US fears China is flirting with Taiwan takeover

The United States is concerned that China is flirting with the idea of ​​taking control of Taiwan as President Xi Jinping becomes more willing to take risks to strengthen his legacy.

“China appears to be moving from a period of satisfaction with the status quo on Taiwan to a period where it is more impatient and more prepared to test the limits and flirt with the idea of ​​unification,” a senior US official told the Financial Times.

The official said the Biden administration came to the conclusion after assessing Chinese behavior over the past two months.

“As we prepare for a period in which Xi Jinping will likely enter his third term, it is feared that he sees Taiwan’s progress as important to its legitimacy and legacy,” the official added. “It looks like he’s willing to take more risks.”

Twenty Chinese fighter jets flew into Taiwan’s air defense zone on Friday, marking its biggest foray. It came a day after the United States and Taiwan agreed to step up cooperation between their coast guards.

The rising alarm in the Biden administration matches a warning from Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, who told senators that China could take military action “within the next six years.”

Admiral John Aquilino, who is to succeed Davidson, told Congress this week that there is a wide range of forecasts, but “my opinion is that this problem is much closer to us than most think.” .

Aquilino said China had taken other “aggressive actions,” including clashes with India at their border that suggested it was emboldened.

“We saw things that I didn’t think we expected,” Aquilino told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“That’s why I keep talking about a sense of urgency. We must be ready today.

Kurt Campbell, the White House’s senior official for Asia, told the FT that while China is moving increasingly aggressively in many areas, it is adopting the most assertive activities in its approach to Taiwan.

“We have seen China become more and more assertive in the South China Sea. . . economic coercion against Australia, wolf warrior diplomacy in Europe and border tensions with India, ”he said.

“But nowhere have we seen more persistent and determined activity than military, diplomatic and other activities directed against Taiwan.”

The FT reported in January that Chinese fighter jets and bombers were simulating missile attacks on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier three days after the inauguration of Joe Biden as US president.

The simulation took place as Chinese fighter jets spent two days entering and exiting Taiwan’s air defense zone just days after Biden was sworn in, in what was the largest Chinese exercise in the country. region until Friday’s intrusion. A US defense official said the incident was not the first time China has simulated attacks on US ships.

Taiwanese national security officials say they are concerned that the next Chinese Communist Party congress in 2022 – key to confirming Xi’s extended position as Chinese leader for a third term – and the 2027 centenary of the founding People’s Liberation Army might be points Xi feels compelled to step into Taiwan.

But in general, the growing concern of the United States is not also heard in Taipei. A senior Taiwanese official said China had increased its military pressure on Taiwan, but there was no sign of an impending attack.

Meanwhile, Alexander Huang, former vice chairman of the Continental Affairs Council, China’s cabinet-level political body in Taiwan, said there was an “insane perception gap” which was “dangerous.”

Growing US concern over Taiwan comes as US-China relations show no signs of improving. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, and Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, last week held a meeting in Alaska with Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign policy chief, and Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who started with a extraordinary public spitting.

In her opening remarks, Blinken said the United States would raise concerns privately over issues that “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” including Chinese actions towards Taiwan. Yang retaliated by lambasting the United States and promising that China would “take firm action in response” to any interference with Taiwan.

US officials said they had more cordial discussions in private after the public “theaters”. Several people close to the talks said the U.S. team rejected Chinese efforts “Reset” the relationship through the creation of strategic dialogues, which was one of the Chinese objectives of the first high-level meeting under the Biden administration.

Towards the end of the Alaska meeting, Yang told Blinken and Sullivan he hoped to welcome them to Beijing for more talks. According to people familiar with the situation, Blinken leaned across the table and said “thank you,” which sparked a discussion on the Chinese side as to whether the United States accepted the invitation.

After the Chinese chatted for a while, Yang asked Blinken what he meant by “thank you” and if his response meant that US negotiators were ready to hold follow-up talks in Beijing.

“Thank you means thank you,” Blinken replied, signaling to Yang and Wang that the answer for now was “No”.

To follow Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin hille on Twitter

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