Chinese air and naval activity around Taiwan has risen considerably in the month of June. On Friday Chinese warplanes conducted exercises in the airspace off the southwestern coast of Taiwan. This was the eighth time in June that these exercises took place. While the number of exercises this year is comparable to the same time last year, the recent increase could be the first steps towards an escalation in the area if continued. Given the ongoing standoff between China and India, and the rising tensions between Beijing and Washington, it is only fair to assume the exercises off Taiwan serve a much larger purpose beyond rattling Taipei’s cage. A message is also being sent to the United States through these exercises: Stop strengthening ties with Taiwan.
The US has been increasing economic ties to Taiwan over the past few years, and the Trump administration regularly cites Taiwan as being a model democracy. On the surface, Beijing continues to work towards a peaceful, uncoerced reunification with Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province. Last year President Xi Jinping called for reunification model under a ‘one country, two systems’ model similar to what China has in place with Hong Kong. Understandably, the Taiwanese people are not warm to that proposal after what has taken place in Hong Kong in the last twelve months.
These exercises are a thinly veiled message for the US to keep its distance from Taiwan and not intervene in what Beijing considers an internal matter. They also serve as a warning that if push comes to shove, China is capable of isolating Taiwan from US bases in Okinawa and Guam, which is where the first wave of reinforcements would come from in the event of a crisis.
With China now active on several fronts, how it maneuvers with regards to Taiwan in the next two weeks will be telling. If Beijing increases the heat in the South China Sea, or Himalayas, will it do the same with Taiwan? And if so, how will the US respond?