Asia

Fears grow of ‘crippling’ Chinese blockade


China has indicated “military exercises and training activities” surrounding Taiwan will become routine until “reunification” takes place.

Beijing was left fuming when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in early August. And another delegation of US politicians arrived in Taiwan on Sunday sparked more angry warnings from China, which views the self-governing island as a breakaway province.

Beijing responded to Ms Pelosi’s visit with huge military drills, sending warships, missiles and jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan.

The massive military exercises effectively amounted to a blockade. Airlines were warned to avoid flying close to Taiwan and ships were told to stay away from “danger zones”.

‘Encirclement’ comments raise fears of blockade

China also levied unofficial sanctions on Taiwan, suspending citrus, seafood and various other products. Officially, the bans were linked to hygiene concerns.

“We’ll continue our ‘Taiwan encirclement’ drills to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” commentator and military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times.

The comments have raised fears China could impose a permanent blockade of Taiwan.

Taiwan is critical to the global economy, with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company producing much of the world’s microchip supply.

The microchips are used in the production chain for goods such as smartphones, computers and cars.

A Chinese blockade of the island of 23 million people could have a chilling impact, crippling global supply chains, the Wall Street Journal reported.

TSMC makes chips for companies like Apple and Qualcomm. A year-long disruption alone could cost electronic companies about $US490 billion ($A700 billion).

Taiwan is situated next to the world’s busiest shipping lane and a closure of the Taiwan Strait would also severely impact shipping.

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China specialist and former intelligence officer Lonnie Henley warned defeating a Chinese blockade of Taiwan could be difficult.

“My assessment is that China could keep Taiwan sealed off for many months, perhaps years, with devastating effect,” he said.

‘Use of force’

And China is continuing to menace Taiwan. In a white paper published last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbour and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures”.

However, it added, “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines.”

Beijing launched fresh military drills in waters and airspace around Taiwan in response to the latest visit to Taipei by the US delegation led by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts on Sunday.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said it was running multi-service joint combat readiness patrols and combat drills around Taiwan on Monday.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army continues to train and prepare for war, resolutely defends national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and will resolutely crush any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatism and foreign interference,” China’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Official policy to maintain status quo

The US switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But it remains a key ally of Taiwan and maintains de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Washington’s official policy opposes both Taiwan declaring independence or China forcibly changing the island’s status.

It remains deliberately ambiguous about whether it would militarily come to Taiwan’s aid if China invaded.

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Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades and even Ms Pelosi’s trip was not without precedent – previous house speaker Newt Gingrich visited in 1997.

But the frequency and profile of US visits has increased both under former president Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden.

Taiwan has also seen a flurry of delegations visit from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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