Beijing exhibits no willingness whatsoever to back away from its demand that Taiwan renounce all aspirations for independence and instead agree to commence negotiations for reunification with the mainland. Xi Jinping’s government is exerting pressure in several ways. One tactic is to poach the handful of remaining countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei. Another is to block Taiwanese membership in all international institutions except in a few cases (like the Olympics) where Taiwan is willing to participate under the humiliating appellation “Chinese Taipei.”
Far more worrisome than such examples of diplomatic sharp elbows, though, is Beijing’s militant rhetoric and surging displays of military power toward Taiwan. In a speech on May 21, 2020, Premier Li Keqiang noticeably left out the word “peaceful” in referring to Beijing’s intention to “reunify” with Taiwan. That omission signaled an ominous policy shift. PRC military exercises in and near the Taiwan Strait have become larger and more frequent over the past four years, and 2020 has witnessed a marked increase in the scope and pace of such exercises. Even more worrisome, PRC combat aircraft now routinely approach and even cross the de facto line of control in the middle of the Strait in an effort to intimidate Taipei as well as test Taiwan’s air defenses. Taipei sends up its own fighters to intercept and challenge the Chinese planes. There have been dozens of PRC aerial intrusions in recent months, and the potential for a lethal miscalculation by either side is obvious.
The United States has responded to Beijing’s increasingly abrasive posture toward Taiwan by taking multiple steps to forge tighter security ties between Washington and Taipei. In November 2020, reports leaked to the Taiwanese press about a secretive visit by a US official. Apparently, the individual in question was a two‐star admiral who was in Taiwan to develop plans for coordinated joint operations between US and Taiwanese military forces in the event of a crisis. There also were indications that this was not the first such meeting between high‐ranking military figures from the two governments.
Several new milestones in Washington’s support for Taiwan have been reached during Donald Trump’s presidency, and the pace is accelerating. In mid‐August 2020, the Trump administration approved an $8 billion sale of 66 advanced F‐16v fighters to Taiwan – the largest weapons sale in many years – to help Taipei’s concerted effort to strengthen its own military capabilities. In October, the administration informed Congress that it intended to sell Taiwan MQ-9 drones and a coastal defensive missile system. Washington also pressed Taipei to make a dramatically enhanced defense capability of its own a high priority. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien urged Taiwan to “fortify itself” against an invasion, blockade, or comprehensive economic embargo.