Much is being said about US President Joe Biden telling reporters at the White House on October 6 after returning from Michigan that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have reaffirmed their agreement on Taiwan. He said, “I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree, we will abide by the Taiwan agreement. That’s where we are. And we made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”
This gave the impression that Biden had spoken to Jinping recently in face of China’s ridiculously large air violations of Taiwan’s airspace over the last week. But the only telephonic conversation Biden had with Xi Jinping was on September 10 seven months after Biden assumed presidency of the US. China’s Xinhua described the conversation “in-depth and broad strategic communication and exchanges on bilateral relations and relevant issues of shared interest”.
The White House too had issued a statement saying, “President Biden underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.” But much has happened since that last conversation. Apparently Biden’s October 6 statement was directed more at the home audience.
Simultaneously Biden dispatched his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to hold talks in Zurich (Switzerland) with Yang Jiechi, Politburo member of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on October 6. Yang was Chinese Ambassador to the US (2001-2005), served as China’s Foreign Minister (2007-2013) and since 2013 is Director, Central Foreign Affairs Commission under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. The discussion naturally would not have been on Taiwan alone but on broad range of issues including Taiwan and trade. But China hardly means what it says, as has been experienced from discussions between China’s foreign minister Wang Yi with his Indian counterpart or with the Indian NSA.
The striking part is that right from US President Nixon’s visit to China in February 1972 it is the US that appears to be running after China, not the other way round. Even during Nixon’s visit, China was non-committal about Taiwan – Mao Zedong never said anything about not attacking Taiwan. Moreover, by default or design the US permitted China to militarize the Western Pacific – maximum during Barak Obama’s presidency from January 2009 to January 2017. Besides, the US not only ignored China’s nuclear proliferation to Pakistan and North Korea but has demonstrated it cannot ‘act’ against these two countries.
The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on April 10, 1979. The act defined the officially substantial but non-diplomatic relations between the US and Taiwan. Carter arbitrarily nullified the Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty signed with Taiwan in December 1954 and ratified by the US Congress in February 1955. This was challenged by US Senators in the Supreme Court but the case was dismissed as “non-justiciable” without addressing the constitutional question of Carter’s authority to dismiss a treaty unilaterally.
The TRA does ‘not’ guarantee the US will intervene militarily if China attacks or invades Taiwan nor does it relinquish it. It ensures America’s Taiwan policy cannot be changed unilaterally by US presidents and decision to defend Taiwan can only be with consent of Congress. Under the act, America is to supply Taiwan defence articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities. However, the act does stipulate that the US will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the US”.
China’s violation of Taiwan airspace has witnessed an exponential rise since China’s National Day on October 1; 38 PLA aircraft dispatched violated Taiwan airspace that day, 39 aircraft on October 2 and 56 aircraft on October 4. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki urged China on October 4 to cease its provocative military activity near Taiwan saying the action is “destabilizing, risks miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability.” But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying rebuffed the US for its “extremely erroneous and irresponsible” statements supporting Taiwan.
There has been speculation about possibility of Biden and Xi meeting during Summit of the G20 Heads of State and Government scheduled in Rome later this month on October 30-31. But Chinese diplomats have conveyed that currently Xi doesn’t have any plans to attend the summit.
In an article published in the Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs magazine on October 5, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has said that Taiwan’s fall “would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system.” Concurrently, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng stated on October 6 that China would be capable of mounting a full-scale invasion by 2025.
But Xi is more likely to advance invasion of Taiwan from 2025 and will keep testing America’s redlines before the Quad is concretized and before Australia gets SSNs under the AUKUS pact. China may demonstrate the largest air and sea violation of Taiwan’s airspace and Taiwan Straits on the forthcoming National Day of Taiwan – October 10. China is already challenging America in the Arctic. Recall in June this year Nikki Haley had warned that China could attack Taiwan after the winter Olympics in China during February 2022 and if China takes Taiwan, Beijing will be emboldened to seize other territories around the globe.
China is aware that under the TRA, the US President cannot employ force to defend Taiwan without concurrence of the Congress, which could imply time delay. That is why China is repeating large scale air violations and repeated sea exercises including live firing, practicing amphibious assault, island territories and the like. China would have noted America’s loss of face in Afghanistan, Joe Biden’s speech at UNGA which was conciliatory towards China, US efforts for reviving trade talks with China and US-EU friction over AUKUS while China is EU’s largest trading partner.
To top this, Xi has his own problems with dissent at home and abroad. He cannot afford a dent in the larger than Mao Zedong image he has built for himself. It is not just Evergrande with more than $300 billion in debt which it may default but China’s external debt is half its GDP while in the past two decades the PLA Navy (PLAN) has more than trebled in size. The 20th National Party Congress of the CCP that would shake up the top echelon of Chinese politics is scheduled in 2022.
What would Xi do if he feels vulnerable, which apparently is the case despite his poker countenance, is not difficult to understand; attack of course at an opportune time knowing there is no other way to assimilate Taiwan but to use force and this will open the doors for China’s world domination with another crippling blow to America’s super power image after the debacle in Afghanistan. It boils down to selecting the right time for invading Taiwan when Biden would take the longest running to the Congress for approving use of force to defend Taiwan.
Xi also understands that in attacking India, American support will be restricted to sale of weaponry. China has been practicing war on multiple fronts and India must be ready for war on dual front concurrent to escalation of the third front with techno-backed terror attacks.