Guided by a Cold War mindset, the United States always believes it can pressure China on any issue so long as the lines of communication are kept open. This is a false belief Washington’s politicians developed after the United States won the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Today, it is being applied on a new target — China.
They have been doing it on the Taiwan question: in August last year, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, claiming it should be supported to become a member of the “democratic bloc”; in May this year, Daniel Kritenbrink, a senior official with the Department of State, said the Taiwan question was not China’s domestic affair, but a global concern.
Yet at the same time, the United States repeatedly demanded open lines of communication with Beijing, as if they are free to run amok in the Taiwan Strait and Beijing must stay reachable on the phone. They made a mistake: the Cold War cannot be repeated when it comes to the Taiwan question. Taiwan, an inalienable part of China, is not a bargaining chip.
Apart from the political farce, the United States has also been strengthening military deployment around Taiwan. There are now four new military bases in the region, enabled by pacts between America and the Philippines.
According to an AFP story, a secret pact was signed in May between the United States and Palau that reinforced the operational power of American troops in Guam. Moreover, on June 12, a U.S. RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft conducted missions against the baseline of China’s territorial airspace, only 30 nautical miles away from Shanghai at one point. Meanwhile, U.S. warships continued to flex muscles in the Taiwan Strait. While the U.S. keeps sounding the alarm over what they say is unsafe piloting of Chinese jets and vessels, it is the U.S. warships and jets that were operating far away from their homeland and making provocations on China’s doorstep.
Continued brinkmanship could cost the United States dearly. Before State Secretary Antony Blinken’s visit to China, Minxin Pei, an American scholar, wrote in an essay in Bloomberg that the “escalation dominance” of the United States could defeat or cow China. He encouraged the U.S. government to intensify conflicts to a level that China cannot match. It is a bold idea but pure nonsense, more like a cheerleader’s pompons than a well-considered professional judgement. China is not Iraq, and Chinese Taiwan is much less Ukraine. Colin Powell’s washing powder will not produce much foam in the Taiwan Strait. And it remains doubtful whether the United States could maintain “escalation dominance” on China’s doorstep given China’s growing defense capability.
In his in-depth talks with Chinese leaders, Blinken was reminded time and again of China’s red line on the Taiwan question. He should take it seriously. If America does want to bring its ties with China back to the right trajectory, a result Blinken’s visit was intended to deliver, it should show sincerity in action rather than pay lip service. It should stop flying all the way into China’s neighborhood to make provocations.
To some politicians, discipline is a foreign word. But the U.S. military must exercise caution in the East and the South China Seas. A military conflict in the Taiwan Strait will not benefit anyone. The United States should understand that.