China warns the US: “Pull the brakes or we risk a conflict”. The reasons for the tensions
The United States must “pull the brake”, otherwise “there will certainly be a conflict and confrontation”. The harsh warning, with tones cloaked in unprecedented urgency and alarm, comes directly from China. During the “two sessions”, the important annual legislative appointment of Chinese political life, the new foreign minister Qin Gang warned of the possible “catastrophe” in bilateral relations between Washington and Beijing, which would have inevitable global repercussions.
Qin Gang accused the US of “hegemonism” and “cold war mentality”, which through a “distorted perception of China” uses the competition between the two major economies to “lock the two countries in a zero-sum game”. Among the arguments that divide China and the United States are the White House restrictions on the export of advanced technology (especially in the field of semiconductors), but also the story of the spy balloon and that of the fear advanced by Washington on the possible shipment of weapons to Russia .
“China has not given weapons to either side involved in the Ukrainian crisis”, guaranteed Qin, who then moved on to to accuse Washington and NATO of a “crisis that could have been avoided” and the result of the “contradiction in European security governance. There seems to be an invisible hand pushing for the escalation of the crisis”, denounced Qin in line with the Chinese perspective of the US and NATO “throwing fuel on the fire”, as they could soon also do in Asia-Pacific.
At the center of the tensions is Taiwan. Possible visit of Tsai Ing-wen to the USA
Indeed, the main reason for the tension between China and the United States is once again Taiwan. Just last night, the Financial Times announced that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is preparing a double stopover in California and New York in early Aprilas part of a larger trip to Central America, where Taipei retains some of the 14 countries left to officially recognize its independence as the Republic of China.
Tsai’s visit risks unleashing new very strong tensions and a muscular reaction from Beijing, after what already happened last August following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei. It is true that Tsai was also in the US in 2019, but in that case it was a short stopover in Denver during which she had not met top-level political representatives. Now, however, he should meet Kevin McCarthy, that is to say the new congressional speaker who has taken Pelosi’s place.
Up until a few weeks ago, a visit was actually expected McCarthy’s Taipei for April or next August. The change of venue for the meeting would be motivated by the will of Taiwan and the United States to contain the risk of an aggressive reaction from Beijing. A senior Taiwanese official told the Financial Times that Tsai’s administration had given McCarthy’s team “some insight into what the Communist Party of China has been doing recently and what kind of threats it poses.”
The reference seems to be to what was declared two days ago by the Taiwanese defense minister, who during a hearing in parliament mentioned possible incursions by military aircraft or ships of Mainland China directly within 12 nautical miles of the Taiwanese coast. An event that has never occurred so far and which would lead Taipei to a possible reaction, with the following risk of a potential escalation on the Strait.
In reality, the meeting in California rather than in Taipei is far from neutralizing the risks of tensions. On the contrary. In 1995-1996, the visit of then President Lee Teng-hui played a central role in the Third Straits Crisis which seemed to plunge the two sides of the Strait to the brink of conflict. And, above all, the current context does not favor a serene management of the matter. The Taiwan issue is much more at the center of the stormy dynamics of China-US relations than in 2019. And the proximity of times compared to Pelosi’s visit somehow “forces” Beijing to react decisively.
Not only that, the fact that Tsai is received by the US less than a year before the crucial Taiwanese presidential elections in January 2024 it could be perceived as implicit American support for the Democratic Progressive Party, which is disliked by Beijing. Even if Tsai will not be able to reapply after serving two terms. In reality, Ko Wen-je, a potential candidate in the elections with his Taiwan People’s Party, will also be in the US in April. Proof that Washington also keeps the channels open with other Taiwanese political forces. But certainly the passage of a president has a very different relevance.
How close the story is to the heart of the People’s Republic was seen when, during his press conference, Qin pulled out the little red book of the constitution, reading the passage which argues that Taiwan it is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory. The question seems destined to characterize the complex relations between the two main global powers for a long time to come. In the hope that conflict overshadowed by Qin will never materialize.
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