China has been supplying face masks, testing kits, ventilators, bio suits, and medical equipments to help various countries tackle the coronavirus outbreak that first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
However, this so-called assistance by China is seen by many as a part of its larger global public relations initiative aimed at turning the tide in its favor after global leaders including US President Donald Trump accused Beijing of suppressing the extent of the coronavirus outbreak.
Even if the help offered by China does manage to quell some anger, is it enough to justify its actions against Taiwan?
Even at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China, Chinese authorities were not only busy fighting the rising infections, mass producing all the necessary medical equipments but also conducting aggressive maneuvers against its tiny neighbor Taiwan.
China has not allowed the coronavirus to get in its way of muscle-flexing. In February when China was locked in a severe battle against the coronavirus, locking down its entire city of Wuhan, it was also sending its jet fighters into Taiwanese airspace, claimed Alexander Huang of Tamkang University.
In fact, as per Huang, Taiwan’s operation command center has been on high alert since February and had to scramble its own fighter jets to thwart the Chinese.
In the latest incident of China’s aggressive and threatening maneuvers, the Chinese regime sent fighter jets and surveillance aircraft well inside the halfway mark of the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from China on March 16 2020.
In addition, the Taiwan coastguard said that one of the Chinese speedboats rammed into Kinmen islands which is hardly 5 km from Taiwan.
All the offensive maneuvers by Beijing had forced Taiwan’s deputy defense minister to warn China saying, “At the height of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide, if Chinese Communists attempted to make any regional military adventure leading to a regional conflict, they would be severely condemned by the world. We are all ready and have made the best preparation.”
In fact, Taiwan has been so rattled by Beijing’s offensive tactics that it conducted a mock combat drill in Yuanshan, south-east of Taipei which was intended to repel any Chinese invasion. The drill was carried out not on Taiwan’s borders but well inside a city suggesting that Taiwan is gearing for a battle to fight till the end.
50-tonne tanks camouflaged as inconspicuously as possible in the city traffic, rolled down on city streets next to delivery trucks and yellow taxis.
Taipei’s fears are well justified and its actions well warranted given that China has been sending around 2,000 bomber patrols in the Taiwan Strait, according to Taiwan’s defense minister.
In 2016, when Tsai Ing-Wen a fierce opponent of China was elected as Taiwan’s President, China began sending bombers as a show of strength. In 2019, the Chinese jets for the first time breached the half-way of Taiwan Strait in two decades.
In December later that year, China sent its first domestically built aircraft carrier in the strait just two weeks before the presidential election which Tsai Ing-Wen won again.
Taiwan first appeared as a part of China in the historical records dating back to AD 239, a fact that Beijing still uses to back its territorial claim. The Qing dynasty ousted the Dutch East India Company and ruled mainland China and Taiwan from 1683-1895.
In the 17th Century, Chinese people started to settle in Taiwan. Following the first Sino-Japanese War, the Qing dynasty relinquished Taiwan to Japan. However, after Japans’ defeat in World War-II, the Republic of China (ROC) formed in 1912 began ruling China under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek.
The ROC was beaten by Mao Zedong’s communist army in 1948 in a civil war. The ROC then shifted its base to Taiwan where it faced resistance from local people because of its handling of the Fen 28 Massacre and authoritarian rule that led to the civil war.
However, after decades of hostilities, China though considering the ROC government in Taiwan illegitimate offered a formula of one country two systems under which Taiwan was to be given significant autonomy if it accepted reunification with China, but was rejected.
ROC leaders simultaneously under pressure in Taiwan ever since they entered the country finally allowed for its democratization which resulted in the election of its first non-ROC president.
China was further alarmed when the newly elected president Chen Shui-bian openly backed Taiwan’s independence. His re-election in 2004 forced China to pass an anti secessionist law in 2005 which allowed China to use ‘non-peaceful means’ against Taiwan if it tried to secede. Election of Tsai Ing-Wen too has further increased the volatility of the situation.
The ROC Government which fled to Taiwan from China had claimed to represent entire China and intended to re-occupy it. It held the China’s seat till 1971 in United Nations and was recognized by many Western Governments.
But in 1971, the UN switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing forcing the ROC Government out. Chinese economic might too has forced various other governments to derecognize ROC. While China has called Taiwan as a breakaway province, Taiwanese leaders have argued that it is a sovereign state with its own constitution and 300,000 strong army.
Role of The US In China-Taiwan Conflict
The United States ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in 1979 when then-President Jimmy Carter decided to develop economic ties with a blooming China. However, the US Congress in response to the President’s move passed the Taiwan Relations Act which promised to supply Taiwan with ‘defensive weapons’ insisting that any attack by China against Taiwan would be of grave concern to the US.
The act states that “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities”
In 1996, the then President of US — Bill Clinton in response to China’s missile test sent its ships to Taiwan Strait to warn Beijing. In fact, since February 2020, the United States has sailed its warship through the Taiwan Strait three times.
It also agreed to sell Taipei 66 F-16 fighter jets for $8 billion dollars. Just two days after China had sent its fighter jets in the Strait in February, America also dispatched two stealth B-52 bombers near Taiwan’s east coast to reassure the tiny island country.