of these imports are very important to American factories, where they are materials that go into industries that will help Washington regain its lead over the world. 
  2. US officials reiterated their commitment to the “One China” policy and even declared that they have no objection to Taiwan’s unification with China, but provided that this is done by peaceful measures and not by armed force, which is impossible in the political environment now prevailing between Taipei and Beijing. 
  3. US officials seek to communicate with their Chinese counterparts, especially the US Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministers so that the so-called “war by mistake” does not happen.
  4. The quick announcement by the White House that President Joe Biden will meet his Chinese counterpart at the end of December implies that the United States will approve the Chinese Communist Party’s decision expected next October to give President Xi Jinping a third presidential term, a clear political courtship by Washington to Beijing.

Chinese Options

China cannot bear the “welfare of Taiwan’s secession”, and will therefore do everything it can to protect the unity and safety of the Chinese territories. However, analysis of the Chinese position indicates that until now, China doesn’t prefer the “military option”, but the ongoing maneuvers since Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan achieves a range of China’s objectives, foremost among which are:

  1. Sending a message to any other Chinese regions that are contemplating secession that there is a huge price for this thought. As well as sending a clear message to states that support the secession, especially territories west of China, based on historical narratives that Beijing firmly incisively rejects, and that China will confront this issue with all its power. 
  2. Repeated maneuvers perpetuate Chinese control in the four directions towards Taiwan Island, which in practice confirms the Chinese narrative that the Taiwan Strait is a privileged Chinese Strait, and the United States and its Western and Asian allies are not entitled to what they call “free passage” in the strait.
  3. China’s maneuvers strengthen Beijing’s control over the East and South China Seas. China can also, through its simulations, directly link its interests in the East and South China Seas with the Taiwan Strait. 
  4. Through these maneuvers, China has proved that it’s fully capable of preventing American reinforcements from reaching Taiwan through US troops in Japan and South Korea to the Sea of Japan, and then to Taiwan. This is necessary in the case that the Chinese government decides to directly control Taiwan. 
  5. The Chinese maneuvers demonstrated that they could carry out more than one scenario of “subduing Taiwan” without full control of the main island under the following scenarios:

First: Controlling Islands Belonging to Taiwan

These are islands that are very close to the Chinese mainland, and are only about 10km away from China, such as Kinmen and Matsu Islands. Additionally, it can also control islands that are far from the main Taiwan island in the South China Sea, such as Pratas and Taiping islands. China can even take control of Archipelago Penghu, which is only about 60km from the main island. It’s known that all these islands and Archipelago Penghu have been subject to intense Chinese bombardment in the years following the transition of the defeated government in front of the Communist Party in 1949 from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan.

Second: Customs Closure 

Through the capabilities displayed in recent maneuvers, the Chinese military can impose a “customs closure”, meaning that it can take full control of Taiwan’s air and maritime borders. China can, for example, prevent the entry of any aircraft or vessels suspected of carrying foreign weapons or military exports in support of the Taiwanese government. This step reinforces the islanders’ position of unity with China and weakens the role of any separatist parties. 

Third: Permanent Blockade Options

Whoever watches live ammunition maneuvers in the six themes is assured of China’s ability to impose a permanent blockade on Taiwan, an option that weakens Taiwan’s economy, and completely prevents the arrival of weapons and ammunition from the West of Taipei, which, in a report by Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense in 2021, admitted that the Chinese military can impose a permanent blockade on ports, airports, as well as sea and land routes. 

Fourth: Remote Shelling 

To avoid the Western sanctions, Beijing’s fourth and final scenario would be to bomb airports, military ports, and ammunition stores remotely, in parallel with a sweeping cyberattack, paralyzing Taiwan’s defense capabilities and preventing access to supplies. However, this scenario remains the least probable because it is likely to cause a large number of deaths and casualties, something the Chinese government doesn’t want to see, having always said Taiwan’s 23 million people are brothers of the Chinese people.

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