After sending an unprecedented number of military aircraft to harass Taiwan during the Chinese National Day holiday, Beijing has reduced its intimidation tactics, but great tension persists as there has been no change in either speech or language. the explanation of the military exercises.
Experts agree that a direct conflict is unlikely at the moment, but as the future of Taiwan’s autonomous territory turns into a powder keg, a mistake or miscalculation could spark a confrontation as the ambitions of China and the United States oppose each other.
China seeks to regain control of the island, which has great strategic and symbolic importance, while the United States views Taiwan in the context of the broader challenges posed by China.
“From the American perspective, the concept of a great-power rivalry with China has raised this issue on the agenda,” said Henry Boyd, a British-based defense analyst who works for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS for its initials in English).
“The need to confront China is a sufficient motivating factor, so much so that not taking on this fight would also be perceived as a betrayal of the national interests of the United States.”
China claims that Taiwan belongs to it, and controlling the island is a key component in Beijing’s political and military mindset. President Xi Jinping stressed over the weekend that “the reunification of the nation must be achieved and will definitely be achieved,” a goal that has become more realistic thanks to the enormous advances in China’s armed forces over the past two decades.
In response, the United States has been increasing its support for Taiwan and increasingly concentrating on the Indo-Pacific region. State Department spokesman Ned Price stressed Tuesday that US support for Taiwan is “strong as a rock,” ensuring that “we have also been very clear that we are committed to strengthening our ties with Taiwan.”
Washington’s policy has long been to provide political and military backing to Taiwan, without explicitly promising to defend it from a Chinese attack.
Possibly the closest both sides have come to a direct conflict was in 1996, when China, upset by what it perceived as increased US support for Taiwan, decided to hold a show of force with military exercises that included the launching of missiles into the sea, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast of Taiwan, before the first popular presidential election in Taiwan.
The United States responded with its own display of power, sending two groups of aircraft carriers to the region. At the time, China had no aircraft carriers and had limited resources to threaten American vessels, so it backed off.
Wounded by the incident, China embarked on a mission to radically transform its military, and 25 years later, it has significantly upgraded its missile defenses and equipped or built its own aircraft carriers.
A recent Defense Department report to Congress noted that in 2000 it considered China’s armed forces to be “large but mostly archaic,” but today it is a rival that has already surpassed the US military in some areas, including shipbuilding, to the extent that the world’s largest Navy currently owns.
Counting the number of ships is not the best way to compare capabilities – the United States has 11 carriers to only two from China, for example – but in the event of a conflict around Taiwan, China would be able to deploy almost all of its forces. In addition to having anti-ship missiles from the ground to join the conflict, said Boyd, co-author of the global assessment of armed forces Military Balance for the IISS.
“The Chinese concept of operations with respect to Taiwan is that if they can delay the US presence in the fight … they can beat the Taiwanese before the Americans show up strong enough to do something about it,” he said.
Taiwan’s strategy is the same: delay China long enough for the United States and its allies to come out in force. It has significant military forces and the advantage of fighting on its own territory. A recent policy document also points to the need for asymmetric measures, which could include things like missile attacks on mainland China’s ammunition or fuel depots.
The Taiwan defense department’s assessment of China’s capabilities, presented to parliament in August and obtained by The Associated Press, says China already has the ability to seal off Taiwan’s ports and airports, but currently lacks transportation and support. logistics for large-scale joint landing operations, although it is improving day by day.
In a new strategy-oriented policy last week, US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro identified China as the “most significant” long-term challenge.
“For the first time in at least a generation, we have a strategic competitor that has naval capabilities that rival ours, and that seeks to aggressively employ its forces to challenge the principles, partnerships and prosperity of the United States,” the document said.
Associated Press journalists Matthew Lee, in Washington; and Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.