Beijing’s Belligerence Has America and Asian Allies Scrambling

An American trade delegation is soon due in Taipei for talks about ramping up trade relations with Free China, and the Biden administration is emphasizing relations with Japan, Australia, and India.

Taiwan Presidential Office via AP
Soldiers take part in a drill during a visit by Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, at a military base at Chiayi in southwestern Taiwan, January 6, 2023. Taiwan Presidential Office via AP

Washington is set to launch a slew of activities to signal its resolve in confronting Beijing’s aggression, but so far these efforts appear as if they’ll be insufficient to deter Chairman Xi. 

Next week, an American trade delegation is due in Taipei for talks about ramping up trade relations with Free China. An assistant trade representative, Terry McCartin, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Yang Jen-ni, will lead the talks, with Beijing in mind. 

“Washington and Taipei have been forging closer ties as Chinese President Xi Jinping ramps up military, diplomatic, and economic pressure on the nation,” the Taipei Times wrote, previewing the conference. 

Separately, a Navy warship sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Thursday, much to Beijing’s chagrin. America must “immediately stop provoking troubles, escalating tensions, and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” a spokesman for Beijing’s embassy at Washington, Liu Pengyu, said. 

Washington is also tightening relations with other democratic allies in the region. The Biden administration has emphasized relations with Japan, Australia, and India — members of a forum known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialog, or the quad. 

Japan’s foreign minister, Hayashi Yoshimasa, and defense minister, Hamada Yasukazu, will arrive at Washington Wednesday for talks with their counterparts, Secretaries Blinken and Lloyd. The Japanese guests and their hosts plan to “tackle 21st century challenges in the Indo-Pacific and around the world,” according to the Department of State. 

Like Taiwan, Japan is increasingly concerned about Mr. Xi’s declared ambition to control the entire eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean. During a Senate hearing in 2008, Admiral Timothy Keating quoted an unidentified Beijing officer who crystallized that ambition in a mob-like offer. 

“Why don’t we reach an agreement, you and I?” Admiral Keating quoted the Chinese military official as saying.  “You take Hawaii east. We’ll take Hawaii west. We’ll share information, and we’ll save you all the trouble of deploying your naval forces west of Hawaii.”

Following his reappointment as party chairman in October, Mr. Xi’s ambition to turn all waters around his country into a private Chinese lake has become even more menacing for the neighbors than it was back then. Last month, therefore, Taiwan announced that in 2024 it would extend mandatory military service — to a year from four months. Tokyo, meanwhile, unveiled last month a $320 billion plan to double its military budget, to 2 percent of its GDP from 1 percent. 

That the Japanese beef-up included a plan to purchase American-made ballistic missiles is a strong indication that Tokyo is fast reversing its long-held pacifist policies. Although Japan has not repealed Article 9 of its constitution, which limits its military to defensive tasks only, it certainly has been shifting the definition. It now strives for active, rather than merely passive, defense.

Yet, for decades both Japan and Taiwan have relied on American security guarantees, while their indigenous militaries lagged behind. When asked about Beijing’s military aggression by this reporter, several Taiwanese friends shrugged it off. The island has lived so long under threats from the mainland, they say, that few in Taiwan believe an actual attack is coming. 

Then there are the two other quad members, Australia and India. Canberra’s fresh prime minister, Anthony Albanese, met with Mr. Xi on the sidelines of an October summit at Bali. Signaling a sharp turnaround from the hawkish policies of his predecessor, Scott Morrison, Mr. Albanese reportedly told Mr. Xi he wanted to “steady the fractured relationship with Beijing.” 

Meanwhile, Europe-centered members of the Biden administration are extremely frustrated with New Delhi’s neutral stance on the war between Russia and Ukraine, even as India’s military is purchasing the bulk of its arms from Russia.  

An Asia watcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Cleo Paskal, notes however that 100,000 Indian troops are deployed on the country’s long border with China, and India is the only quad member that could replace the Communist country as the world’s top supply chain provider. 

Regardless of the alliance, Indians who want to travel to America for a relative’s wedding or to catch a Broadway show need to wait up to three years for a tourist visa. At the same time, the waiting period for visitors from Communist China can be as short as one week.

As 2023 gets under way, American-Indian relations are too lukewarm; Australia appears to have lost its nerve in confronting Communist China; and the Japanese and Taiwanese militaries are awakening to the dangers around them, but are doing so too slowly. Yet, “if there is a perception in Beijing that the U.S. won’t act to confront aggression, then none of those other things matter,” Ms. Paskal says. 

Building up alliances with like-minded Asian countries is a good start. Yet, Ms Paskal adds, following Mr. Biden’s abandonment of Afghanistan, and as “we can’t even outlaw TikTok,” it is far from clear that Mr. Xi is worried that America would react militarily to his ever-rising belligerence. 

The New York Sun

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