The last time tensions between Beijing and Washington soared over Taiwan, the U.S. Navy sent warships through the Taiwan Strait, and there was nothing China could do about it.
Those times are gone.
Since the mid-1990s, the Chinese military has undergone a transformation. crisis The Taiwanese president’s visit to the United States has drawn an angry reaction from Beijing.
“It’s a whole different story now,” said Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration. “It’s a more competitive and lethal environment for our troops.”
Unlike his predecessors, Chinese President Xi Jinping now has a formidable military, including lethal missiles, a massive navy and an increasingly powerful air force. The new military force is changing U.S. and Taiwanese strategic considerations, increasing the potential risk of conflict or miscalculation, former officials and experts said.
During the 1995-96 crisis, echoing current tensions, China conducted live-fire military exercises, issued a stern warning to Taipei and fired missiles into the waters off Taiwan.
But the U.S. military responded by sending a series of warships to the region, including two aircraft carrier groups, in the largest display of force since the Vietnam War. The USS Nimitz and other battleships sailed through the narrow waterway separating China and Taiwan, bringing home the idea of U.S. military superiority.
“Beijing should know that the most powerful military force in the Western Pacific is the United States,” said then-Defense Secretary William Perry.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at the time was a low-tech, slow-moving force unmatched by the U.S. military, with a lackluster navy and air force that couldn’t venture too far from China’s coastline, former and current U.S. officials say .
“They realize they’re vulnerable and that the Americans can fly an aircraft carrier directly in front of them, and there’s nothing they can do about it,” said Matthew Kronig, a former intelligence and defense official in the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. Kroenig) said authorities.
The Chinese were taken aback by the US military’s high-tech display in the first Gulf War, “schooled the American way of war”, and made concerted efforts to invest in their military, especially to strengthen their position in the Gulf War. Kronig said the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing has learned many lessons from the 1995-96 crisis, concluding that it needs satellite surveillance and other intelligence to spot adversaries on the horizon, as well as a “blue ocean” navy capable of sailing and flying in the Western Pacific and air force. David Finkelstein, director of China and Indo-Pacific security affairs at CNA, an independent research organization.
“Since 1995 and 1996, the PLA Navy has made remarkable progress. The speed at which the PLA Navy has been built is astounding. Of course, in 1995-96 the PLA Air Force almost never flew over water, said Finkelstein, a retired U.S. Army officer.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described China’s dramatic rise as a military power as a strategic earthquake.
“In my view, we are witnessing one of the greatest shifts in global geostrategic power,” Milley said last year.
James Stavridis, a retired four-star general and former NATO commander, said the Chinese military is now “very strong, especially in its own waters and surrounding areas, especially around Taiwan.”
The Chinese navy now has more ships than the United States, he said. While U.S. Navy ships are larger, more advanced, and have more experienced crews and commanders, “quantity is quality,” said NBC News analyst Stav Ridis.
Experts say China is currently building amphibious ships and helicopters to enable a possible full-scale invasion of Taiwan, although the PLA’s ability to do so is debated.
During the 1995-96 crisis, China lost contact with one of the missiles and decided to get rid of the GPS associated with the United States, Matthew said. Funaiole, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “It made them think, ‘We can’t rely on other countries’ technology,'” he said.
Funaiole and other experts say U.S. and Taiwanese officials must now take into account the far greater lethality and agility of the Chinese military, which could deprive the U.S. of the ability to deploy warships or aircraft with impunity, or even bases in the region. Safe action. .
“The game has changed in terms of how well the U.S. deck stacks, it’s more of an equal game. Whatever the U.S. does, China has a choice,” Funaiole said.
This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan angered China, which launched a massive live-fire military exercise including ballistic missile launches, surpassing those conducted during the 1995-96 standoff. The drills are located in the surrounding waters to the north, east and south of Taiwan, with some drills taking place within about 10 miles of Taiwan’s coast. Experts say China once lacked the ability to conduct large-scale exercises in the waters east of Taiwan.
China fired at least 11 ballistic missiles near Taiwan on Thursday, with one flying over the island, according to officials in Taipei. Japan said five missiles landed in its economic exclusion zone, near an island south of Okinawa.
This time, the U.S. government did not announce the passage of warships through the Taiwan Strait. “Biden can try to do that, but China can put them at the bottom of the strait. That’s something they couldn’t do in 1995,” Kroenig said.
The USS Ronald Reagan will remain in the region as China conducts exercises around Taiwan to “monitor the situation,” the White House said on Thursday. But NSC spokesman John Kirby said the scheduled ICBM test had been delayed to avoid any misunderstanding.
Despite tough rhetoric and growing tensions between the two countries, China is not looking to go to war over Pelosi’s visit and is seeking a show of force rather than invading Taiwan, former U.S. officials and experts said.
For now, Chinese President Xi Jinping is focusing on propping up his country’s sluggish economy and securing an unprecedented third term at the next Communist Party Congress later this year. But former officials said China’s newly formed military could lead to overconfidence in Beijing’s decision-making or to an escalating cycle in which both sides feel compelled to respond to show resolve.
Florunoy, who currently chairs the center, said Xi risked underestimating U.S. resolve, arguing that there was an opportunity to seize or block Taiwan in the coming years before U.S. investment in new weapons changed the military balance. New American Security Think Tank.
“I worry that China will misjudge because the narrative from Beijing is still that the United States is in decline and that the United States is turning inward,” Florunoy said. “It’s very dangerous if you underestimate your potential opponents.”
To prevent such an outcome, Florunoy argues, both Taiwan and the United States need to strengthen their military to deter Beijing and raise the potential cost of any possible invasion or intervention in Taiwan.
Finkelstein said he was concerned that a series of “action-response” events could lead to a conflict that no one wanted, and that the risk of miscalculation in Beijing, Taipei and Washington was “high.”
To keep tensions under control, the U.S. and China need to engage in intense dialogue to bring the temperature down, he said. “We need to talk to each other often.”