Taiwan President Tai has alarmed China with her actions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she has publicly stated her policy has been to maintain the status-quo, her actions appear to indicate otherwise in Beijing’s eyes. The status quo in this particular case is Taiwan’s ambiguous status as a de facto state and its continuing relationships with a small cadre of crucial partners around the world. At the same time, though, Tsai has initiated efforts to make Taiwan less dependent on the Chinese economy and continues to cultivate closer ties with the United States. Mainland leadership views this contradiction as evidence of Taiwan taking steps towards independence. The Chinese response has been centered on increasing military pressure over the past twelve months or so.
Recently, that military pressure has been raised up a level. Chinese warplanes have been conducting sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in ever-increasing numbers lately. On Monday, 25 Chinese warplanes entered the ADIZ as a response to the Biden administration’s amended U.S.-Taiwan communication guidelines that reportedly will allow officials from Taipei to visit federal buildings. The growing number of ADIZ violations is a signal from China that it disapproves of US-Taiwan relations becoming closer and will continue to react to these moves with military pressure. If the sharp rhetoric coming out of Beijing is any indication, the Chinese government is losing patience quickly.
“There is zero room for compromise and not an inch to give,” Chinese spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters Tuesday. “We urge the U.S. side to grasp the situation, earnestly abide by the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiqués, refrain from playing with fire, immediately stop official contact with Taiwan in any form.”
Taiwan is not the only potential flashpoint of the US and China in the region. The South China Sea is becoming crowded with US Navy and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships amid the situation in Taiwan and the growing standoff between Chinese maritime militia ships and the Philippine Navy at Whitsun Reef. As dangerous as the crisis in Ukraine appears to be at the moment, the prospects of a clash between the US and China in the Western Pacific is far more probable in the coming months.