U.S. Officials Growing Concerned about China’s Possible Action on Taiwan

WASHINGTON. This summer, the Biden administration grew increasingly concerned about China’s statements and actions regarding Taiwan, with some officials fearing that Chinese leaders might try to oppose self-governing island over the next year and a half – perhaps in an attempt to cut off access to all or part of the Taiwan Strait, through which ships of the US Navy regularly pass.

Domestic fears have escalated in recent days as the administration covertly tries to dissuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from a proposed visit to Taiwan next month, US officials say. Mrs. Pelosi, a California Democrat, will be the first speaker to visit Taiwan since 1997, and has been repeatedly condemned by the Chinese government. announced plans and threatened retribution.

US officials see greater risk of conflict and miscalculation regarding Ms B .

This summer, Chinese officials said emphatically that no part of the Taiwan Strait could be considered international waters, contrary to the opinion of the United States and other countries. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in June that “China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait.”

US officials do not know if China plans to enforce this requirement. But Delaware Senator Chris Koons, who is close to President Biden and speaks frequently with the administration on Taiwan issues, said there is “a lot of focus” on the lessons learned from China, its military, and Mr. Trump. Xi can learn from the events in Ukraine.

“And one school of thought is that the lesson is to ‘act early and act stronger’ before there is time to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses,” said Mr. J. Koons said in an interview on Sunday . “And we may be moving towards an earlier confrontation – more squeeze than invasion – than we thought.”

Chinese officials know that Biden administration officials, also using lessons learned from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are trying to shape arms sales to Taiwan turn the democratic island into what some call a “porcupine” – with enough effective weapons and defense systems to deter Chinese leaders from trying to attack it.

US officials say they are not aware of any specific intelligence that indicates that the Chinese leadership has decided to take action in Taiwan anytime soon. But analysts inside and outside the US government are exploring what might be the best time for China to take bolder action to undermine Taiwan and the United States.

The central question is what senior Chinese officials think of the growing strength of the Chinese military compared to Taiwan, the United States and US regional allies, including Japan and South Korea.

Gene. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the behavior of the Chinese military in the Asia-Pacific region has been “significantly more aggressive.”

Chinese officials have denounced the steady stream of visits by high-ranking US officials to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as akin to official diplomatic relations with the island. Mrs. Pelosi planned to visit the country in April but postponed it after her aides said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“If the United States persists, China will take firm and decisive action to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the United States will be held accountable for all serious consequences,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. regular media briefing on Monday.

US officials said the planning for Ms. Pelosi’s trip moved forward despite the growing hype around her.

Mrs. Pelosi will likely fly to Taipei on a US military plane, which is typical of such visits. Some analysts studying China’s condemnation of the proposed visit say China could send planes to “escort” its plane and prevent it from landing.

This scenario is of legitimate concern, US officials said, although it is unlikely and any such move would be viewed by Washington as a major escalation. Officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of diplomatic matters.

Mrs. Pelosi said last week that she doesn’t publicly discuss travel plans, but “it’s important for us to show support for Taiwan.”

Under the Trump administration, a cabinet member and senior State Department official has become senior US administration officials visiting Taiwan in a working capacity since 1979, when Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei to normalize relations with Beijing. Newt Gingrich was the last speaker of the House of Representatives to visit Taiwan 25 years ago.

Asked by reporters about the proposed visit, Mr. Biden said last Wednesday that “the military doesn’t think it’s a good idea now.” He also said he plans to speak with Mr. Xi, the Chinese leader, in the next 10 days. The last two spoke video call in March, when Mr. Biden warned that there would be “consequences and consequences” if China provided material assistance to Russia in its advance into Ukraine.

mr. Xi and other senior Chinese officials and the Communist Party in other countries are preparing for the 20th Party Congress in the fall, and they are expected to hold secret meetings in August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe before the official conclave. Analysts say Mr. Xi will almost certainly break the rules by seeking re-election for a third term as president and extending his tenure as party secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

“The domestic political situation in China right now is extremely tense in the months leading up to the party convention, when Xi is looking to be elected to an unprecedented third term,” said Susan L. Shirk, a former senior State Department official and author of “Overreach,” upcoming book about Chinese politics.

“The risk is that the visit of Speaker Pelosi will be perceived, including by Xi himself, as a humiliation of his leadership and that he will take some rash action to show his strength,” she said. “Moreover, given his recent misjudgments that have crippled the country and sparked internal divisions — a draconian approach to managing Covid, a link to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and a crackdown on private business — we cannot count on his prudence in his military response to the trip. Pelosi. It is better to delay than to risk war.”

Pentagon and White House officials discussed the political environment and the potential risks of the trip with Mrs. Trump. Pelosi office. Officials say it’s up to her.

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at China’s Renmin University in Beijing, said Beijing would seek a military response that would be considered strong but not so aggressive as to provoke a larger conflict.

“I don’t think anyone can predict in detail what China will do militarily,” he said. She said.

Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper published by the Communist Party, tweeted that Chinese warplanes may pursue M. Pelosi’s plane and cross Taiwan-controlled airspace over the island. He also said that China’s actions would amount to a “shocking military response.”

Analysts say China could do something less provocative. For example, it could send planes across the median line in the middle of the strait separating China and Taiwan, as it did in 2020 in response to a visit by Alex Azar, then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Chinese fighter jets crossed this line and since 2020 have increasingly entered the air defense identification zone of the island.

On Monday, Joan Ou, Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said Taipei had not received any “accurate” information about Mrs Taiwan. Pelosi visit.

Officials and legislators in Taiwan’s two major political parties welcome any such visit from the speaker.

“Speaker Pelosi has many fans in Taiwan and her visit will be a strong statement of support for American Taiwanese democracy,” said Alexander Huang, a Washington-based spokesman for the opposition Kuomintang party.

Many in Taiwan fear that if the trip is cancelled, Beijing will get the impression that its scare tactics are working.

In Washington, some Republican lawmakers have publicly urged Ms. Pelosi to continue her trip to protest China.

Ivan Kanapati, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director for China at the National Security Council under Presidents Trump and Biden, said the trip cancellation could undermine Washington’s efforts to strengthen Taiwan’s relations with other democracies and enhance its credibility. in international organizations and platforms.

“A big part of why China is worried about what the US is doing is that we are opening up space for others,” he said. Kanapati said. “And that’s what China really worries about the most – more legitimacy for the Taiwanese government in the international community.”

Some analysts say there are less risky ways to show support for Taiwan. Washington could, for example, send a high-ranking military officer or sign a bilateral trade agreement that could help the island reduce its economic dependence on China.

US military officials say it will be difficult for the People’s Liberation Army to carry out a sea and air invasion of Taiwan today. If China does move against Taiwan sooner than expected, it could do so piecemeal, perhaps first by citing its recent declaration on the status of the Taiwan Strait and running a limited operation to assess Washington’s reaction. Another theory is that Beijing may be trying to seize an outer island off the coast of China.

US officials say it is unlikely that the Chinese government will decide which operation to carry out. But this theme is regularly modeled and played out in Washington.

Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, said Friday at the Aspen Security Forum that Taiwan is learning from Ukraine. After years of buying expensive defense systems, Taiwan has begun to pay more attention to “citizen mobilization” and “information warfare,” he said.

He also noted that deliveries to Taiwan will create an additional burden on the production of American military equipment.

“There are longer-term questions,” he said, “about whether our defense industrial base, the American defense industrial base, and our allies’ defense industrial base can be able to support such security assistance.” that we will need to keep supplying Ukraine, Taiwan, and ourselves.”

Edward Wong reported from Washington, David E. Singer from Aspen, Colorado, and Amy Qin from Taipei. Kathy Edmondson provided a report from Washington.