An increase in tensions in East Asia’s waterways was seen in recent weeks. This is due to a Chinese aircraft carrier group and US warships recently sailing through the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing has passed a law recently. The law empowers the China Coast Guard to board, inspect and fire on foreign vessels in waters claimed by China. Such actions will be done in the name of safeguarding China’s sovereignty and maritime rights.
Demolishing structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs by other countries is also allowed by the new law. It will also create exclusion zones to prevent unwanted vessels from entering its waters “as needed”.
Tested by China
For newly elected US President Joe Biden, these developments can be seen as an initial test from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Beijing is acting quickly to check the extent to which it can pursue its expansive maritime claims. Before it receives pushback from the new White House administration, Beijing plans to tighten the pressure on Taiwan.
The months of December and January saw an arsenal of sea and air equipment flying into Taiwan’s air defence zone. This arsenal comprised of multiple Chinese fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and bombers. This is a clear sign of China’s anger over increased US political contacts with Taiwan and recent arms sales to the island.
Similar exercises last year
The latest Chinese intrusions are in addition to similar multiple exercises carried out last June. The PLA despatched Su-30, J-10 and J-11 fighters in addition to Y-8 surveillance planes and H-6 bombers in the earlier exercises. It was a way for Beijing to test Taiwan’s air defences.
The military exercises in January were necessary to “safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity” against foreign interference and was a “solemn warning to external forces” according to Beijing.
The Biden administration is showing its support to maintain the previous Trump administration’s elevation of keeping unofficial ties with Taiwan. The Taiwanese representative to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, was invited to attend Biden’s inauguration on Jan 20th. This is the first such representation and attendance of a Taiwanese official since 1979.
The guided-missile destroyer USS John McCain was observed sailing through the Taiwan Strait shortly after in same week. Washington was demonstrating its commitment to “a free and open Indo-Pacific” and the determination to “fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” This was according to a statement released by the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi stressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Feb 6th that this was a key moment in US-China ties amidst the backdrop of increased friction involving Taiwan. While emphasising that Taiwan remains the most important and sensitive problem in the US-China relationship, Jiechi urged the US to uphold the spirit of non-confrontation.
Analysts are anxiously looking forward to President Biden’s response to these initial challenges from China involving Taiwan.
Recent US military drills
Washington is demonstrating its resolve and commitment to its Asian allies and partners by holding military drills like last week’s US carrier groups USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz in the South China Sea. These drills were held amid China’s territorial claims which are now turning aggressive.
The US is showing its capabilities to support a free and open Indo-Pacific seaway by holding such military drills. This time the drills consisting of two strike groups made up of 120 aircraft in addition to destroyers and guided-missile cruisers.
In waters claimed by Beijing, it is hoped actions such as frequent US and allied freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) and naval aircraft overflights send a message that aggressive action by China will not be tolerated by surrounding countries with the support of the US.
26th February 2021 23:00
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