Instead, Taiwan will continue to exist in this foreign affairs halfway house, self-governing, but with limited ability to engage internationally as a separate state, otherwise known as the “status quo.” .
These are two words that often mean very little. For Taiwan, they are existential.
“Taiwan is committed to maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai said after meeting Pelosi.
Pelosi made it clear that the United States “also opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo.” Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles followed with the same message.
If the status quo can be maintained, it could stave off the prospect of war for decades. But it’s a delicate balancing act. This week has shown just how perilous a tightrope can become as China pulls one way with its patriotic zeal, while Pelosi pulls the other with his visit to Taipei.
Observers are hoping that cautious rhetoric can keep the thread stable for now, but there are risks on the horizon. Pelosi’s visit gave China the excuse to practice what would otherwise have been an outrageously provocative act: a blockade of Taiwan.
China on Thursday launched maritime assault and air combat training in six areas within 50 kilometers of Taiwan’s coast. The People’s Liberation Army said it had started using J-20 stealth fighter jets and DF-17 hypersonic missiles. Taipei said it was forced to fire flares at drones that had flown over Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands to chase them away.
The encirclement of Taiwan by live-fire exercises for the next four days sounds ominous, but it’s as much about performing in front of nationalist audiences after entertaining them for weeks as avoiding a real military confrontation.
“Thursday is Valentine’s Day in China,” Sung said. “They’re showing Taiwan some tough love.”
“I think we should interpret the purpose of the Chinese military exercises as an exercise in diplomatic messaging, more than preparation for the next phase of the conflict.”
“What they’re doing now is showing the Chinese national audience, ‘I have the ability to use the military. I’m going to show you this in a very visual way,” Sung says.
But that does not mean that Beijing necessarily wants to go further.
“China is saying well, ‘I’m a superpower, I’m going to do things on my own schedule at my own pace,'” Sung said. “I’m not going to dance to the tune of a soon-to-retire octogenarian or the so-called fragment of Taiwanese separatist forces that are destined for the dustbin of history.”
In the planned exercise maps released by the People’s Liberation Army, there is a slight overlap with Taiwan’s international and territorial waters. They will take place just a few kilometers from the islands that surround Taiwan, just close enough to let Taiwan know that its territory has been violated.
“I think the plan is there to undo the effect of Nancy Pelosi’s visit,” Sung says.
“Because if you use Chinese wolf warrior logic, they think Pelosi’s visit has some sort of legitimizing effect that elevates Taiwan’s claim to be a state actor. What state actors have, they have sovereignty and claim territorial waters.
By starting military exercises on Thursday, China is effectively blocking maritime traffic in key parts of the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and violating Taiwan’s territorial sovereignty.
“So China is now trying to say, if you don’t object and respond vigorously, then basically I’m proving that Taiwan is not a sovereign actor,” Sung said.
For now, the high-stakes operation helps maintain the status quo.
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