The Island of Stumbling



The Chinese ring around Taiwan shrinks with each new provocative visit by U.S. functionaries.

In the absence of an agreement on a meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Biden, former national security adviser in the Trump administration John Bolton arrived in Taiwan. This visit cannot be called anything remarkable, as lines of current and former U.S. functionaries have been visiting the island, especially in the last two years. Tensions between Beijing and Washington peaked last fall when U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan.

Bolton is now out of business, but he has some credibility in the U.S. establishment, and this trip has been assessed by observers as a pre-election trip. Allegedly, Bolton has presidential ambitions. It is all the more important to keep track of what he said on the island and where exactly he said it.

Speaking at the Global (!) Symposium on Taiwan National Issues on April 29, the former U.S. presidential national security adviser and potential U.S. leadership candidate called for a rapprochement between Taiwan and the United States. Bolton said he has been urging Washington to diplomatically recognize Taipei since 2000. Last August, he said, "We must make it clear to China that we believe Taiwan is an independent country." According to him, it will be too late to discuss these issues when China launches an attack. In addition, the American visitor said that Chinese leader Xi Jinping's recent visit to Russia is proof that Beijing and Moscow are forming a new axis. And the threat China poses to the Taiwan Strait should be viewed from a global political perspective.

Bolton continued with the standard set of appeals from American hawks: a sharp increase in defense spending by both the U.S. and Taiwan, increased supplies of U.S. weapons to the island, an increase in the number of American warships in the Taiwan Strait. "Ukraine's fight against Russian troops" was called by Bolton the best role model for Taiwan. Such a security adviser and such a possible U.S. presidential candidate.

China is closely watching all these escapades. Though Bolton received a separate comment from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin for his remarks on another topic - the former advisor's admission that he had prepared coups d'etat in other countries. "This only confirms that interfering in domestic affairs and overthrowing governments in other countries has already become the norm of U.S. behavior. It is part of the American order. And such an order can only face the protest of the international community," the Chinese diplomat summarized.

As for Taiwan, it seems that Beijing has finally realized that behind a smokescreen of ritualistic declarations of loyalty to the principle of "one China," Washington intends to provoke Taiwan to declare independence and unleash war with the PRC.

Once upon a time, the world smiled at the regular Chinese warnings. They were issued whenever U.S. warplanes freely entered China's airspace. But now every diplomatic demarche by Beijing is followed by concrete action. Pelosi's trip was followed by narrowing the space around Taiwan beyond the control of PRC military forces. At the same time, Beijing stopped contact with the U.S. military through special channels of communication. With subsequent visits by prominent Americans, the ring around the island became tighter and tighter. In Taiwan, Bolton urged the U.S. authorities to prepare for action in the event of a complete blockade of Taiwan.

Beijing's understanding that if Taiwan's independence is declared, a clash with the United States around Taiwan and in the region cannot be avoided, was also evident in the visit to Moscow of newly appointed Defense Minister Li Shangfu. Even if we take into account the fact that we have not been informed much about the specific agreements (enhancement of strategic cooperation, technology exchange, expansion of military and technical cooperation), the trip of the head of the Chinese military department to Moscow is symbolic in itself. China is staking on military-strategic rapprochement with Russia.

Continuing to push for the peaceful return of Taiwan "to the motherland," Beijing is preparing for a military option. The West massively declared that together China and Russia will withstand "any Ukrainian provocation." One might add that they will also withstand a Taiwanese provocation.

In March 2023, China announced an annual defense budget of 1.55 trillion yuan ($224.8 billion), a nominal increase of 7.2 percent over the 2022 budget. China's defense spending has increased fivefold in the past two decades, from $50 billion in 2001 to $270 billion in 2021. But these are the official figures. However, back in 2002, the U.S. Defense Department reported that China's actual defense spending may have been four times its officially announced budget. If this is true, it is close to U.S. military spending.

China already surpasses the United States in some types of non-nuclear weapons, in particular, in the number of modern warships. China has acquired systems that can guarantee the destruction of U.S. aircraft carrier groups on the approach to Taiwan, block enemy space groups, etc. China's strategic nuclear forces are being modernized and expanded at an accelerated pace, but they are still inferior to American forces in numbers and other characteristics. Here China may need a Russian strategic nuclear umbrella at an urgent moment. Perhaps this subtle issue is also a subject of Sino-Russian dialogue.

If Bolton and people like him at the top of the U.S. do not understand that their actions are strengthening the military alliance between the PRC and Russia, it is a disaster. At least let them listen to U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns: "The Soviet Union was a colossal power. Its nuclear scale, its military capabilities were enormous. But the PRC is infinitely stronger than the Soviet Union ever was. And this is based on the extraordinary strength of the Chinese economy - its scientific and technological research base, its innovative potential, and its ambition in the Indo-Pacific region to become the dominant power in the future. I do think the challenge from China is more complex, has deeper roots, and is a great challenge for us in the future."

It is China's goal to put the U.S. in a situation where they will see that the opponent they are facing is head and shoulders stronger. It is all in the tradition of Chinese martial arts: to win without taking the sword out of its sheath.