Fulfilling its role as China’s main ally in Cold War 2.0 against the United States, Russia this Friday (29) made an explicit defense of Beijing in the new crisis involving the island of Taiwan.
“No country should bring up this issue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the dictatorship’s sovereignty over the island, home to the losers of the revolution that brought the communists to power.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on the speech of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who told American Joe Biden that the US was playing with fire by supporting Taipei. “Our position on the existence of one China remains unchanged,” he said.
The reason for the fuss is the possible trip of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island. She has not been officially confirmed, but this Friday the deputy embarks on an Asian tour between allies, such as Japan and South Korea, and the stop in Taiwan is a possibility. She declined to confirm whether she will go to Taipei.
This generated a serious crisis with the Chinese, and Xi complained to Biden by phone on Thursday (28). Earlier, the foreign ministry in Beijing had said the visit, unprecedented for an official of that level since 1997, would amount to a “violation of sovereignty”. On Friday, it announced a live ammunition exercise over the weekend in the region, and the US State Department said it saw no real threats against Taiwan.
Pelosi is a hated figure in the Chinese Politburo. After the Tiananmen Square massacre of students in 1989, she saw the White House veto her efforts to apply sanctions against Beijing. Two years later, she was part of a delegation of deputies seeking to speak out on behalf of young people in China and fled a guided tour of a museum to unfurl a banner calling for justice in the square in front of cameras.
Since recognizing the communist dictatorship in 1979, the US has supported the “one China” policy. At the same time, they signed an act of cooperation with Taiwan that allowed them to arm the island to the teeth and promise assistance in the event of an invasion. The Chinese have intensified their military threats to Taiwan, despite doubts about their ability to act, especially with American protection.
As long as China opened up to the capitalist world and created bonds of economic interdependence with the US, that was fine. The point is that Beijing became rich and began to spread its political and military wings, particularly after Xi took over in 2012. This led to Cold War 2.0, launched by Donald Trump in 2017 as a trade dispute, but which soon encompassed all aspects. potentially contentious issues in the relationship between countries: from the management of the pandemic to the undermined autonomy of Hong Kong.
20 days before the start of the Ukrainian War, on February 4, Vladimir Putin paid Xi a historic visit, forging an alliance that is not military, but political-economic in character against what they see as US hegemony. He galvanized a process of cooperation that had been going on for a few years, limited by the obvious fact that Moscow is the deal’s junior partner but has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and incisive political ambitions. Xi refused to condemn Putin and further opened up their trade exchanges, helping the war effort.
At the same time, Washington has taken concrete steps to try to encircle Beijing. It reinforced patrols in Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea and revitalized the network of regional allies.
This ambiguity is condensed in the Taiwan issue. Although Biden said he considered Pelosi’s trip a mistake, he sent an aircraft carrier nearby, reminiscent of a 1995 crisis when the Taiwanese leader visited Washington and Beijing fired missiles around the island. The confusion only subsided when an American aircraft carrier was sent into the area to remind the Chinese of the risks ahead.
It so happens that at that moment there was nothing like Sino-American animosity. Not that anyone expects an armed conflict over Pelosi, but the fact that there must be a Chinese military demonstration raises the risk of an accidental clash.
Finally, there is the Ukraine context. The United States and allies have already told Xi not to be inspired by Putin and forcibly fulfill a promise to reintegrate Taiwan into the mainland, although the realities are very different.
In this sense, the Russian defense of Beijing’s sovereignty over the island completes the circle, accentuating the notion of a world with antagonistic blocks. For Xi, it’s a good deal as long as it doesn’t turn into a real war.
He faces serious economic and social problems and needs to be in a position of strength in November, when he is due to be reappointed for an unprecedented third term. For Biden, who faces congressional elections and low popularity, the reasoning applies as well, barring short circuits.