It is difficult to understand why the US has been provoking China on Taiwan and what it hopes to achieve from this provocation, especially at this time. Indeed, several Western powers are trying to establish channels of communication with Beijing as they strive to contain the escalating war in Ukraine by impelling China to help mediate between Moscow and Kyiv. As a French official accompanying President Emmanuel Macron on his recent visit to Beijing said, China is the only country in the world that can push the conflict in both directions.
The assessment of the US military makes these provocations even harder to comprehend. The American army has concluded that the prospect of the “Spring Offensive” achieving a military breakthrough seems unlikely. This fact is not only evident from recent US intelligence leaks of documents discussing the personnel and equipment shortages of the Ukrainian army, but also from previous statements by the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, that affirm the leaked assessments.
Moreover, General Milley has said that, given the vastness of the territory being fought over, things are very difficult in Ukraine. In a press conference in Germany with Defense Minister Lloyd Austin held in late January, Milley said that the Ukraine war must end through negotiation.
If the US military believes that this war will end through negotiations, what purpose does provoking a crisis with China, which is better placed to broker an end to the conflict than any other country, serve at this moment in time? Vladimir Putin cannot reject Chinese mediation if Beijing decides it wants to play this role. For his part, Zelensky did not object to a previous initiative by Beijing to settle the dispute. This initiative was based on 12 provisions; not all of them are aligned with the West’s position, but they can help pave the way for an escape from the impasse that the world finds itself in.
There is nothing new about the situation in Taiwan. Beijing has always maintained that the island adjacent to the Chinese mainland is its territory, and Washington has always adopted a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on this matter. So, given that China has not announced any intentions to invade Taiwan or change the status quo through force, what justifies threatening military intervention to defend Taiwan?
In response to unjustified American escalation, China has been flexing its military muscle in the face of the island it considers Chinese territory. US provocations, such as former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit or her successor’s meeting with the president of Taiwan in Los Angeles, do nothing to push things forward. Indeed, President Xi Jinping’s call for his army to conduct exercises oriented towards “real combat” was the latest manifestation of the troubling aggravation of tensions over Taiwan.
China feels that the recent escalation over Taiwan is the latest attempt by the US to contain China militarily and compete for influence in Asia. This escalation followed the formation of AUKUS, an alliance that includes the United States, Australia and Britain, as well as efforts to strengthen the military alliance with Japan, which has enhanced its military capacity against the backdrop of the Ukrainian conflict. “The Economist” argues there are parallels between Beijing’s fears of “American encirclement” and Vladimir Putin’s apprehensions regarding NATO expansion reaching his country’s borders - at “its doorstep,” as Putin put it - which contributed to sparking the current crisis in Ukraine.
What matters now is that escalation between the US and China makes Beijing mediating an end to the war in Ukraine less likely. While many are striving to have China play this role, especially in Europe, which is directly paying the price for the crisis as its economy and living standards decline. The protests in France, the economic crisis in Britain, and the energy issues in Germany are all symptoms of this crisis.
With this context in mind, we can see why Emmanuel Macron stressed that Europe needs to be “independent” amid competition between the US and China. The German Foreign Minister’s ongoing visit to China, as well as the visits of German Chancellor Schultz and the Prime Minister of Spain that preceded it, also came within the framework of European leaders’ attempts to break through this wall and establish, at the very least, a cease-fire that can open the door to a negotiated settlement that ends the war.
China has proven that it has the capacity to settle disputes that seemed intractable just a few months ago. The role played by China in settling the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran speaks for itself. The positive atmosphere that now prevails in our region is an outcome of these efforts. China also demonstrated this capacity when it condemned North Korea’s nuclear tests despite being allied with it.
Even in the Ukraine crisis, China’s position has remained balanced despite its close ties with the Russian Federation. Indeed, China has not recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea or its annexation of four provinces in eastern Ukraine. It has also refused to supply Russia with arms despite the fact that other countries, such as Iran, have done so. China also abstained from voting on resolutions in the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Ukrainian conflict, while other countries, such as Belarus, Syria, and North Korea, voted in Russia’s favor…
Although Xi is no Putin, and the Chinese give more weight to the economy in calculating their interests than the Russians, the risk of slipping into a clash over Taiwan must not be ignored. Like Russia, China opposes the “unipolar” world order. It believes that Washington’s escalation is an attempt to impose on the US governance model, reviving the Cold War mentality and disregarding the particularities of regimes and societies, as well as the security interests of states.
If the price China demands for brokering a settlement to the Ukrainian conflict is putting an end to the unjustified escalation over Taiwan, it is a price worth paying to save the world from the perils of this conflict.