Invitation to war: China reacts after Menendez legislation pulls tiger’s tail

Chinese J-10 fighter jets shown in formation during a 2022 Airshow in Zhuhai, China

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez—who included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY23 key pillars of his legislation to embroil the U.S. in any military conflict with China over Taiwan—has gotten a response from the Communist Party’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

After officials expressed anger at provisions Menendez inserted into the annual Pentagon budget that they defined as a “provocation” China’s military sent 71 warplanes and seven ships toward Taiwan in a 24-hour display of force directed at the self-ruled island, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

Incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone—a buffer of airspace commonly referred to as an ADIZ—were made by 42 J-10, J-11, J-16, and Su-30 fighter jets, two Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft, a KJ-500 early warning aircraft, as well as a CH-4 and a WZ-7 military drone, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry.

“This is a firm response to the current U.S.-Taiwan escalation and provocation,” said Shi Yi, the spokesman for the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, in a statement that announced that the PRC was holding joint combat patrols and joint strike drills in the waters around Taiwan, which China considers its 23rd province.

Menendez’s Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act (TERA), which was formerly called the Taiwan Policy Act, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year and included as a bipartisan amendment to the annual defense spending legislation.

Sunday’s mass incursion from Chinese jets came after President Biden signed into law the defense bill that promises unprecedented American support for Taiwan’s military capabilities.

The NDAA includes a plan to devote $2 billion annually for Taiwanese training and arms purchases, plus $1 billion annually from a category of assistance that allows the White House to send allies weapons from U.S. stockpiles.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday about the need to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the relationship between the two superpowersm, according to US spokesperson Ned Price.

The Republic of China (ROC) is known as Taiwan, while the Communist-controlled mainland government is the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The world’s most populous country, with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants, China essentially emerged with two governments following Word War II and decades of being scarred by warlords, the Japanese invasion, and civil war.

As the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, communists led by CCP Chairman Mao Zedong, took control of the mainland while the ROC government led by President Chiang Kai-shek, retreated to the island of Taiwan, hence effectively dividing the country into two political states.

This stalemate was enforced with the assistance of the United States, which sought to deter an invasion after the start of the Korean War and in 1958 had 19,044 troops stationed in Taiwan.

For many years, both governments contended to be the sole legitimate ruler of a single nation but with the fighting largely over, diplomacy became the major battleground.

Both claimed to be the only legitimate Chinese government, and each refused to maintain diplomatic relations with countries that recognized the other.

Before the 1970s, the ROC was still recognized by many countries and the United Nations as the sole legitimate government of “China”, which claimed sovereignty over both mainland China and Taiwan.

The Republic of China had been a founding member of the United Nations and was one of the five permanent members of the Security Council until 1971, when it was expelled from the UN and China’s representation was replaced by the PRC as a result of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758.

On January 1, 1979, the United States and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations, and the last U.S. soldier left Taiwan on May 3, 1979.

In 2021, with $2.9 trillion in imports plus $1.8 trillion in exports, U.S trade amounted to nearly $4.7 trillion.

China is currently America’s largest goods trading partner with $559.2 billion in total (two way) goods trade, as exports totaled $124.5 billion and imports were valued at $434.7 billion. The U.S. goods trade deficit with China was $310.3 billion in 2020.

China was the United States’ 3rd largest goods export market in 2020.

Taiwan, one of the top ten US trade partners, now accounts for $90.6 billion in total, with exports of $30.2 billion and imports at $60.4 billion.

Multinational companies, particularly from the US, earned super profits and couldn’t care less about the dictatorship and conditions for workers in China.

China’s Communist Party’s People’s Liberation Army has been sending planes or ships toward the island on a near-daily basis, but those activities were stepped up after Menendez pulled the tiger’s tail, in a move that Taiwan applauded.

“Relevant measures are helpful and conducive to the Armed Forces for war preparedness and military build-up, and to ensure the freedom, openness, and peace and stability around the Indo-Pacific region,” said a statement released by the Ministry of National Defense. “The MND has emphasized that it will continue to strengthen military preparations in an orderly manner in view of the threats of the enemy and self-defense needs, and will fulfill its duties to safeguard national security.”

A White House National Security Council official said China’s military activity near Taiwan was “destabilizing, risks miscalculations, and undermines regional peace and stability” but— just as the administration failed to anticipate that Russia would invade Ukraine as the bordering nation crept toward membership in NATO, the US-led military alliance that was formed to contain the former Soviet Union—the administration tends to ignore the likely outcome of its actions.

Taiwan already governs itself as an independent nation, but China considers the island a part of its territory and has repeatedly alluded to reunifying with the island under mainland China’s governance.

“If the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the United States, the two big countries, in a military conflict,” Gang said.

“China’s expansion continues to impact the international order, threatens regional peace and stability, and affects cross-strait relations,” said Republic of China President Tsai Ing-wen is the first female leader of Taiwan, and a member of the Democratic Progressive Party serving since 2016.

Tsai said Taiwan will extend its compulsory military service from four months to one year and each draftees’ salary will be quadrupled, from roughly $195 to more than $650 per month — a reversal of a previous policy that minimized conscription.

“No one wants war, neither the government and people of Taiwan nor the international community. Peace will not fall from the sky,” Tsai said, adding that “only by preparing for war can we avoid war, and only by being able to fight can we stop war.”

“We welcome Taiwan’s recent announcement on conscription reform, which underscores Taiwan’s commitment to self-defense and strengthens deterrence,” read a statement Tuesday from the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy.

The problem with girding up for a potential clash—aside from the insanity of inviting a thermonuclear conflict that would likely end all life on Earth—is that the Pentagon has said American armed forces are not ready for it.

The Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report lays out the challenges facing the United States military as it works to manage relations with the emerging superpower, and calls the Peoples’ Republic of China “the most consequential and systemic challenge to our national security and to a free and open international system.” 

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