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In recent years, relations between China and its breakaway island province of Taiwan have worsened significantly, but the previous months have led to an exponential escalation which could very likely get out of control. Since 2020, when the current president Tsai Ing-wen was elected for her second term, her harsh rhetoric and strengthening of military ties with the United States have been causing quite a lot of frustration in Beijing. For decades, the Asian giant has been trying to come to an agreement with the rebellious government in Taipei. The primary area of focus for China is economic cooperation with its breakaway island province, which has benefited Taiwan significantly, making it a crucial link between Western economies and China.
However, keeping the status quo doesn’t seem to be in the interest of the political elites in Washington DC. Apart from multiple high-profile visits to China’s breakaway island province, despite Beijing’s clear warnings this will be viewed as a hostile act, and military deals which directly threaten the Chinese military, the belligerent imperialist thalassocracy has also pledged to “defend Taiwan”. US President Joe Biden himself has stated this at least four times. Tensions reached a boiling point, in particular during US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taipei. At the time, virtually no voices of reason calling for peace could be heard, neither in the US nor in Taipei.
And yet, something seems to have changed in recent days. The President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen recently stated that she “rules out armed confrontation with China,” adding that the government in Taipei is “willing to engage with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement.” On Monday, October 10, during a national address, President Tsai Ing-wen clearly stated the following:
“I want to make clear to the Beijing authorities that armed confrontation is absolutely not an option for our two sides.”
“Only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy, and freedom can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai added.
The statement shows a rarely-seen display of (geo)political wisdom on the part of the government in Taipei and it largely falls in line with what China itself has been offering for years. It is absolutely in Beijing’s interest to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully. Restoring China’s sovereignty in the area is the primary concern of the government in Beijing, but so is doing it in the most painless way possible. The Asian giant sees the people of Taiwan as its own citizens and wants no armed confrontation. However, the belligerent power on the other side of the Pacific has other plans.
By pushing Taipei into an armed conflict with Beijing, the US is trying to destabilize China and curb its unrivaled growth. The aforementioned controversial visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August triggered China’s response, which reacted by launching naval exercises around Taiwan. Western mainstream propaganda machine accused China of “aggressive behavior” and tried spinning the narrative by claiming that Beijing was conducting a naval blockade of its rebellious province. Still, it seems this show of force gave fruit after all, as the government in Taipei finally showed willingness to engage in “constructive dialogue.”
President Tsai said that Taiwan is willing to negotiate with China to “restore peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” but that it “must not compromise the freedom and democracy of the Taiwanese people.” The second part of the statement is clearly necessary to maintain the official political narrative. And yet, the call for peace might be indicative of a possible realpolitik approach which is desperately needed to avoid a direct military confrontation with a superpower such as China. Although Tsai also talked about “bolstering Taiwan’s military potential”, it’s quite clear that this would certainly not change the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait.
China’s military dominance in the area is virtually undisputed. With the world’s third-largest air force and one of the largest and most powerful navies on the planet, Beijing’s chances to succeed in overcoming the military forces of Taiwan are nearly guaranteed. In addition, China operates a plethora of ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles which could devastate the air and missile defenses in Taiwan from afar, while destroying most of its air force before it even had the chance to take off. This alone, coupled with an actual naval blockade, might as well bring down the government in Taipei and force the breakaway island province to accept a peace deal preferable to China.
The US and other Western powers and satellite states would be unable to react, unless they wanted a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed China. Even in the case that the government in Taipei decided to continue the fight, Beijing could send its troops directly to the island and take control of it by force. Although such amphibious operations are usually the most difficult and dangerous a military could conduct, China surely has the capacity to do it.
And yet, this is precisely what Beijing is trying to avoid, as the resulting devastation could cause tens of thousands of casualties and inflict massive economic damage. In light of the recent statements by Taiwan’s president, it seems the government in Taipei finally came to the same conclusion and is ready to negotiate. Hopefully, it will stay that way, so that another US-orchestrated tragic conflict could be avoided.
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Drago Bosnic is an independent geopolitical and military analyst.