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News | Aug. 17, 2022

Pushing Back Against China's New Normal in the Taiwan Strait

By Bonny Lin and Joel Wuthnow War on the Rocks

It would be a mistake — perhaps a deadly one — for Washington to dismiss Beijing’s reaction to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as just another temper tantrum.

China’s military response might have failed to drive a wedge between the United States and Taiwan, but it carries real risks. It could normalize aggressive Chinese military operations closer to Taiwan, create greater expectations within China for a stronger response in the future, provide experience for the People’s Liberation Army, and make understanding China’s intentions more difficult. All of these consequences could undermine Taiwan’s security.

Washington and Taipei have responded cautiously, avoiding a reaction that would have allowed China to escalate and portray itself as a victim. But caution and concern are not enough. The key question moving forward is how to prevent China from making a more aggressive posture against Taiwan the new normal. More frequent Chinese exercises and incursions close to Taiwan should be monitored and, if necessary, thwarted, countered, or disrupted. If Chinese exercises involve military aircraft venturing into Taiwan’s airspace, for example, Taipei and Washington should consider measures to warn or intercept the Chinese planes. In response to the threat of a quarantine or blockade, Taipei needs to invest in appropriate capabilities and increase stockpiles of critical resources. Finally, larger, more frequent Chinese exercises around Taiwan would make determining China’s intentions more difficult. The United States and Taiwan should refine their approach to strategic warning, identifying indicators that can differentiate between a Chinese military exercise and preparations for an actual attack.

Read the rest at War on the Rocks here - 

Bonny Lin is director of the China Power Project and senior fellow for Asian security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Previously, she worked at the RAND Corporation and also served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2015 to 2018, where she was director for Taiwan, country director for China, and senior adviser for China.

Joel Wuthnow is a senior research fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University and an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He is the lead editor of Crossing the Strait: China’s Military Prepares for War with Taiwan (NDU Press, 2022). 

This essay reflects only the views of the authors and not their respective institutions, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.