18.01.2023 Author: Valery Kulikov

US escalates military tension with China

Tensions between the US and China, which have reached an intense level in recent decades, especially under Donald Trump, have continued to escalate with the arrival of the Joe Biden administration in the White House. At the same time, despite deep contradictions between Republicans and Democrats on most political and international issues (in recent years), when it comes to the topic of China, there has been a rare consensus on the need for a tough course towards this country. It is also noteworthy that ever since Joe Biden was Vice President under Barack Obama, his views on China have become markedly tougher.

The heightened tensions in relations between China and the US can be clearly seen in the events of 2022, when in May the wording about recognizing Taiwan as part of China was removed from the State Department’s website. And then in August, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited the island, with the openly provocative purpose of being the first high-ranking American politician to be there, despite warnings from Beijing. In response, China conducted massive live-fire exercises around the island and suspended bilateral dialogue with Washington on a wide range of issues. After Nancy Pelosi, in order to “cement” this provocative policy, the White House sent not only other representatives of the American political establishment to Taiwan, but also political delegations from several of Washington’s European satellites, which participated in plans to incite Chinese separatism. In order to create security risks in the region, the US began to carry out demonstrative sailings of its warships through the Taiwan Strait on an almost regular basis. One particular transit happened on January 5 with the participation of the Arleigh Burke-class-guided-missile destroyer. Recently, Japan, the main regional ally of the United States, has also begun to clearly send its signals to the separatist forces in Taiwan, which forced Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin to appeal to Tokyo in late December to officially sever ties with Taipei.

As part of the recent anti-Chinese policy, the US began to intensively supply Taiwan with modern weapons, creating, following the example of the Ukraine crisis, the necessary stock of weapons there before the start of a potential armed conflict. Thus, at the end of the previous year, the US State Department approved a $1.1 billion deal to supply Taiwan with arms, which included AGM-84K Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and radar units. The new US defense budget, signed on December 23, 2022 by President Joe Biden, provides for military assistance to Taiwan in the amount of $10 billion, which, in particular, includes the supply of M136 Volcano anti-tank remote mining systems in the amount of $180 million.

At the end of December, the official representative of the Chinese Ministry of Defense Tan Kefei expressed Beijing’s extreme dissatisfaction with this policy, acknowledging that such a course only leads to escalation of tensions and possible armed confrontations, as well as to a military clash (by analogy with the Ukraine crisis) between representatives of one nation. At the same time, the Chinese side promised to take retaliatory measures and insisted that the United States should stop selling weapons to Taipei, cease contacts with the Taiwan military, or else Washington “will itself get burned in the fire it has created.”

Against the backdrop of these provocative US actions, the Chinese Armed Forces were put on high alert in early January 2023.

Continuing the spiral of escalating relations with China, Washington has recently begun to actively involve not only the UK and other Western European countries, but also its allies in the Asia-Pacific region, namely Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Although earlier Japan’s role in military confrontations was not significant, today the US is pushing this country to build up its military potential in order to use it in possible regional conflicts, and, above all, with China. At the same time, Washington proceeds from the fact that today Japan is becoming a formidable military power with its strong fleet and the ability to independently produce many types of weapons and equipment. Tokyo is also forming full-fledged armed forces, increasing the defense budget and altering its defense strategy with the approval of Washington. In this regard, the United States is clearly counting on the possibility of using the military potential of Japan in the event of the conflict in Taiwan escalating. After all, without relying on regional allies and using their “cannon fodder,” the US alone cannot withstand the arms race that it launched with China. And in the event of an aggravation of the conflict over Taiwan, it is Japan that will be the main base for operations of American forces against China, supporting the Americans and providing cover, supplies and defense.

These calculations of the military-strategic use of Japan in today’s situation are especially clearly shown following the results of talks held on January 12 in Washington between the heads of the foreign ministries and military departments of the US and Japan. During those talks, an appeal was repeatedly made to commitment in accordance with Article 5 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security of both countries to using all means of military potential, including the nuclear one. The joint statement that was made details the discussion of issues related to covering Japan with the American nuclear umbrella, and confirms the intention of both countries to boost cooperation in the expanded deterrence of the “potential adversary.” It also implies that China is “the most serious common challenge for the US and Japan, as well as for their allies and partners,” according to a statement made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the meeting in Washington.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, on his part, pointed to the intention of the US to optimize the presence of US forces in Japan through the advance deployment of more versatile, mobile and resilient units, and also to expand the presence of US Marines in Japan by forming a new coastal defense regiment. He also stressed that Washington fully supported the decision of the Japanese authorities to build up counterattack capabilities through the acquisition of missile weapons, as well as strengthen the US-Japan military alliance, including through closer interaction and the use of this potential. It was also emphasized that the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, controlled by Japan and being the subject of a territorial dispute with China, fall under the security treaty between Japan and the US, and the American side will strictly adhere to this provision.

At the same time, the US and its allies clearly understand that they will be able to repel China’s attempt to establish control over Taiwan by force only at the cost of losing tens of thousands of military personnel.  And this, in particular, was confirmed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, which published the study “The First Battle of the Next War” and prepared a simulation computer game on this topic. It should be noted that even the British, who are especially loyal to the US, in their comments about such a war with China, remind Washington to “not forget about how the Afghanistan fiasco unfolded.” The head of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee under the House of Commons of the British Parliament, Alisha Kearns, also stressed the fact that the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the British is “negligible in comparison with any conflict over Taiwan.”

Under these conditions, despite the urgent approval on January 11 by the US House of Representatives of the proposal to form a special committee on China, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a phone conversation with the new Foreign Minister of China Qin Gang, acknowledged the importance and necessity of maintaining open lines of communication between Washington and Beijing.

However, taking into account the lack of any predictability in US policy under the Joe Biden administration, which has been repeatedly shown by the White House recently, it is very difficult to guarantee that Washington will reduce tensions in relations with Beijing. And this, among other things, is confirmed by forecasts made in early December by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner that 2023 “could be the most transformative year in US force posture in the Indo-Pacific region in a generation.”  Against this backdrop, China’s recent warning to the United States about the ongoing provocations around Taiwan and the proposal to give priority to peaceful methods of resolving the Taiwan issue are quite justified.

Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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