EXPLAINER: Why is Taiwan now so important to US politicians? – Nexus News

The visit by Pelosi, the highest ranking US official to travel to Taiwan in 25 years resulted to a major problem between China and the United States.

Twelve days after Pelosi’s visit, a team led by US Senator Ed Markey travelled to the island.

On Thursday, Marsha Blackburn, a Republican senator who is a member of the Senate’s commerce and armed services committees, landed in Taipei.

“I just landed in Taiwan to send a message to Beijing – we will not be bullied,” Blackburn tweeted.

Why are so many US politicians visiting Taiwan now?

US-China rivalry

The US sees China as its main strategic opposition and high-level engagement between Washington and Beijing is crucial to keep the difficult relationship concrete.

But the US has also in the past years placed greater emphasis on its support for Taiwan as a reaction to what Washington perceives as China’s increasingly assertive actions in the East Asia region.

In 2021, the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom declared a new trilateral security alliance dubbed AUKUS in an clear attempt to oppose China’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

China claims the self governed Taiwan as its own and has vowed to bring it under Chinese control, by force if necessary.

Beijing’s increasingly assertive stance towards Taiwan seems to signal that “future crises in the Taiwan Straits are likely”, according to professors Owen Greene and Christoph Bluth of the University of Bradford.

Without a reaction to such assertive posturing now, Chinese leaders could be led to believe that the US is not likely to become militarily involved if a crisis surrounds Taiwan.

Even before Pelosi’s trip, Beijing had heightened military activities, including regular incursions into Taiwan’s air identification zone, since President Tsai Ing-wen was first elected in 2016.

From ‘strategic ambiguity’ to strategic clarity

The US policy towards Taiwan has included what is known as “strategic ambiguity”.

This policy approach involves the US, which is imposed by a law that it must secure Taipei with means to protect itself helping to build up Taiwan’s military defences on the island.

“Ambiguity” resides in the US not giving tangible assurance that Washington would directly come in if Taipei came under attack from China.

Recent events revealed that ambiguousness towards Taiwan’s defence is giving way to more strict remarks by US leaders that they will back Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression.

The strongest signal of a shift away from strategic ambiguity came in May when US President Joe Biden stated that he would use force to protect Taiwan if it was attacked by China.

Biden noted that while the US acknowledges the “one China policy”, the idea that “Taiwan can be taken by force” is “not appropriate”. White House officials later informed reporters there is “no change in US policy towards Taiwan”.

The US, under the one-China policy, sees the People’s Republic of China as the “sole” and “legal” government of China. However, that policy does not implies that Washington recognizes “Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan”.

Some analysts believe the US is moving from strategic ambiguity to “strategic clarity” on Taiwan and its defence.

“This time Biden’s statement itself seems illogical but the sentiment and signal it sends are politically very useful,” Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist who teaches at Australian National University’s Taiwan Studies Program, informed Al Jazeera earlier this year.

During her visit, Pelosi seems to add clarity to the controversy by saying “America stands with Taiwan”.

“We are supporters of the status quo,” she said. “We don’t want anything to happen to Taiwan by force.”

The US wants Taiwan to have freedom with security and the US will not retreat from that, she added.

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Pelosi’s visit an “out-and-out farce”, and blamed the US of breaking his country’s “sovereignty under the guise of so-called ‘democracy’”.

War in Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine drew attention to China’s longstanding threat to use force to annex self-governing and democratic Taiwan.

Taiwan increased its alert level at the dawn of the crisis in Ukraine, disturbed that China might take advantage of a world distracted by Russia’s attack to move against Taipei.

In the first week of the invasion, a delegation of former senior US defence and security officials – led by the one-time chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen landed in Taiwan.

In July, the head of the US Central Intelligence Service stated that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was affecting Beijing’s calculations on Taiwan in terms of when and how it might take effect, rather than whether it might invade, CIA Director William Burns said.

China, Burns stated, is likely learning from the example of Ukraine that “you don’t achieve quick, decisive victories with underwhelming force”.

Read Also: US politician arrives in Taiwan despite pressures from Beijing

“Our sense is that it probably affects less the question of whether the Chinese leadership might choose some years down the road to use force to control Taiwan, but how and when they would do it,” Burns informed the Aspen Security Forum.

“I suspect the lesson that the Chinese leadership and military are drawing is that you’ve got to amass overwhelming force if you’re going to contemplate that in the future,” he said.

China has not criticized Russia’s war against Ukraine and has not joined international sanctions against Moscow.

Domestic US politics

In a Bloomberg opinion piece, historian Niall Ferguson noted that one reason for Biden’s more hawkish approach to Beijing on Taiwan may be domestic politics as the US heads into mid-term elections.

“That being tough on China is a vote-winner – or, to put it differently, that doing anything the Republicans can portray as ‘weak on China’ is a vote-loser,” Ferguson said.

US-based independent political fact-checking website Politifact unveiled that US candidates are using political ads pledging to be tough on China or attacking rivals as being too soft on China

China as a theme in the election campaign coincides with an unfavourable view of China among Americans “whether because they view it as an economic or security threat, or whether they blame it for the COVID-19 pandemic”, Politifact reported.

A poll in 2021 by Gallup, revealed “45 percent of Americans now say China is the greatest enemy of the US, more than double the percentage who said so in 2020”.

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