China’s aggressive use of military exercises over Taiwan, which is raising the possibility of armed conflict, is overshadowing the development of the Biden administration’s soft power approach to confronting China’s coercive economic measures in the Indo-Pacific.
In late September, the White House hosted the first in-person meeting of “the Quad” leaders, where the prime ministers of Australia, Japan and India met President Joseph R. Biden to coordinate action on a number of fronts. Vaccine diplomacy, climate change, infrastructure,and education were on the agenda; notably absent was any talk of military action or agreements.
Coming in the shadow of the humiliating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the alignment of the Quad is signaling a different approach to global power dynamics, at least in East Asia, even as China’s posturing toward Taiwan threatens to suck the U.S. into a potentially calamitous military clash.
In this episode of History As It Happens, China experts Daniel Markey and Andrew Scobell at the United States Institute of Peace discuss the challenges faced by the Quad while the China-Taiwan impasse dangerously escalates.
“It points to one of a number of fundamental differences between the United States and China that has the potential to erupt into outright militarized conflict,” Mr. Markey said.
“China is now a serious competitor to the United States in the global system, and China is also feeling not just aggrieved but ambitious in its agenda for its nearby neighborhood and beyond.”
Absorbing Taiwan has been the goal of every Chinese Communist leader since Mao. Xi Jinping is vowing to realize that goal as part of China’s rejuvenation as a great power.
Although Xi has said reunification with the island democracy of 24 million people should happen peacefully, Chinese military exercises in Taiwanese airspace this month, paired with his bellicose rhetoric, are alarming U.S. officials.
“The Taiwan issue has been the most enduring and contentious in U.S.-China relations,” Mr. Scobell said.
“When President Truman ordered U.S. forces to the Korean peninsula, in that same directive in the same document, he instructed the 7th Fleet to interpose itself in the Taiwan Strait. From a Chinese perspective, from a very, very early date the U.S. sided with Taiwan, or stopped China from achieving unification with Taiwan,” Mr. Scobell said.
Those early Cold War moves led to the Taiwan Strait crises of the 1950s. Each crisis was resolved without major bloodshed, but China’s sense of grievance has not waned since then.
For more of Daniel Markey’s and Andrew Scobell’s remarks about the Quad and U.S.-China tensions, as well as an update from Washington Times national security team leader Guy Taylor, listen to this episode of History As It Happens.