Mainland reacts strongly to US lawmakers’ Taiwan visit; Provocative moves may speed up reunification process: expert
Published: Nov 11, 2021 12:53 AM
China's second aircraft carrier sails through the Taiwan Straits into the South China Sea. Photo: screenshot from the Weibo account of the PLA Navy

China's second aircraft carrier sails through the Taiwan Straits into the South China Sea. Photo: screenshot from the Weibo account of the PLA Navy


The Chinese mainland has made stern warnings after a delegation of US lawmakers sneaked into the island of Taiwan via US military aircraft on Tuesday night, the second time since US President Joe Biden took office. Experts said that the US lawmakers' visit is driven by a mixture of political and business interests, as well as to embolden the pro-secession DPP authority, and it could also speed up the deployment of the mainland and the process of final reunification between the two sides of the Straits. 

The visit came after an announcement by the mainland's Taiwan affairs office's on Friday that the mainland will pursue criminal responsibility for diehard Taiwan secessionists and they will be in effect for life. Soo Tsing-tshiong, head of Taiwan's executive authority, Joseph Wu, head of the external affairs authority, and You Si-kun, head of the legislative body, are on the blacklist.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin urged the US lawmakers to stop colluding with secessionists on the island of Taiwan, saying that such tactics will eventually backfire. 

The Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council on Wednesday said the Chinese mainland is willing to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and efforts, but will not leave any room for any form of Taiwan secessionist activities.

No one should underestimate the strong resolve and capability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office Zhu Fenglian said. 

After Taiwan authority on Tuesday announced that US lawmakers had landed in Taiwan, Senior Colonel Shi Yi, spokesperson for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command, said The PLA Eastern Theater Command conducted a joint combat readiness patrol near the Taiwan Straits to further improve the joint combat capability of multiple military services and branches.

Compared with a whirlwind visit by three US senators to Taiwan via a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in June, the mainland has escalated its reaction, from dispatching patrolling military aircraft to conducting a joint combat readiness patrol. 

Hours after the US military aircraft landed, Tan Kefei, spokesperson of China's Defense Ministry warned the US to stop all provocative actions that grossly interfere in China's internal affairs and undermine China's territorial sovereignty. "We warn the DPP authorities not to misjudge the situation or act in a desperate way; otherwise, it will only lead Taiwan into a grave disaster," Tan said. 

Trip of blackmail?

The delegation of US lawmakers includes Republican senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, media reported. According to the South China Morning Post, the delegation also included senators Mike Crapo of Idaho and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as Representative Jake Ellzey of Texas, all Republicans. The sixth lawmaker is unnamed. 

Taiwan media said the delegation on Wednesday visited the defense authority of Taiwan and heard a report on the mainland's "military threats." It came after the island on Tuesday released a 2021 "national defense report," detailing how the mainland had sent 554 sorties of military aircraft over the past year to "intrude" in the island's self-proclaimed southwest air defense identification zone.

On November 4, Republican senators including Cornyn and Crapo introduced a bill dubbed the Taiwan Deterrence Act, seeking to give $2 billion a year in military grants and loans to Taiwan until 2032, so as to increase the island's self-defense ability, US media reported.

Analysts view the act as a greedy debt trap aimed at Taiwan, which means the US wants to ensure Taiwan continues to buy huge amounts of American weapons in the future even if the DPP loses the 2024 election.  

Although Cornyn sits on the Senate Committee on finance, judiciary and intelligence, his actions are always driven by military-industrial interests in the US, Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times, noting Cornyn has long emphasized playing the "Taiwan card" militarily. 

"Tuberville sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, with strong ties to military-industrial interests… Crapo and Lee's states of Idaho and Utah have close agricultural ties to Taiwan island," Diao said. 

Ellzey, the only House member among the delegation, also has a military background. He served as a fighter pilot in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he was appointed to the Veterans' Affairs and Science, Space, and Technology Committees in August 2021. 

Taiwan media reported in November 5 that DPP authorities have purchased 66 new F-16V aircraft. Adding to its existing fleet of 141, the island with 23 million residents will have the largest number of F-16Vs in the world when all the aircraft are delivered in 2026.

Troublemakers on the tightrope

According to media reports, the military aircraft took off from the US military base in Guam with two military officers, made a temporary stop in the Philippines to pick up the US delegation and then headed to Taipei.  

Spokesperson of the US Defense Department John Kirby claimed that congressional visits on military aircraft are "not uncommon" and "fairly routine," and said it is in line with US obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. 

But experts said there is actually no such routine of taking military airplanes to visit Taiwan, and said the US and DPP are walking a tightrope on the redline of the mainland.

The military aircraft the lawmakers took was not a chartered plane, otherwise it won't detour to the Philippines to unload military supplies. "In essence, the six lawmakers were taken like a 'package' that was sent to the Taiwan island conveniently, Chinese military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"People on both sides of the Taiwan Straits know very well that Taiwan secession means disaster and loss of peace," Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said on Wednesday.

Zhu's remarks came in response to a question regarding speculation surrounding a war, as the head of Taiwan's defense authority Chiu Kuo-cheng said on October 28 that a manual on people's survival and asylum is being prepared and expected to be completed by March 2022.

Despite that all the delegation members are Republican lawmakers, experts said the Biden administration cannot pretend it is innocent, due to the coordination with the American Institute in Taiwan and the use of military aircraft. Moreover, it is almost a bipartisan consensus to suppress China with the "Taiwan card."  

Given that US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said days ago that Washington is seeking coexistence with Beijing rather than a new cold war, the GOP lawmakers' Taiwan visit could be interpreted as an attempt by the US opposition to make waves and hinder the Biden administration's  any possibility of detente with China in too many areas, or in any area, Diao said.

However, the partisanship and political polarization could be a way for Republicans to participate in the US' overall China policy: The Biden administration can send positive signals to China in some areas, while conniving opposition lawmakers can do damage in other questions like Taiwan as leverage, Diao said. 

On the sidelines of the G20 Leaders' Summit in Rome last week, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Wang stressed that the Taiwan question is the most sensitive matter between China and the US, and if the question is mishandled, it would bring "subversive damage to overall China-US ties." 

"When China and the US established diplomatic relations, the US made its commitment to China on the Taiwan question in the three joint communiqués. What the US is doing now violates its commitment and also the norms governing international exchanges. It is not the behavior of a responsible major country," a Beijing-based Taiwan question expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"The Americans are aware of China's red line. They are constantly walking on the edge of the red line, playing a dangerous balancing game, but if they go too far, they will inevitably stumble," said the expert. 

Experts said that further deterrence by the mainland, including exercises to encircle the island of Taiwan cannot be ruled out. Besides, Chinese aircraft may also fly over the island to declare sovereignty.