Will Tweaking the Dragon’s Tail Ignite a Terrible Fire With China?
China’s iconic symbol is the “Dragon”. Hence my title. The next two weeks could be two of the most dangerous in the history of the United States because it appears Joe Biden and his clueless national security team are bumbling their way towards a showdown with China that is fraught with the peril of war.
The Chinese Government now rejects the One China Policy that has been the foundation of U.S./Chinese relations for 43 years. CSIS boils it down nicely:
When the United States moved to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and de-recognize the Republic of China (ROC) in 1979, the United States stated that the government of the People’s Republic of China was “the sole legal Government of China.” Sole, meaning the PRC was and is the only China, with no consideration of the ROC as a separate sovereign entity.
The United States did not, however, give in to Chinese demands that it recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan (which is the name preferred by the United States since it opted to de-recognize the ROC). Instead, Washington acknowledged the Chinese position that Taiwan was part of China. For geopolitical reasons, both the United States and the PRC were willing to go forward with diplomatic recognition despite their differences on this matter.
The Chinese are now unyielding on their claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. It does not matter any more that Washington threatens action if China takes any steps to impose its “sovereignty”, China is going to demonstrate its sovereignty. One way it may do this is to deny Nancy Pelosi and any other dignitary from Washington, DC from flying to Taiwan and setting foot on “Chinese territory” without the permission of Beijing.
The United States does not have an embassy in Taiwan. It has a consulate, which is subordinate to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. In other words, any official visit by a U.S. official must have country clearance from China. Got it?
What makes the current situation so dangerous is that the Commander of US Forces in the Indo-Pacific region (aka INDOPACCOM) has ordered the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group to the South China Sea as a “show of force.” This is a deliberate act to demonstrate to the Chinese that they have no sovereignty over this territory.
The Chinese reaction to this provocation is alarming:
The Chinese Army urged citizens to “prepare for war” in a social media post Friday that garnered thousands of likes, according to the state-sponsored Global Times.
Chinese officials have issued stark warnings of possible conflict should House Speaker Nancy Pelosi follow through with her promise to visit Taiwan in August, pledging a “forceful” response. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 80th Group Army’s post received over 300,000 thumbs-up on China’s social media platform Weibo within 12 hours “amid high morale among Chinese soldiers,” the Global Times said.
“We must bear in mind the fundamental responsibility of preparing for war and charge on the journey of a strong army,” the 80th Group Army posted in a comment that received 8,000 likes, according to Global Times.
The spokesman for China’s Ministry of Defense was unusually blunt in describing China’s reaction:
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said Tuesday that a Pelosi visit to Taiwan would “seriously violate” the One China principle and “severely endanger China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
While Chinese officials have stopped short of guaranteeing all-out war with the U.S. on the grounds of Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, Kefei said that “the Chinese military will never sit idle by, and will certainly take strong and resolute measures to thwart any interference by external forces and secessionist attempts for ‘Taiwan independence,’ and firmly defend China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
What can China do apart from imposing a “No Fly Zone” over Taiwan? China has hypersonic missiles.
China maintains the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the world. Since the end of the Cold War, Beijing has rapidly modernized its missile force, growing from a small arsenal of cumbersome, inaccurate ballistic missiles into a formidable force of precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, loitering munitions, and—most recently—hypersonic weapons.
China’s deployment of hypersonic weapons has attracted significant attention, and for good reason. Hypersonic weapons combine the extreme speeds of ballistic missiles with the maneuverability and lower-altitude flight of cruise missiles, stressing traditional means of early warning and defense.
The hypersonic missile can sink a U.S. aircraft carrier. None of the ships in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group have a defense to counter the hypersonic missile. In other words, China can sink one of more ships in that Task Force if the United States ventures into the Straits of Taiwan.
All of this comes as China faces a major economic crisis at home–a collapse of the real estate market:
The crisis in China’s property market, exemplified by the default of Evergrande, the country’s most indebted real estate developer last November, is spreading. It is threatening a significant fall in economic growth under conditions where the government is battling to deal with the effects of the COVID pandemic.
Over the past few weeks, a home-buyer boycott movement has developed in which purchasers are refusing to continue payments for apartments they have purchased but which are still under construction.
TGP reported on China’s economic crisis this week.
One tried and true method throughout history that governments use to distract domestic discontent is to focus the public attention on a foreign threat.
When you consider all of these factors together, we have an extremely volatile situation where China may very well use military force to repel a “foreign” enemy. I realize that many of the U.S. foreign policy establishment are betting that China will back down. I would not take that bet.
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