The mutual provocation is an intensification of the rivalry based on the confirmation that Joe Biden, the new American president, will follow the path of confrontation opened by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The Republican Cold War 2.0, which started in 2017, spanned almost every possible competition field, from Hong Kong’s autonomy to 5G mobile technology networks, and obviously has a central military component. The US idea is to highlight the main Chinese strategic weakness, which is its dependence on maritime routes to keep its industry alive, both by exporting (20% of Chinese GDP comes from there) and by receiving commodities and inputs (80% of oil comes from the Indian Ocean) .
To this end, Washington revived the Quad, a group of its allies in the Indo-Pacific formed by Japan, Australia and India, focused on joint military exercises to demonstrate the ability to strangle and encircle the Chinese. Under Biden, the club held its first meeting of leaders and sought to emphasize political aspects, such as facilitating access to vaccines against Covid-19 in Southeast Asia, to counterbalance Beijing’s health diplomacy.
The American also set up a diplomatic trap by accepting a summit of foreign ministers in Alaska, but promoting renewed sanctions on Chinese officials due to the crackdown in Hong Kong on the eve of the meeting. At the meeting, the American opening was full of criticism of the Chinese, who responded by doubling the tone. The weather has abated, and the opening has been done, but the taste remains sour.
Over the past week, the Philippines has complained about the presence of a Chinese militia on the disputed Whitsun reef in the South China Sea. The communist dictatorship considers 85% of those territorial waters its own, and militarizing small islets and atolls has been part of this occupation strategy since 2014.
Beijing says the boats there are just fishing boats. Coincidence or not, the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of the 11 in the United States, entered the region on Sunday (4), crossing the strategic strait of Malacca – through which the bulk of Chinese maritime trade passes.
A few hours earlier, still on Saturday (1), 1 of China’s 2 aircraft carriers, Liaoning, made a crossing in the Strait of Miyako, where the disputed Senkaku Islands are located – which are uninhabited but have potential oil reserves, and for are now controlled by Japan.
The Ministry of Defense of Japan criticized the movement, calling it provocative, and took the opportunity to complain about the new law governing the Chinese Coast Guard, which allows an attack on any foreign ship in waters Beijing considers its own.
According to the Peking University’s South China Sea Strategic Situation Research Initiative center, an American destroyer, the USS Mustin, also traveled through the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea over the weekend.
The Senkaku are known as Diaoyu by the Chinese and are also claimed with less emphasis by the Taiwanese, who call them Tiaoyutai.
Taiwan, an island that Beijing considers its own, also registered a spike in tension on Monday (5). At least ten Chinese fighters have entered their Air Defense Identification Zone, an area in which countries have the right to require any aircraft to report, under extreme penalty of being shot down.
The Chinese have done this frequently, although there has obviously been no conflict. The idea is to test the speed and effectiveness with which Taipei sends fighter jets to ward off invading planes.
Analysts have noticed a change in Chinese tactics as well. Over the past week, fighters have been seen surrounding Taiwan, and not just testing their defenses facing the strait that bears the island’s name and separates it from the mainland.
Over the weekend, the same happened with a Y-8 maritime patrol plane, which suggests that China is expanding its knowledge of Taiwanese tactics.
Few outside the island expect an invasion in the medium term, however, given the risk of failure and of bringing the United States, Taiwan’s allies, into a war that today does not interest anyone.
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