China had warned of “serious consequences” ahead of the visit, but has so far avoided any significant military escalation.
After the chaotic departure of the United States from Afghanistan in August 2021 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Washington has sought to reaffirm its commitment to its allies and partners. The visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on August 2 eased nerves in Taipei and underscored the island’s status as a key part of the US strategy for the Peaceful.
The case also generated a rare example of American bipartisanship. Twenty-six Republican senators supported Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, while on August 14 a team of lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican parties visited the island. Republican Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb also visited Taiwan on August 22.
China’s Foreign Ministry has warned of “serious consequences” ahead of Pelosi’s visit, but even after continued visits by US politicians to Taiwan, Beijing is unlikely to continue the military escalation. This could lead to a repeat of the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-96, which caused China’s leaders to lose face.
The third crisis began when then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui obtained a US visa in 1995 to attend a meeting at Cornell University. The Taiwanese leader’s welcome was seen as a serious provocation by China, triggering a series of missile tests and the reinforcement of Chinese troops over the next few months.
In response, the United States has gradually built up its military power in the Asia-Pacific region, including “[sending] two carrier battle groups in the region” in March 1996. Chinese missile testing ended a few days later as Beijing was forced to accept US military dominance in the region, and it could only protest when then-President Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan in 1997.
The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis generated great interest in Russia, which saw it as an opportunity to exploit China’s desire to push back against the United States. Writing in 1996, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that defense contracts with China “could become not only a way for our ill-fated military-industrial complex to preserve jobs and earn money, but also the beginning long-term strategic partnership and a new balance of power in Asia that favors Russia.
Having already accelerated since the Soviet collapse, Russia rapidly increased its arms exports to China after the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. This helped rejuvenate the Russian arms industry and allowed Russia to maintain its status as the second-largest arms exporter until today. As Washington’s attention shifted to the Middle East in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, China gained increasing access to missile systems, planes, ships, and other man-made military technologies. Russian.
Initially, Russian imports were largely limited to Soviet-era weapons. But as China’s arms production capabilities have evolved, Russia has offered more advanced and sophisticated arms deliveries over the past decade to ensure China remains a customer, as well as to undermine US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.
As a result, Taiwanese and US forces in this area have become much more vulnerable to Chinese missiles, planes and ships. After Pelosi’s departure, China carried out several missile tests near Taiwan, while the two Chinese aircraft carriers, commissioned in 2012 and 2019, were both sent to the region. On August 21 alone, five Chinese ships and 12 aircraft were detected around Taiwan.
China also said it intended to carry out “regular combat readiness patrols” around the island.
The Biden administration was careful to avoid tolerating Pelosi’s visit, advocating calm instead. Although in the weeks leading up to his visit, the U.S. Navy had sent its warships through the Taiwan Strait several times “in what it calls freedom of navigation operations,” since Pelosi’s return, Washington has wary of escalation, ‘keeping a carrier strike group aircraft and two sailing amphibious assault ships in the area, but not near the island of Taiwan, rather than retaliating against China’s recent drills in the area . On August 12, US Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said the United States planned to cautiously resume its commercial and military presence in the Taiwan Strait only in accordance with its previous “commitment to freedom of navigation” in the coming weeks. Already preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US military cannot risk confronting China as it could a quarter century ago.
Although Beijing has also avoided a major escalation so far, China’s growing defense capabilities have enabled it to help the Russian military campaign in Ukraine. Since the start of the invasion, China has increased its sales of microchips, aluminum oxide and raw materials essential to the Russian defense industry. In June, several Chinese companies were also blacklisted by US officials for aiding the Russian military.
After the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan revealed the importance of drones in interstate conflicts, Russia is desperate to make up for its drone deficit in Ukraine. The Russian military has modified a large number of Chinese civilian drones and robots, as they are cheaper and more widely available than Russian variants, to complement the efforts of its armed forces.
Chinese drone company Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), the world’s largest drone maker, halted sales to Russia and Ukraine in April to prevent misuse of its products. But surveillance technology developed by DJI, called AeroScope, can be used to track other DJI planes as well as the position of the drone’s operator, and Ukrainian experts have said Russia continues to use AeroScope to target drones. Ukrainian forces.
While representatives from DJI and other Chinese drone and robotics companies have said they don’t support using their products in a dispute, they are ultimately beholden to Beijing. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s criticism of Pelosi’s visit as an “elaborately planned provocation” and the inclusion of Taiwan on his list of hostile countries and territories in March mean Beijing may continue to turn a blind eye to the issue of use of Chinese-made civilian drones in Russia. – Ukrainian War.
And in addition to growing technological collaboration, the Chinese and Russian militaries have also deepened their operational integration over the past two decades. Their first joint military exercise took place in 2003, and dozens more have taken place around the world since then. China also plans to participate in the Vostok military exercises (alongside India, Mongolia, Belarus and Tajikistan) in the Russian Far East from August 30 to September 5.
There are, however, many limits to greater military cooperation between these two powers. China is wary of comparisons between the Ukraine-Russia conflict and its own dispute with Taiwan. Beijing has largely focused on bolstering its economic influence in Taiwan since the turn of the century, while isolating it diplomatically.
China also does not want to jeopardize its relatively constructive relationship with Ukraine, or risk Western economic sanctions by supporting Russia more openly. Some Russian companies have also criticized stealing weapons technology from China, while Chinese arms exports have begun to threaten Russia’s market share among its traditional customers. These factors reflect the lingering mistrust between Moscow and Beijing that has existed for decades.
However, China’s and Russia’s mutual opposition to the United States is enough to offset these problems for now. The United States has previously warned China against aiding Russia’s war effort, but this is clearly a line China is willing to skirt. Considering the United States sells billions of dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan every year and has had special forces on the island since at least before 2019, that’s no surprise.
Military cooperation between China and Russia has been strengthened by the growth of energy sales between the two countries, as well as the desire to create international institutions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and systems independent financial payment providers, to circumvent traditional structures dominated by the United States. . The Sino-Russian relationship was reinvigorated just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine with the declaration of a “limitless” partnership.
China and Russia increasingly recognize that dividing US attention between Ukraine and Taiwan will allow Beijing and Moscow to consolidate their regional positions. The quiet US response to Chinese military action around Taiwan since Pelosi’s visit is another indication that Washington cannot confront Russia and China simultaneously, especially as they become a more united front. .
If tensions over Taiwan continue, China may be persuaded to increase its military support for Russia. If that happens, it will upset the military balance in Eastern Europe, just as Russian military assistance to China has done in East Asia over the past two decades.
John P. Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, DC He is the editor of Strategic Policy and a contributor to several other foreign affairs publications. He is currently finishing a book on Russia to be published in 2022.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.