Earlier this month, China conducted its largest display of military might in recent years, including the firing of ballistic missiles on both sides of the Taiwan Straits. The military drills occurred after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, controversially visited the island, an act which angered Chinese officials. 

Beijing deemed Ms Pelosi’s visit as “extremely dangerous” and since relations between the US and China appear to have deteriorated, the likelihood of conflict between China and Taiwan has ramped up.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a member of the Senate Commerce and Armed Services committees, made her visit to Taiwan on Thursday, despite Beijing’s demands that the delegations stop. She arrived in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on a U.S. military plane. Taiwan is our strongest partner in the Indo-Pacific Region. Regular high-level visits to Taipei are long-standing U.S. policy,” Blackburn said in a statement. “I will not be bullied by Communist China into turning my back on the island.”  Blackburn was scheduled to meet President Tsai Ing-wen during her visit, which concludes on Saturday, as well as senior security officer Wellington Koo and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry. Tsai will meet with Blackburn on Friday morning, according to Taiwan’s presidential office.

According to China, Taiwan is a province that broke away and would eventually return to Beijing’s rule. This position is not ruling out the use of force as a potential means of achieving this. But with its own constitution and democratically elected officials, the self-governing island of Taiwan, nonetheless, views itself as distinct from the Chinese mainland.

The Chinese government views Taiwan as a separatist province that will eventually reintegrate into the nation, while Taiwan views itself as a self-identifying, sovereign, progressive democracy with de facto independence from the Chinese mainland. This disagreement is the root cause of seven decades of strained relations. 

Taiwan is an island roughly 100 miles from the coast of southeast China, home to around 23 million people. Taiwanese significance in US policymaking circles is centred on its economic role and trading position in the region. Much of the world’s everyday electronic equipment, from phones to laptops, watches and game consoles, is powered by computer chips made in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been keen to pursue a ‘democracy agenda’ which is supportive of smaller, democratic nations in their territorial disputes against authoritarian regimes, as also demonstrated by its support of Ukraine in its current conflict with Russia. 

According to historical records, the island was first fully governed by China in the 17th century, when it was annexed by the Qing dynasty. After losing the first Sino-Japanese war, China ceded the island to Japan in 1895. However, after Japan was defeated in the Second World War, China seized the island once more in 1945. 

Soon after, a civil war broke out in mainland China between the Communist Party and the nationalist government forces then known as the Republic of China (ROC). The communists ultimately prevailed in 1949 and seized power in Beijing. The remnants of the nationalist party escaped to Taiwan, where they established authority for the following several decades. 

In order to prove that Taiwan was formerly a Chinese province, China cites this history. However, the Taiwanese claim that they were never a part of either the People’s Republic of China, which was founded under Mao in 1949 or the contemporary Chinese state, which was initially formed following the revolution in 1911.

Some experts argue that if China were to annex Taiwan, it may be at liberty to project influence over the western Pacific and may even pose a danger to US military installations as far away as Hawaii. China, meanwhile, adamantly maintains that its goals are peaceful and that it is trying to reclaim jurisdiction over a breakaway province.

Many Taiwanese citizens remain undisturbed despite this month’s recent tensions. Three of the six danger zones around Taiwan that China claims are the main targets of its military drills crossover with the island’s exclusive economic zone. Taiwan claims the action violates its sovereignty and amounts to a blockade because it is forcing ships and aircraft to find alternate paths through certain areas.

As a result of Washington’s “strategic ambiguity” doctrine up to this point, it has been intentionally unclear whether or how the US would defend Taiwan in the case of an assault. However, US President Joe Biden seemed to tighten Washington’s stance in May 2022.

In terms of diplomacy, the US still adheres to the “One-China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the only legitimate home of the Chinese government and favours formal relations with China over Taiwan. Only 13 nations at the moment (including the Vatican) recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state, however, most Western nations unofficially support Taiwanese sovereignty.

Additionally, the US has promised to provide Taiwan with defence equipment and emphasised that any invasion by China would be of “grave concern.” By deploying military aircraft into Taiwan’s self-declared Air Defense Zone in 2021, which allows for the identification, monitoring, and control of foreign aircraft for the purposes of national security, China has been looking to increase pressure. The number of aircraft reportedly reached its highest in October 2021, when, according to Taiwan’s defence minister, relations were at their lowest point in 40 years.

Beijing has condemned any perceived support from Washington for Taipei and has responded by stepping up incursions of military jets and naval warships over the so-called ‘median line’ into Taiwanese airspace and waters. 

In the weeks that have passed since Ms Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China is maintaining its pressure, risking the provocation of a conflict between the two sides. Given the international community’s continuing focus on the war in Ukraine and its lukewarm support for maintaining Taiwan’s international status, it remains unclear whether there is the will to deter China should it choose to further escalate the situation. 

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