While most are keeping track of the tariffs the US imposes on China, or how Beijing retaliates as part of the now official trade war that started at midnight on Friday, July 6, a just as significant, if less overt diplomatic feud is being waged in parallel.
Here, some speculate that today’s news of North Korea‘s response to the ongoing discussions with the US, in which an envoy said that North Korea’s “resolve for denuclearization may falter”, is a direct consequence of China – which was the puppetmaster behind and greenlighted the Trump-Kim summit – urging Kim to fade Pyongyang’s eagerness to engage Trump as “punishment” for Washington’s belligerent attitude toward China. Alternatively, one can argue that China is merely responding to the latest diplomatic escalation by the US, which reportedly is preparing to deploy marines to the US embassy in Taiwan for the first time in effect legitimizing the US negation of a “One China Policy”, a step which would further inflame tensions between DC and Beijing.
Now, in yet another diplomatic tit-for-tat which could be Trump’s latest attempt to further provoke and antagonize Beijing, two US warships entered the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, the Taiwanese government said. A strategically-timed event, this was the first time US navy ships entered Taiwan Strait since November 2007.
The destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed into the narrow waterway separating Taiwan and China on Saturday morning and were expected to continue on a northeast course, Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement.
“The military is monitoring the situation in neighbouring areas, and has the confidence and abilities to maintain regional stability and defend national security,” the statement added, clearly eyeing the inevtiable Chinese response.
According to AFP, a defense ministry official said the ships were still in the strait on Saturday night, sailing in what he described as international waters, even though China may disagree.
This latest US intervention in what China deems its domestic affairs, in addition to the ongoing trade war of course, is sure to prompt an angry response by Beijing: China sees self-ruling democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, by force if necessary but the island sees itself as a sovereign country. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.
Although the US does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan as part of the tenuous “One China” agreement, it remains Taiwan’s most powerful ally and biggest arms supplier. Meanwhile, as part of its aggressive push to define its territorial claims, often amid brief but vocal diplomatic clashes with the US, China has stepped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan since Beijing-sceptic President Tsai Ing-wen took office two years ago as her government refuses to acknowledge that the island is part of “one China.”
In April, Beijing has staged a string of military exercises, including a live-fire drill in Taiwan, which it said were aimed at Taiwan’s “independence forces”, followed up by an “Island Encirclement” war drill over Taiwan as part of its campaign to spook Taiwan into submission. In turn, Taiwan responded by holding massive life-fire drills simulating a Chinese invasion.
Beijing has also successfully lured away four of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies since Tsai came to power, leaving only 18 countries in the world that recognise Taipei over Beijing, according to AFP. More recently, a growing number of international airlines and companies were also forced to change Taiwan’s name to “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei” due to pressure from Beijing.
Sensing which way the winds of
territorial expansion change are blowing, Taiwan’s president Tsai has criticised China for attempting to change the status quo between the two sides and urged the world to “constrain” its ambitions. At the start of the year, Tsai warned on several occasions that China’s escalating efforts to assert its authority over the island risked destabilizing the broader region.
But most of all, Beijing is incensed by the recent warming in relations between the US and Taiwan, after President Trump signed legislation paving the way for mutual visits by top officials and the US government approved a license required to sell submarine technology to Taiwan.
As such, it is safe to assume that China’s diplomatic response to Taiwan, as well as its ongoing masterminding of the US-N.Korea peace process, will be closely tied to the extent that Trump pushes China into a corner in the parallel, economic trade feud. And, should Trump provoke Beijing too far, it is likely that not only will any further negotiations with Kim could be terminally compromised, but that the US will suddenly find a brand new geopolitical hotspot on its hands in Taiwan.
And now we await China’s retaliation, not to whatever new tariff Trump plans to slap on Chinese trade, but to the US Navy’s provocative show of force in what China considers its own back yard.