China has six options for how to respond to the US

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi set to visit Taiwan today. So the world is preparing for a potential reaction from Beijing. Chinese leader Xi Jinping told US President Joe Biden during a phone call last week that “he who plays with fire gets burned.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday that the People’s Liberation Army “will not sit idly by” if Pelosi comes to Taiwan and becomes the first top-level American official to do so in 25 years. Neither Biden nor Xi Jinping are interested in a conflict that could bring even more economic problems to both countries, writes Bloomberg. And last week’s phone call says the leaders are gearing up for a face-to-face meeting in the coming months. But the belligerent rhetoric and growing animosity are increasing pressure on Xi Jinping for a tough response to Pelosi’s visit. Especially now, when he is preparing for the Communist Party Congress, where he hopes to become the leader of China for the third time.

The US terminated the Joint Defense Agreement with Taiwan in 1979. But China should still consider possible American military intervention. In May, Biden said that Washington will defend the island from Chinaalthough the White House later explained that the US would supply arms to Taiwan under existing agreements.

“Most of all, both sides are deterred by the risk of starting a war that will be too expensive for everyone”Andrew Gilholm, director of analytics at China and North Asia at Control Risks, explained, adding that “the concern is that the parties may take risks for domestic political reasons.”

Bloomberg lists six potential reactions China for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Larger military aircraft invasion

The intrusion of Chinese aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone has already become commonplace. But the People’s Liberation Army could send either a particularly large number of fighters, or it would be unusually more frequent. The daily record was set on October 4 when 56 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s skies. Then the island held joint military exercises with the United States. Also, 15 planes flew over the eastern part of Taiwan, rather than over the southwestern part, as usual, when the US congressional delegation arrived on the island in November.

China can maintain such tension for days and weeks, draining the resources of the Taiwanese air force, which will send its aircraft to intercept. Crisis Group analyst Amanda Hsiao is convinced that China will have to respond militarily, “which will be a clear escalation from previous displays of force.”

Military aircraft may fly over Taiwan

The Global Times, which is affiliated with the Communist Party, speculated that China could arrange for Chinese military aircraft to fly over Taiwan itself, thus forcing President Tsai Ing-wen to decide whether to shoot them down. Last year, Taiwanese Defense Minister Tszyu Kuo-cheng warned, “The closer they get to the island, the stronger our retaliation will be.”

Read also: SCMP: Beijing’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan will tell a lot about China itself

Or Beijing could send its planes closer or slightly further than the center line in the Taiwan Strait. This line serves as a buffer zone established in 1954 by the US, but China has not recognized it. Such a move would put pressure on the Taiwanese military, who would have to keep their planes in the sky for a long time. In September 2020, People’s Liberation Army fighter jets repeatedly violated the line when US Deputy Secretary of State Keith Krach arrived on the island.

Former Global Times editor Hu Xijin tweeted that the planes of the People’s Liberation Army can “force the Pelosi plane away”. He also admitted that Chinese fighter jets “may be escorting” Pelosi’s flight to Taiwan. And such a move could potentially lead to a miscalculation. But then the Chinese journalist deleted his message.

Missile tests near Taiwan

The summer of 1995 saw one of China’s most provocative reactions to Washington’s contacts with Taipei. Beijing arranged missile launches in the sea near the island. He protested President Bill Clinton’s decision to allow Taiwan’s first democratically elected president, Lee Teng-hui, to visit the United States.

China has declared closed zones in the waters during missile launches, thereby disrupting air and maritime traffic. In August 2020, the People’s Liberation Army launched ballistic missiles in the South China Sea, which are called “aircraft carrier killers”. It was a response to US naval exercises in the region.

economic pain

China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Beijing can use this as leverage by imposing export sanctions and boycotting some Taiwanese goods. It may also restrict bilateral trade. On Monday, China banned food imports from more than 100 Taiwanese suppliers. However, Beijing will have to use this tool carefully. Because it is acutely dependent on the supply of Taiwanese semiconductors.

Read also: Chinese media about Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan: “Don’t play with fire – you’ll get burned”

Beijing has already imposed sanctions on various Taiwanese leaders, banning them from traveling to the mainland. A similar fate may await even more officials on the island. But this will not affect Taiwanese politicians, who are unlikely to be interested in traveling to China. China may also block the movement of ships in the Taiwan Strait, which has become an important artery of global trade. The Chinese military has repeatedly told US counterparts over the past months that the strait is not international waters. But any move that hurts merchant shipping will hurt China’s economy.

diplomatic protest

The Global Times wrote that the Biden administration is facing serious consequences in the framework of Sino-US relations due to Pelosi’s trip. This could result in the recall of the Chinese ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, who took office last year. In 1995, Beijing made such a move when Washington allowed then Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to come to the US. Last year, China also withdrew its ambassador from Lithuania after the Baltic nation allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius under its own name, refusing to use the term “Chinese Taipei” as Beijing demands.

Occupation of the island

Beijing has many other military options besides launching an offensive along the 130-kilometer line in the Taiwan Strait. This is the length of the coastline of one of the smallest islands controlled by the government in Taipei. However, such a provocation is unlikely.

At the start of the Cold War, Beijing bombed the Kinmen Islands off China’s southeast coast. But with US help, Taiwan repelled the Chinese advance, even though hundreds of soldiers died. Another vulnerable spot is Pratas Island, located 400 kilometers off the coast of Taiwan.

Read also: China threatens US with military retaliation if Pelosi travels to Taiwan – FT

In 2012, China occupied the Scarborough Shoal, a coral reef in the South China Sea the size of Manhattan that the Philippines claims to be its territory. If Beijing does something similar with Taiwanese territories, the US will see it as a major escalation. This will test the Biden administration’s military commitment to democracy on the island. At the same time, such behavior will carry risks for Beijing itself. Occupying Taiwan’s island would force the US to impose sanctions on China and also alarm neighboring countries in Asia, many of which have territorial disputes with Beijing.

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