LONDON, Aug 11 (Reuters) – A panel discussion on Somali television on Sunday about powerful neighbor Ethiopia’s long involvement in the country gave way to a debate on how the government in Mogadishu should deal with rising tensions between China and Taiwan.
Abdirahman Nur Dinari, a former Somali ambassador to Syria and South Sudan, supported Mogadishu’s decision to send a letter of support to Beijing, citing its economic involvement in the region. He expressed anger at Taiwan’s friendly relations with Somaliland, a breakaway strip along the northern Somali coast that functions as a de facto independent state.
Political commentator Idris Abdi disagreed, arguing that it was in Somalia’s best interest to remain neutral in major-power disputes.
For decades, the governments in Beijing and Taipei have played a complex global game over the status of self-governing Taiwan, which sees China as the rogue province of “One China”. However, this year’s conflict in Ukraine – coupled with the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan and a radical new Taiwan Relations Act now making its way through Congress – has resulted in a dramatic escalation of tensions .
How companies, countries, institutions and individuals respond to this new reality is clearly still evolving. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine immediately drew attention to Taiwan, which also finds itself in a “strategically ambiguous” relationship with allies who may support it but are not fighting for it in any war. The island only has full diplomatic relations with a handful of nations.
In a “reunification” white paper released on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry again pledged to bring the island under Beijing’s control and refused to rule out the use of force, while outlining a strategy of economic and military pressure aimed at “separatist ” Activities.
The US Congress, meanwhile, wants to nominate the island as a key non-NATO US ally and significantly increase military and diplomatic support, something President Joe Biden’s administration – which also opposed Pelosi’s visit – is lobbying hard against . Passing this law would infuriate Beijing even more.
Pelosi, who met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and visited factories and facilities, expressed unrepentance this week, saying the trip was “worth it” and that China cannot be allowed to prevent foreign leaders from visiting the island.
US-CHINA CONSENSUS ‘DESTRUCTED’?
While US reporting has portrayed Pelosi’s visit as largely against the wishes of the White House, few in China have interpreted it that way. In an article in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, columnist Xie Maosong — a senior fellow at China’s National Security Institute at Tsinghua University — portrayed it as a conscious decision by the Biden administration to break the consensus on the US-Chinese to “break” relationships. built up over decades since the days of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon administration.
That means, she argued, that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping should act quickly and decisively.
“Many in the West still believe that China is not ready to reunify Taiwan,” she wrote, arguing that this should not stop those in power in Beijing. “Looking back at modern Chinese history, was China ready to take on the US in the Korean War? Has the PLA ever been ready for one of their major military campaigns?”
However, other Chinese state media have circulated a more nuanced message. Talk of military reunification appears to have been deliberately encouraged in the days leading up to Pelosi’s visit, but during the visit itself, Chinese state media encouraged readers to focus on the larger “US-China chess game” rather than the “chess piece” to focus Pelosi.
For nearly a week, since last Thursday, China’s People’s Liberation Army Eastern Command says Chinese naval and air forces have been conducting what they described as “defense and blockade” operations around the island in multiple directions, in what analysts took as a warning became that even without invasion, China could block access to the island.
Taiwanese authorities say Chinese ships and planes have repeatedly crossed the “center line” between the mainland and Taiwan, which both sides have largely observed for decades. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told reporters this week that “no middle line exists” while defending China’s response.
Businesses and investors are keen to avoid being caught unawares like with Russia and Ukraine, while China’s sheer economic size and Taiwan’s importance to high-tech microchip supply chains mean even a nonviolent blockade and heightened sanctions could have a bigger impact on balance the world economy.
Some of this is already underway. Beijing followed Pelosi’s visit with a spate of trade bans on companies and institutions accused of supporting “Taiwan independence”.
This sparked alarm from both foreign and domestic business groups in China, with the EU Chamber of Commerce in China – which had also campaigned against Pelosi’s visit – warning that the new Chinese restrictions on Taiwan-related companies could attract foreign investors in both China would further deter and the island.
Beijing’s trade disputes with the US and Australia have also intensified – just as China is launching a charm offensive in developing countries, cutting import tariffs on goods from 16 of the world’s poorest countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Djibouti, Rwanda and Togo. Chinese media have also highlighted support from Russia, Mongolia and North Korea, as well as Saudi comments recommitting the kingdom to Beijing’s “One China” policy.
Taiwan is also reaching out to friends, its officials and media, who are praising supportive comments from Lithuania, the Pacific Marshall Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands — even as they criticize the Biden administration for what many in Taiwan see as insufficient support.
Beijing will keep up the psychological pressure on Taiwan, which it wants to pressure US lawmakers to demonstrate the level of disruption it is capable of alongside more conventional military forces — although this might only encourage those in the US Congress and beyond who believe that only a harder line is pending Taiwan will deter China from attacking.
** Peter Apps is a writer on international affairs, globalization, conflict and other topics. He is the founder and executive director of the Project for the Study of the 21st Century; PS21, a non-national, non-partisan, non-ideological think tank. Paralyzed by a car accident in a war zone in 2006, he also blogs about his disability and other topics. He was previously a reporter for Reuters and continues to be paid by Thomson Reuters. He has been a member of the British Army Reserve and the UK Labor Party since 2016.
(edited by Nick Macfie)
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