During his visit to Japan last month, former White House strategist Steve Bannon said the US and its East Asian allies must unify to constrain China’s “frightening, audacious and global ambitions.”
Beijing rebuked Bannon’s remarks as “maliciously populist.” However, its aggressive handling of relations with Taiwan, which it insists is a “breakaway province,” as well as its strained ties with Seoul and Tokyo has given substance to the accusations that stocked Bannon’s hour-long speech.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has pierced through the Taiwanese and Japanese air defense zones, flying past the Miyako Strait as well as the Tsushima Channel between Hokkaido and South Korea multiple times in recent months, and such incursions showed no sign of abating in December.
Chinese warships have also recently resumed patrolling off the Diaoyu Islands, aka Senkaku Islands in the Japanese parlance.
When South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited China two weeks ago, he curried favor with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and talked up the point that the two countries belonged to a “shared community.”
In the meantime, a South Korean photographer was reportedly beaten up by Xi’s security personnel, and less than 72 hours after Moon’s visit that aimed to mark a thaw in bilateral relations, Chinese bombers and spy planes skimmed over South Korea’s air border, as if taking advantage of the “shared airspace.”
In response to China’s apparent militarism, Japan is increasing the capacity of its Self-Defense Forces, only to be criticized by China for reviving Japanese militarism.
While Beijing will refrain from behaving too arbitrarily in its dealings with Tokyo and Seoul, for sure Taipei will find itself at the receiving end of more saber-rattling, leaving military observers and Taiwanese people to wonder if 2018 will be even more eventful than in 2017.
One thing to watch is the fact that some Chinese military brass have supported calls for PLA warplanes to conduct flyovers above Taipei, along with rumors that Xi aims to reclaim the self-ruling island by 2022.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has been made a scapegoat for the deteriorating cross-Strait ties because of her resistance to the “one China” policy, has been eager to soothe people’s misgivings on several occasions in recent days.
She said during a year-end media reception on Saturday morning that Beijing’s rationality would prevail, that ensuring regional stability was a shared responsibility of all nations concerned and that she didn’t believe war could be an option, no matter what.
But the mainland has obviously raised the volume of its belligerent rhetoric on Taiwan during the past year.