Power vacuum left by U.S. in region could tempt China: analyst


Taipei, April 19 (CNA) China might take advantage of the power vacuum in the region following the halt of overseas movements by the United States military, but a military offensive against Taiwan is unlikely, according to a Taiwanese defense analyst.

“The U.S. military deployed in the western Pacific has been a force that secures the safety of the region. Whether China sees the halt of U.S. military movement as an opportunity to take, is a national security issue worth watching,” said Chang Jung-Ming (章榮明), a National Defense and Security Research researcher.

According to foreign media reports, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered in March a ban on troop movements overseas for 60 days, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the military.

Currently, four U.S. aircraft carriers assigned in the Indo-Pacific region are all quarantined at different ports, and war games such as Balikatan 2020 held by the U.S. and the Philippines and the Large Scale Exercise 2020 were also postponed.

Writing in the latest issue of Defense Security Weekly on April 10, Chang pointed to the possibility of China taking actions in the region to test the U.S.’s reaction or establish “facts on the ground” as future bargaining chips.

He cited two incidents, one on March 30, in which a Chinese fishing boat collided with the Japanese destroyer Shimakaze in the East China Sea, and another on April 2, in which a Chinese Coast Guard ship collided with and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea, as examples of such actions.

However, U.S. air assets continue to operate near Taiwan even after the stop movement order, Chang said, with American war planes appearing in the region at least five times between March 25 to April 8.

“On March 31, U.S. war planes flew over the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea in the same day,” he said, concluding that the stop movement order would only minimally affect Taiwan.

On the possibility of an armed attack by China against Taiwan, Chang said the current environment did not favor such a move, especially with the international community unhappy with China’s lack of transparency in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Other factors precluding such an attack would be its lack of legitimacy because Taiwan has not broken the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, Chang argued, and he also felt the fear of a defeat that would undermine the authority of China’s leadership was at play.

At the same time, conquering Taiwan is not the top priority of the Xi Jinping (習近平) administration, which is focused on getting people back to work and preparing for a possible second-wave virus outbreak.