Amid escalating tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea, considered one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, China has warned the United States that it may be forced to strike the first blow over the latter’s increased presence in Taiwan.
This is according to a report published by Chinese Military expert, Yang Sheng, who said that experts in China believe that “Washington is provoking Beijing to fire the first shot, and that the current tensions could further escalate”, following local reports suggesting that a US military aircraft took off from a Taiwan-based airfield on its flight to Japan.
However, Taiwan’s Air Force Command was quick to rubbish such reports.
Yang, who writes for Global Times, a daily newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), suggests that the Chinese military experts believe that Taiwanese officials’ instant denial is proof that such attempts can provoke China to open fire.
Yang wrote – “That’s why Taiwan military officials have to deny the incident as they know how serious this could get if US military aircraft really landed on the island,”
On the other hand, if the US fabricated the signal to increase the chances for miscalculation, then it means the US doesn’t want to avoid conflict with China at all, and it intends to create tensions and even provoke China into firing the first shot, potentially making it more terrifying and dangerous.”
China has repeatedly issued warnings to Pentagon over military dealings with Taiwan, which it considers a part of its own region.
The US, which is the island nation’s main international backer and arms supplier, recently agreed secured a whopping $62 billion contract to supply 66 new F-16 “Viper” jets additional jets, which when delivered by 2026, will take the island nation’s existing fleet to over 200 aircraft.
The move has been considered a series of provocations by Beijing, who continued to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, with many countries which had earlier enjoyed formal relations with the island nation shifting their allegiance to China, leaving just 15 nations to have official ties with Taiwan.
It is important to note that China claims almost all of the South China Sea which is sharply contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Except for Taiwan, all the other four nations are a part of ASEAN.
China’s belligerence across the whole of Asia of late has instilled fear amongst countries in the South China Sea region like Taiwan, Philippines that there is a high probability of an attack by them, especially on the back the ruling Communist Party’s crackdown on dissent and activism in Hong Kong, which has been a pillar of democracy till recently.
The course of events has made Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen increase military spending as they gear themselves for a possible Chinese attack. Moreover, in August, her government has decided to increase Taiwan’s defense budget by 10 percent, thereby raising the military spending to more than 2 percent of the nation’s GDP, the highest level since the 1990s.
Recently, the island nation confirmed the deployment of Albatross drones as well as F-16 jets armed with anti-ship Harpoon missiles in the country’s Dongsha (Pratas) and Taiping islands, with Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson Shi Shun-wen stating that the decision was taken in accordance with the government’s South China Sea policy and aims to improve the Coast Guard’s defense capabilities on the islands.
According to David Axe, a contributor to Forbes, the decision was Taiwan’s way of countering China’s intensive Naval exercises in the region, with the island nation increasingly becoming a focal point in the confrontation between Beijing and Washington.
“The motivation behind Taipei’s response is obvious. A Chinese war game could, in an instant, turn into an actual invasion of Taiwan. And even if it doesn’t, the upcoming concentration of Chinese forces represents a rare opportunity for Taiwanese intelligence to register Chinese ships and their capabilities.”
Just last week, PLA, while conducting a fresh round of live-fire exercises, reportedly fired two missiles as a warning to the US carriers and regional bases in the South China Sea region, between the Hainan Province and the disputed Paracel Islands, where the two countries have been holding a series of military exercises separately. According to press reports, two missiles, including an “aircraft-carrier killer” was a warning signal to the US forces.
Beijing continues to claim Taiwan and has vowed to seize it one day, by force if necessary. Under President Xi Jinping, it has become more aggressive, especially after the 2016 election as president of Tsai Ing-wen, who rejects the idea of a “one China” and sees Taiwan as a de facto sovereign state.