Adding to the media hype surrounding Chinese military activity in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen penned an op-ed for Foreign Affairs where she warned if China were to take the island, it would have “catastrophic” consequences for the rest of the world.
“As countries increasingly recognize the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses, they should understand the value of working with Taiwan,” Tsai wrote. “And they should remember that if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system.”
Tsai said Taiwan is on the “frontlines of a new clash of ideologies,” echoing the rhetoric coming out of Washington. President Biden has framed the US-China relationship as an ideological competition between “democracy” and “autocracy.”
Tsai said that China has ramped up military pressure around Taiwan. “Since 2020, People’s Liberation Army aircraft and vessels have markedly increased their activity in the Taiwan Strait, with almost daily intrusions into Taiwan’s southern air defense identification zone, as well as occasional crossings of the tacit median line between the island and the Chinese mainland,” she wrote.
Since September 2020, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has been publicizing Chinese military flights that enter what Taiwan claims to be its ADIZ, an area where a country requires foreign aircraft to identify themselves. On Monday, 52 Chinese warplanes entered the ADIZ, the highest recorded since Taiwan began reporting the maneuvers.
Contrary to how Western media portrays these flights, an ADIZ is not airspace, and the concept is not covered under any international treaties. The Chinese warplanes typically pass through the southwest corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ, nowhere near the island.
While the ADIZ flights are not how they are portrayed, China’s military has stepped up its activity near Taiwan and in the South China Sea. But this has a direct correlation with a significant increase in US military activity in the region. Since 2020, the US has stepped up passages through the Taiwan Strait, maneuvers near Chinese claimed islands, and frequently sends aircraft carriers into the sensitive waters.
Besides the uptick in military activity, the US has also taken steps to boost informal ties with Taiwan. In recent years, the US has fundamentally shifted its view of Taiwan. After Washington severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979, US arms sales to the island continued, but the US generally had an interest in positive cross-Strait relations. In June, Raymond Greene, the deputy director of the de facto US embassy in Taiwan, explained how this view has changed.
“The United States no longer sees Taiwan as a ‘problem’ in our relations with China, we see it as an opportunity to advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Greene. A “free and open Indo-Pacific” is a term US officials use that essentially means a region free of Chinese influence.
It’s clear from Greene’s comments and Washington’s military activity that the US shares much of the blame for the increase in tensions between Taiwan and mainland China.