October 25 marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the lawful seat of the People’s Republic of China in the UN. On October 25, 1971, at its 26th session, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758 with an overwhelming majority where it decided to restore all lawful rights of the People’s Republic of China in the UN and recognize the representatives of its government as the only legitimate UN representatives of China.
A problem in recent public commentary on tensions between China and Taiwan has been a conflation of what we know and what we fear. Nowhere is this more evident than on the topic of incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, or ADIZ.
This month saw a shift from a pattern of incremental increases in the number of People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft participating in coordinated incursions into Taiwanese airspace to an exponential explosion. The campaign peaked at 56 aircraft on 4 October, with 159 over the four-day period of 1–4 October. The increase has prompted concerns that the threat of war across the Taiwan Strait is escalating.
Fifty years ago on October 25, the Republic of China (ROC) – the official name for Taiwan – was formally expelled from the United Nations by a vote of the General Assembly and replaced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which had taken power in Beijing at the end of the country’s civil war in 1949.
The ROC government had fled to the island of Taiwan with millions of refugees as the communists took power but continued to hold the seat of “China” at the UN and was a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power. Despite being exiled, officials in Taipei had the support of the US thanks to fears in the West that communism might sweep through Asia.
US President Joe Biden has said the United States would come to Taiwan’s defence if the island were attacked by China, in comments that appeared to be a departure from a longstanding US policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’.
“Yes,” he responded when asked in a CNN town hall about defending Taiwan, whose government has been under mounting military and political pressure from Beijing, which claims the island as its own. “We have a commitment to that.”
With EU lawmakers pushing forward a resolution in deepening so-called “political and economic ties” with the island of Taiwan and the Biden administration’s pick for ambassador to China vowing to make the island “a tough nut to crack,” some European and US politicians have continued sending the wrong signals on the Taiwan question, creating a false image of West-led pressure on the Chinese government at a time when tensions have been rising in the Taiwan Straits
The goal of US policy toward the island should be to reduce uncertainty about America’s intentions and its ability to make good on them, while underscoring to Chinese leaders the economic and military costs of aggression. As much as China’s leaders want Taiwan, they also want to maintain power and the Communist Party’s political monopoly.
Xi Jinping is positioning the People’s Liberation Army to bring Taiwan under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. The Taiwanese assess perhaps a three-year time frame before an attack, while US Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu considers a military assault in six years to be possible.
If conflict breaks out, it will be large-scale and bloody. It will throw the world into two hostile camps—in effect, the democracies versus the authoritarian regimes. War over Taiwan will inevitably involve Australia.
China expressed strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to a US statement claiming the PLA’s intensified military drills in the Taiwan Straits have damaged regional peace and stability, said Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense on Friday, noting that the PLA will maintain a high alert and is ready to fight any time.
The PLA will resolutely defeat all external interference and “Taiwan independence” separatist acts, safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Tan said, noting that the US statement severely distorted the facts and confused white with black.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Council President Charles Michel spoke on the phone on Friday, and they stressed the significance of increasing the strategic independence. Michel noted that the EU’s stance on the one-China policy has not changed and is willing to manage disputes with China.
The call came two days after Xi’s video meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been viewed by some EU politicians and Chinese observers as a positive sign for bilateral relations amid strained ties.