US sends top defense officials to Taiwan, fears China could invade the island during Ukraine crisis

Russia's Putin and China's Xi Jinping

The Biden administration on Monday dispatched  to Taiwan in a show of support as the world wonders whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could trigger a Chinese invasion of the self-governing island.

The visit will be led by Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a senior administration official.

It comes after months of Chinese aggression directed at Taiwan, including nine Chinese aircraft entering its air defence zone on the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

At the same time President Tsai Ing-wen ordered Taiwan’s military and intelligence security apparatus on to high alert, amid warnings that China could sense Western weakness after failing to prevent Russia’s attack.

Kurt Campbell, Biden’s Asia czar, described the delegation as ‘unofficial’ during an online discussion with the German Marshall Fund on Monday.

Beijing claims the self-governed island as its own and has promised to bring it under Chinese control, by force if necessary.

Beijing’s ambassador to Washington ratcheted up tension further in January by warning that the two superpowers could go to war if the US encouraged the island’s independence.

The attack on Ukraine has added another dimension at a time when relations between Beijing and Moscow were reported to be at a historic high. Last week China appeared to throw Russia a sanctions-busting lifeline, by lifting wheat import restrictions.

The US team will arrive on Tuesday, according to Reuters which was first to report the news, and will be led by Mullen, a retired Navy admiral who was the most senior military officer in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administration.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security adviser, and Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense under Obama, are also part of the delegation.

And two former National Security Council senior directors for Asia, Mike Green and Evan Medeiros, will also make the trip, which is intended to demonstrate continued support for Taiwan.

‘The selection of these five individuals sends an important signal about the bipartisan U.S. commitment to Taiwan and its democracy, and demonstrates that the Biden administration’s broader commitment to Taiwan remains rock solid,’ said the senior administration official.

Details emerged four days after Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, and nine Chinese jets buzzed Taiwanese airspace – a greater number than the usual incursions.

The number of aircraft involved was well off the last large-scale incursion – 39 Chinese aircraft on January 23 – and since then, such fly-bys have been sporadic with far fewer aircraft.

The ministry said the latest mission involved eight Chinese J-16 fighters and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft, which flew over an area to the northeast of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top end of the South China Sea.

Taiwan said it scrambled interceptors to counter the threat from eight Chinese J-16 fighters and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft, which flew over an area to the northeast of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top end of the South China Sea.

Taipei has been warily watching the fallout from Ukraine.

‘The principle of self-determination cannot be erased by brute force,’ said Taiwan’s Vice President Lai Ching-te.

Diplomats said the delegation was evidence that Russian actions had prompted Washington, which under Biden has increased its focus on the Indo-Pacific region, to bolster relationships.

‘The overall sense is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has precipitated seismic shift in geopolitics. It doesn’t undermine Indo-Pacific efforts – it reinforces them,’ said a senior Western diplomat.

‘We’ll see the US doubling down on relationships in and beyond the region.’

The delegation is expected to arrive in Taiwan on Tuesday afternoon and stay until Wednesday evening, during which time they plan to meet Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng and other senior officials.

Taiwan’s presidential office confirmed the visit and meeting with Tsai, saying that its timing during the Ukraine crisis showed Taiwan-U.S. ties were ‘rock solid.’

The U.S. official declined to say whether the timing of the visit was influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, some elements of Chinese-state controlled media have delighted in linking Taiwan and Ukraine.

Last week, the Global Times used an editorial to warn Taiwan’s ruling party no to move too close to Washington.

‘The performance of the US in Ukraine should remind ‘Taiwan independence’ advocates: You cannot rely on Washington,’ it said.

Critics of Biden in the US have also raised questions.

On Sunday, Donald Trump Jr. said it all stemmed from Biden’s hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan, which emboldened emboldened Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

‘You think Vladimir Putin didn’t see that and say, “Excellent.” You think that Xi over in China wasn’t saying, “Hey, whatever my timeline for taking over Taiwan was: accelerate it,”‘ he said.

— Daily Mail

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