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Speaking to the traditional “60 Minutes” talk show, President Joe Biden openly said that US troops will defend Taiwan in the event of an attack initiated by mainland China. It is the first time that a US president has spoken openly about the use of troops in the straits, abandoning the traditional US “strategic ambiguity” (which presupposes leaving possible military aid open).
Biden also stretched the rope by saying that “Taiwan makes its own judgments about its independence… That decision is theirs”, making it clear once again that he will intervene militarily if the island makes that decision and Beijing decides to forcibly regain sovereignty.
Shortly after the interview aired, the White House rushed to clarify that US policy on Taiwan has not changed and that the US does not support Taiwanese independence. The interview, however, served to reinforce the impression among Chinese, journalists and academics that Biden’s speech on the subject can no longer be interpreted as a “gaffe” – as had been happening until then.
Surprisingly, the statement did not resonate much internally in China and it seems that the topic was censored on social media. Asked what Beijing had to say, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning gave a standard response.
- “We are willing to do our best to fight for peaceful reunification. At the same time, we will not tolerate any activity aimed at secession.”
Why it matters: It is difficult to understand, however, what Biden or the United States have to gain from such a line.
- Historically, Americans did not consciously speak of military intervention because the reticence worked: China did not attack and Taiwan maintained its status quo. Assuming this is no longer the case only fuels separatist movements on the island — the red line for Beijing;
- Some conjecture that the speech may be electorally motivated, as the midterm elections approach and Biden is trying to show service by showing that he is not afraid of Beijing. That’s probably not the case, as he’s expressed himself the same way before and international issues tend not to matter as much in legislative elections (and most ordinary Americans don’t even know where Taiwan is). Apparently, the American president is convinced that the ambiguity on the subject no longer works with China.
what also matters
After China registered its first case of monkeypox last Friday (16), health authorities made a controversial recommendation to the population: don’t touch foreigners.
The disease was diagnosed in a traveler returning from an international trip to Chongqing, in the southwest of the country. In the face of the online buzz, the chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wu Zunyou, posted some recommendations on his Weibo account:
- “To avoid possible smallpox infection and as part of our healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that you 1) do not have direct contact with foreigners; 2) do not have contact with anyone who has returned less than three weeks from abroad; 3) do not have close contact with strangers; 4) pay attention to hand hygiene and 5) use protectors or toilet paper to line toilets,” he wrote.
The statement was heavily criticized on forums of expats living in China, with many interpreting it as xenophobia.
Since the closing of borders in 2020, foreigners have been the target of prejudice in some commercial establishments for allegedly “spreading the virus”. The community’s fear is that official statements like this will amplify ill-considered reactions among the Chinese.
Passing through New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Monday (19).
Officially, Wang Yi’s visit was a courtesy for the celebration of Kissinger’s 100th birthday, to be celebrated next May. Between the lines, however, it was clear that Wang hoped to use the former secretary’s credibility in mediating a tense moment in US relations.
Credited as one of the main responsible for the rapprochement between the two countries for 50 years, Kissinger has been criticizing the state of Sino-American relations. In July, he criticized Biden and previous administrations for being “too much domestically influenced in the view of China” and warned of the risks of “an endless confrontation.”
Wang piggybacked on the meeting to say that “out of a misperception, the United States insists on seeing China as its main rival and a long-term challenge. Some people even described the success of China-US exchanges as a failure, the who show disrespect not only to history but to themselves.”
Keep an eye
Senior officials of the Central Military Commission (CMC) met this Wednesday (21) in a seminar to discuss the reform of the Chinese Armed Forces and the next steps in defining national defense strategies.
The body’s chairman, Xi did not attend the meeting (possibly because he was in quarantine), but he urged members of the People’s Liberation Army to be “combat-ready and strengthened by following reforms”. He also said the military needs to “focus on preparing for war.”
Why it matters: There are no indications that China intends to go to war in the near future, but the geopolitical chess in the vicinity of its borders justifies the order. China has had border troubles with India recently, has moved militarily around Taiwan and has an eye on Afghanistan after the Taliban return.
For an army that has not participated in any real conflict since 1979, when it invaded Vietnam, ensuring that troops are prepared must be a priority for the Chinese political elite for years to come.
to go deep
- Freedom House has released an unprecedented report analyzing the influence of the Chinese press in various parts of the world, including Brazil. (free, in Portuguese)
- The Chinese Embassy is preparing a grand celebration in view of the 73rd Anniversary of the People’s Republic on Sunday (25) at 11 am. The event, all broadcast on YouTube, will feature performances with the help of 5G and augmented reality. (free, in Portuguese)
- Stanford University is holding an online debate on the state of independent media coverage in China on the 11th. Emily Feng (NPR correspondent in Beijing), Louisa Lim (former BBC correspondent) and Jennifer Pan (senior researcher at the Freeman Spogli Institute) participate. Subscriptions here. (free, in English)