BYU students discuss China’s increasing military presence over Taiwan

Chinese Air Force pilot conducts a training exercise close to Taiwan. Incursions into Taiwanese airspace causes security concerns for Taiwan. (Wang Xinchao/Xinhua/AP News)

China is ramping up its military dominance over Taiwan this month with a dispatch of nine warplanes into Taiwanese airspace, coming after a series of major incursions.

Nine military aircraft and four warships passed the buffer zone between The People’s Republic of China and The Republic of China, Taiwan, on Jan. 23, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. The demonstration is the most recent in a series of military provocations conducted by The People’s Liberation Army against Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province.

China has increased the number of excursions into Taiwanese air space in recent years, seen by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as a hastening of China’s timeline to annex Taiwan and prove that Beijing holds sovereignty over the nation. 

However, for some in Taiwan, the incursions are business as usual. Jack Chiu, a BYU accounting major from Taoyuan, Taiwan, said Taiwan is unfazed by the increase.

“The aggression has always been there. China doesn’t have any valid claim on Taiwan,” Chiu said.

Taiwan separated from China at the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. With the victory of Mao Zedong’s communist forces over the nationalist government Kuomintang and the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party as the new rulers of the Chinese mainland, the Nationalists and other dissidents retreated to the island off the Southeastern Coast.

Efforts made by Taiwan to join the United Nations and be recognized as a sovereign nation have been repeatedly thwarted by mainland China, which sits permanently on the UN Security Council and vetoes admission. China also severs diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes Taiwan, resulting in only 13 countries maintaining official relations.

The U.S. itself does not officially recognize Taiwan, although it has maintained a “robust” relationship with the territory. In the wake of increased cyber assaults on American infrastructure and aggressive actions in the South China sea, the Biden Administration has made efforts to deepen ties with Taiwan. In August of 2022, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranked American government official to visit the island since the 1990s, signaling an increase in America’s commitment to Taiwanese sovereignty.

Yukon Huang, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C., highlighted a link between recent U.S. foreign policy and China’s actions.

“In my view, China is kind of reacting to that kind of movement, both the natural shift in sentiments in the island and sentiments shifting in the United States. Pressures from both sides … now make it almost impossible to resolve the Taiwan question,” Huang said.

However, America’s obligation to defend the island militarily remains hotly debated. Support has been repeatedly assured by government officials, with President Biden recently saying U.S. troops would be deployed to defend the island in case of invasion on 60 Minutes, but it is unclear whether this is a military commitment. President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has reiterated America officially recognizes the “One China Policy,” which states that Taiwan is a part of China, and that there has been no policy change.

Alvin Guo, a BYU history major from Hebei province in China, projects an imminent invasion.

“I think sooner or later they will do it. If I had to guess … maybe next year because China’s economy will start to decline and the situation in China won’t get better. If you don’t try it now, later you won’t be able to try it anymore,” Guo said.

The threat of invasion, and the stripping of human rights as seen across other Chinese held regions like Tibet and Hong Kong, will remain a threat to the lives of Taiwanese citizens for the foreseeable future

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