Pacific News Minute: U.S. Visits to Taiwan and the South China Sea Infuriate China

Mar 27, 2018

USS Sampson and USS Pinkney in South China Sea, 2010
Credit Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr

Over the past few days, fears of a trade war with China have calmed on news of negotiations between Washington and Beijing, but U.S. diplomatic and military missions over the past two weeks have drawn angry reactions from China. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

No issue is more sensitive in Beijing than sovereignty. 

Start with Taiwan, a renegade province, according to Beijing, certain to resume its place under Chinese rule sooner or later and by force if necessary. But more and more Taiwanese regard themselves as distinct, and relations have turned frosty since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen and the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party two years ago.

At the same time, relations with Washington have warmed. After Congress unanimously passed the “Taiwan Travel Act” this month, President Trump promptly dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong to Taipei to tell an American Chamber of Commerce dinner that the U.S. commitment “Has never been stronger.” Two senior Republican senators are urging the administration to sell Taiwan advanced fighter jets.

Last week, in his speech to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, President Xi Jinping declared “Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure.”

If that message wasn’t plain enough, China then its sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, through the Taiwan Strait.

Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning
Credit Baycrest / Wikimedia Commons

The South China Sea may be number two on China’s most sensitive list. Beijing rejects rival claims from half a dozen of its neighbors and considers periodic U.S. Navy patrols as challenges.

Last week, after the destroyer USS Mustin sailed close by one of China’s man-made islands, a defense ministry spokesman declared “The U.S. has seriously harmed Chinese sovereignty and security.”