Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Taiwan elections: Are China’s actions in the South China Sea a harbinger of things to come in Taipei?

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Taipei, Taiwan

120 miles off the coast of the Philippine island of Palawan sits the rusting World War II-era amphibious ship Sierra Madre, hosting a small force of Philippine Marines and sailing to the Second Thomas Shoal. It plays the role of the infrastructure of the atoll.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague declared that the shoal belonged to the Philippines and that China had no legal basis to claim historic rights to large parts of the South China Sea.

The Chinese government has since moved aggressively to emphasize its people’s rejection of the court’s ruling, accelerating the construction of numerous artificial islands with military facilities to strengthen its claim to control nearly all of the South China Sea. Ta.

China’s huge coast guard, the largest in the world, is an important tool in all of this.

China Coast Guard vessels have rammed, bombarded, and otherwise forcibly confronted Philippine vessels seeking resupply and repairs in the Sierra Madre River, preventing the Sierra Madre River from collapsing due to rough weather and waves. Preventing. This is a development that will seriously undermine Manila’s continued dominance. At Second Thomas Reef.

The Filipinos’ desperate race against time has drawn intense attention from the United States, but their relationship with the Philippines’ new pro-American leader, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has become increasingly close, and they have been forced to visit military bases on the Philippine mainland. It also includes plans to expand access in the United States. .

As President Biden declared on October 26, “The United States’ defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. Any attack on Philippine aircraft, ships, or troops automatically triggers the Washington-Manila Mutual Defense Treaty.” become.

But China’s actions contain a more serious threat.

As the Philippine case shows, Beijing has long used its large coast guard as a power-projection force, in the South China Sea as well as elsewhere, disregarding international norms and using land (or sea) has created facts and pushed boundaries. others daring to push back.

And some analysts believe that China will soon deploy its coast guard to Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing has vowed to bring under its control, by persuasion if possible and force if necessary. We believe that there is a possibility that the pressure will start to increase gradually.

This is especially true for the presidential and legislative elections that will be held in Taiwan on January 13th.

If the island’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, which considers Taiwan to be a de facto sovereign state rather than part of China, and which maintains a narrow lead in opinion polls, wins Taiwan’s third consecutive presidential election. The odds are going to be tough. China’s reaction will be significantly higher.

Supporters of Lai Ching-de, vice president of Taiwan and presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DP), attend an election campaign event in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on December 22, 2023.Reuters/An Wang

And even if the more pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) pulls off an upset victory on January 13, it has no chance of meeting Beijing’s hopes of moving quickly toward eventual unification with mainland China. Very low, raising the possibility that China will become even more nervous.

This type of pressure presents a very difficult challenge for Taiwan and the U.S. Navy, especially since the Coast Guard is now backed by Chinese law that allows the use of deadly force in waters claimed by China. It will be.

“If one day a Chinese coast guard ship appears around Taiwan, whose range could reach up to 10,000 tons, what would the United States or Taiwan do?” said Andrew Yang, former Taiwanese defense minister. ask. “They are the Coast Guard, not the Navy. They are not firing. Who will fire first, the United States or Taiwan?”

The Coast Guard will also facilitate the introduction of other coercive measures that the Chinese Communist Party has not previously chosen to use, including those that could directly threaten foreign companies operating in Taiwan. It also includes certain movements.

Such measures include requiring foreign ships sailing to the island to first undergo customs inspection at a nearby Chinese port, and requiring foreign airlines serving Taiwan’s airports to first submit their flight plans to Chinese authorities. This may include requesting the submission of

The possibility that Chinese vessels will, at some point, inspect foreign commercial ships on the high seas to emphasize Taiwan’s claims could lead to international insurers tying maritime insurance rates to compliance with evolving Chinese requirements, leading to foreign This could create further legal, political and financial pressure on companies. Companies doing business in Taiwan are steadily undermining Taiwan’s efforts to maintain political separation from China.

The Chinese government already conducts almost daily air and sea operations in Taiwan’s self-declared air defense identification zone. In September, a record number of 103 sorties were made in one day.

Recent intrusions have included Chinese aircraft circling Taiwan and increasingly crossing the unofficial Taiwan Strait “middle line” designed to separate the two sides and reduce the risk of accidental collisions. There is.

The Chinese government has also repeatedly attacked U.S. ships in the Strait, including in June when a Canadian frigate and a People’s Liberation Army warship crossed the bow of the ship and came within 150 meters of a U.S. guided-missile destroyer as it passed through the strait. I have also tried. In September, China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Shandong, conducted operations in the south and north of Taiwan.

These so-called “gray zone activities” have so far succeeded in giving China an advantage in the South China Sea. The situation may soon reach a stage where Taiwan’s friends and allies will have to face the challenge of whether they can be equally effective on the democratic island and its environs.

Peter Enab is Taiwan Strait Risk Report Former Associated Press Taipei bureau chief. Mike Chinoy is consulting editor of the Taiwan Strait Risk Report and former Asia correspondent for CNN.

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