Inching Towards War With China

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Jenny Clegg looks at the west’s steady escalation in east Asia, and the mounting threat of war with China. This article is reposted from Stop the War.

When Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced her intention to visit to Taiwan on her tour of Asia in August, the Chinese government responded in no uncertain terms: it would be prepared to take forceful measures to ‘resolutely respond and counteract this external interference’. The head of the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii sucked in his breath – would the Chinese military shoot down Pelosi’s plane? If so, he would have to respond. Such is the way wars start.

Biden, somewhat lamely, relayed the message that the US military did not think the visit such a good idea, but he is caught in a bind between sparking a crisis or allowing China to ‘dictate’ US-Taiwan policy if he calls off the trip.

Taiwan is portrayed in the West as a semi-independent democracy threatened by China’s expansionist autocracy; China however sees the island, just one hundred miles from its shores, as kept separate by external backing, its political system permeated by US interests.

For China, it is a matter of sovereignty, reunification its core issue pursued consistently over 70-plus years so as to close the last chapter on its history of imperialist domination.

Taiwan was taken by Japan in 1895 following its defeat of China. At this time China was being divided into spheres of influence by the imperialist powers. However, after the 8 year anti-Japanese war of resistance (1937-1945) which cost some 15-20 million Chinese lives, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed, in recognition of Chinese contribution to the WW2 victory, that Taiwan would be returned to the mainland.

After 1949 when the pro-US Nationalists fled to the island, reunification was blocked as the US used Taiwan as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’, threatening China with nuclear strikes. Then in 1971, supported by the newly independent African states, the UN voted to accept the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate representative of China switching recognition from Taiwan. Eventually in 1979 the US followed suit, with US-PRC relations based on the One China policy acknowledging Taiwan as a part of China and issues between them to be settled by the Chinese themselves.

Since then, China has promised to use of force only if the island declare independence; meanwhile the US has kept links with Taiwan informal, continuing however to supply arms.

Pelosi’s proposed visit, hardly unofficial given she is third in line to the President, would be seen to violate the One China commitment, putting US-China relations in jeopardy and causing wider destabilisation and division. This is particularly the case since the declaration of the AUKUS pact which made US-China relations increasing tense regarding Taiwan. Following Trump, Biden has continued substantial arms sales, permitting visits by politicians and three times retracting public statements committing to Taiwan’s defence.

In October 2021, massive military exercises, involving the UK’s Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group amongst others, were conducted in the South China Sea. It then came to light that US marines had been stationed to provide undercover training for Taiwanese soldiers. China however has been cast as the ‘aggressor’, responding with the dispatch of warplanes close to the uninhabited Pratas islands, claimed by Taiwan but over 300 miles from its own shores.

The Ukraine war has not deflected the US from its focus on the Pacific – after all China is seen as the number one threat. Increasing AUKUS influence in the South Pacific, it has held secret talks with Australia, Japan and the UK to discuss cooperation in the event of a Taiwan crisis. In Taiwan, however, seeing how the war has evolved, public confidence in US support should China attack has plummeted.

In its political meddling, expanding military alliances and involvement, and deliberate provocations, the US strategy for Taiwan is the mirror of that in Ukraine. Pelosi may be playing in part to domestic opinion, but her intention appears to be to poke China into aggressive action, and so to isolate it as an international pariah. Understanding Taiwan will pay the price, the island’s independent press has put up the most vocal opposition to the visit.

Meanwhile across the pond Tory prime ministerial contenders outdo each other to appear the toughest on China. Truss is on record as wanting to ‘learn the lessons of Ukraine’ to arm Taiwan in good time, whilst Sunak calls for a ‘NATO style international cooperation against China’ – the number one enemy. Not so different from Tony Blair, ever the one to play the elder statesman, who is also calling on allies to work together since ‘as a result of the actions of Putin, we cannot rely on the Chinese leadership to behave in the way we would consider rational’. Yet barely 6 months ago, a Labour Foreign Policy Group report to establish a China policy only managed one passing sentence in its 42 pages on Taiwan.

Britain is now apparently considering sending a fleet of nuclear submarines to the Pacific in a ‘decisive move to thwart Chinese aggression’. To tackle the ‘two front problem’ of Russia and China together will require more and more military wherewithal: already the call for increased spending is going out not just from the Tories but Labour also, with Paul Mason the latest backer.

At the time of writing, whilst Pelosi has set off for Asia, the game of ‘will she, won’t she’ still goes on. How will China react? Just in case the US Ronald Reagan carrier strike group is sailing around the South China Sea ready to move up to the Taiwan Straits and into military conflagration, quite possibly at risk of nuclear escalation.

Even if a crisis is averted this time, the US has clearly begun serious planning for a conflict with China. Those hapless ignoramuses who pass as our political leaders are buffeted this way and that amidst the vagaries of US politics: the decoupling that should be taking place right now is between our policymakers and the US warmongers.

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