The Chinese military is unlikely to make any last-minute retaliatory moves despite loud calls from within for Beijing to “strike back” against a “crippled” Trump administration over its positive moves for Taiwan, a security analyst told Newsweek.
With just one week to go until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, “any extreme actions at this stage won’t benefit China,” said Hung Tzu-chieh, a military researcher with Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR).
“Any actions now would only further complicate Joe Biden’s task and lower the chances of a rapprochement,” Hung told Newsweek on Wednesday.
China’s foreign ministry threatened “countermeasures” this week, and the chief of the Communist Party-owned tabloid Global Times said Beijing needed to “strike back firmly and hard” after Mike Pompeo‘s recent policy pronouncements in favor of Taipei.
On Saturday, the outgoing secretary of state voided more than four decades of U.S.-Taiwan communications protocol when he announced the lifting of “self-imposed restrictions.” Taiwan observers said this included limitations on where officials from Washington and Taipei could meet, and also prohibited the display of Taiwanese symbols of sovereignty, such as its national flag, on U.S. government premises.
Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the nationalistic newspaper Global Times, described Pompeo’s announcement as the “ultimate provocation” in a fiery editorial published Monday.
“China must not tolerate their abuses,” he said of the Trump administration’s so-called “anti-China” policies, which included a canceled visit to Taipei by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft.
Hu called on the Chinese leadership to hit back against the U.S. at a time when the government was “crippled” by the pandemic and marred by troubles during the transition period. The remaining days until January 20 were “a rare window of opportunity,” he wrote.
The outspoken state media personality concluded with a message—seemingly directed at Beijing—warning of the consequences of inaction in the Taiwan Strait and the precedent it would set for the incoming administration.
A failure to respond could lead Washington and Taipei to believe that China “would rather tolerate their provocations for the sake of long-term interests,” he wrote. “The Biden administration may mistakenly think it will have more room to pressure the Chinese mainland. This will make the start of China-U.S. relations in the next four years detrimental to China.”
Despite the harsh “political rhetoric” from China, it would not lead to any substantial military action by the People’s Liberation Army, said Hung, who is an assistant research fellow at INDSR.
“I believe the cancelation of Ambassador Kelly Craft’s visit will influence their decision-making in the coming days, but even if Craft were still coming to Taiwan, I wouldn’t have expected any moves from the PLA,” he noted.
“Politically, China will continue to respond, just like its Taiwan Affairs Office protested at its press conference this morning,” he added. “But with the transition [in the U.S.] coming in a few days, I don’t think this will extend to any military action.”
Analysts in Taiwan were largely in agreement that Craft’s canceled trip to Taiwan was symbolic, and that the late change in itinerary would not affect future interactions between the two governments.
The cancelation of the ambassador’s visit was “regrettable,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told Newsweek on Wednesday.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs understands and respects the State Department’s decision,” she added. “We welcome Ambassador Craft to visit at an appropriate time in the future.”
The State Department announced a cancelation of all planned travel on Tuesday, including Pompeo’s trip to Brussels to meet with European Union leaders. The statement cited the need to assist in the ongoing transition process.