While the world has kept its eyes fixed on Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban advance in Kabul, China took advantage of the distraction to launch a series of intimidating military exercises near Taiwan, with warships and fighter jets exercising south of the island. A move Beijing said was prompted by “external interference” and “provocations.”
The Eastern Theater Command of communist China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a brief statement that they sent warships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets near Taiwan to carry out “joint fire assaults and other drills with real troops.”
“The recent provocations by the U.S. and Taiwan seriously violated Chinese sovereignty,” Command spokesman Shi Yi said in this regard.
Recently, the Biden administration approved its first arms sale to the democratic island of Taiwan, a $750 million deal, amid rising tensions with China. The sale included 40 new M109 self-propelled howitzers and nearly 1,700 kits to convert shells into more accurate GPS-guided munitions.
According to The Global Times, a state-affiliated tabloid published by Chinese Communist Party spokesmen, the sale of the military hardware sent the wrong and dangerous signal to Taiwan secessionists and “added fuel” to strained Sino-U.S. relations.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense has repeatedly warned of PLA aircraft incursion into the island’s airspace. It recently denounced that eleven Chinese fighter jets overran the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday.
In the same vein, according to a statement from the Taiwanese Defense Ministry, the Chinese incursion was made with two Y-8 reconnaissance planes, a KJ-500 radar plane, six J-16 fighters and two H-6K bombers. The Taiwanese Air Force issued radio warnings and mobilized different units until the Chinese aircraft left the area.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Shi Shunwen, said that the Taiwanese armed forces are ready to “respond accordingly” to the military maneuvers in the south of the island announced by Beijing.
China pokes fun at the American disaster in Afghanistan
Chinese state media and their nationalist commentators have pounced on the disastrous American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan to claim that the United States will not defend the people of Taiwan, which could be the next flashpoint in Asia. Thus The Global Times suggested in an editorial that the American abandonment of Afghanistan after 20 years was a “harbinger” for Taiwan’s “future fate.”
“From what happened in Afghanistan, those in Taiwan should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and US military won’t come to help. As a result, the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] will quickly surrender,” the media outlet tweeted.
For his part, Hu Xijin, an influential nationalist state media commentator and editor-in-chief of the Global Times, went straight to the point and lashed out from his personal Twitter account.
“After the fall of the Kabul regime, the Taiwan authorities must be trembling. Don’t look forward to the US to protect them. Taipei officials need to quietly mail-order a Five-Star Red Flag from the Chinese mainland. It will be useful one day when they surrender to the PLA (People’s Liberation Army of Communist China).”
“Think of how many lives of U.S. soldiers would be spent in Taiwan and how many billions of dollars,” Hu Xijin wrote in another Global Times editorial.
While many in Taiwan perceive themselves as a nation apart, Beijing sees the island as a province destined to be placed under communist control. But that is not the historical position of the United States. In fact, it is diametrically opposed: a 40-year-old law states that the United States will provide political and military support to Taiwan.
However, the U.S. remains ambiguous about whether it will ever intervene directly to defend Taiwan from an attack by the Chinese Communists, the latter of whom have also moved closer to the Taliban in recent months. A dispute over the island could drag the two nuclear-armed rival superpowers into war.
A joint statement by President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at their recent White House meeting has left officials and analysts in Taiwan wondering how far Japan would be willing to go to help defend the island against an attack by China.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested in April that Taiwan could defend itself alone in the event of a hypothetical attack on the island by China. “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. All I can tell you is we have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself,” Blinken said.
What’s the word in the United States?
Last Friday, the New York Times said that U.S. hesitancy toward long-term military commitments “will now be felt most strongly among the world’s playground countries, such as Taiwan, Ukraine, the Philippines and Indonesia, which can only please China and Russia.”
In addition, the media outlet quoted French defense analyst François Heisbourg as saying that the U.S. abandonment of its ally will have long-term consequences: “the notion that the Americans cannot be counted on will take deeper roots because of Afghanistan.”
American media and officials, especially conservatives and Republicans, have claimed that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul will encourage China to take aggressive military action against Taiwan.
Former President Donald Trump, in an interview for Fox Business, stated that America’s great rivals, such as Russia, North Korea and China are “amused” by the “shameful” troop withdrawal.
Politico correspondent Stuart Lau wrote this past Sunday on Twitter: “Imagine Beijing watching US military “commitment” in Afghanistan while contemplating its next move on Taiwan.”
Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL), a former colonel and Green Beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, that same day tweeted: “If I were in Taiwan or Ukraine right now watching all this unfold, I would be terrified knowing this is how the United States will react under this administration.”
For his part, Donald Trump Jr. said on Twitter that the Chinese Communist Party would be “licking their chops” in Taiwan after witnessing the actions of a “weak American administration.”
El politólogo Jasmin Mujanovic también publicó un tuit en el que afirmó que Afganistán es una Political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic also tweeted that Afghanistan is a “warning to all vulnerable, emerging democracies; Ukraine, Taiwan, BiH, Kosovo etc.” He further wrote that in the worst case scenario “great power promises mean nothing” and that, in the end, only “hard power capabilities and consolidated, formal alliances matter.”
At a time when U.S. credibility is at stake and weakened by a bumpy troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, with a strong China cozying up to the Taliban and threatening the Taiwanese while exercising its military alongside Russia, Taiwan’s future is uncertain.