As Russia escalates its invasion of Ukraine, the United States is sending a delegation of former defense officials to Taiwan while keeping communication channels open with Russia’s ally, China.
U.S. officials say China’s decision to back Russia amid its military campaign in Ukraine is causing the Beijing government to become “quite uncomfortable.”
Although Beijing’s spokespeople continue to repeat Russia’s claims accusing NATO of provoking the conflict by expanding its membership over the years, U.S. officials insist the relationship is being strained by both the fighting on the ground and the coordinated response by Europe and the United States.
“It is undeniable that right now, China is occupying an awkward nexus in which they're trying to sustain their deep and fundamental relationship with Russia,” said Kurt Campbell, who is U.S. President Joe Biden’s senior coordinator for Indo-Pacific policy at the White House National Security Council.
“I think they have been concerned by some of the — both the solidarity that everyone has witnessed in the aftermath of the [Russia] invasion — but also by the brutality that is playing out every day with respect to an invasion,” added Campbell on Monday during a webinar hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Campbell said the U.S. was hoping China could play a critical role in encouraging Russian President Vladimir Putin to reconsider invading Ukraine but “we believe they [Chinese officials] chose not to weigh in in advance.”
China has refrained from calling Russia’s military actions in Ukraine “an invasion,” saying China “understands Russia’s legitimate concerns on security issues.”
Monday in Beijing, a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wang Wenbin repeated China’s partnership with Russia.
“China and Russia are comprehensive strategic partners of coordination. Our relationship features non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third party,” said Wang during a briefing.
China flexes military amid Russian invasion in Ukraine
In Taiwan, the self-ruled democracy is on high alert after Chinese military planes flew into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) during consecutive days amid Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
“7 PLA aircraft (Y-8 ASW, J-16*4 and J-10*2) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on Feb. 28, 2022,” said Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense in a tweet.
The sorties on Monday follow Beijing’s daily dispatch of warplanes into Taiwan’s ADIZ from February 23-27, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.
In a move seen as showing support to Taiwan, Biden is sending a delegation of former senior defense and security officials to Taiwan.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michèle A. Flournoy, former White House deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan and others are visiting Taiwan March 1-2.
The U.S. delegation “sends an important signal about the bipartisan U.S. commitment to Taiwan and its democracy and demonstrates that the Biden Administration’s and the United States’ commitment to Taiwan remains rock solid,” said a senior administration official.
In a separate briefing, Campbell also said the U.S. is not diverting its goal to enhance ties with the Indo-Pacific region.
“You will see over the course of the next several months a determination to sustain high-level engagement in the Indo-Pacific with presidential travel. We will be announcing that ASEAN leaders, for the first time, will be coming to Washington in March shortly.”
Saturday, a U.S. naval vessel sailed through the Taiwan Strait, a move seen as a warning to China not to make any rash moves on Taiwan.
“The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) is conducting a routine Taiwan Strait transit Feb. 26 through international waters in accordance with international law. The ship is transiting through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” said the U.S. 7th fleet in a statement on Twitter.
Analysts are watching China’s next move after it abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“China was close to joining Russia in a veto, but changed position when [the] U.S. watered down [the] resolution text. I think this is a sign of both Chinese influence and its desire to avoid taking hits over Ukraine at the U.N. So it sends a complex bunch of messages (none too awful for Russia),” said International Crisis Group U.N. Director Richard Gowan in a tweet.
Gowan added while China’s abstention is a relief for the U.S., he would not “mistake [it] as a real blow to Russia. Moscow knows China is keeping its head down, and won’t take any serious action against it.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi confirmed during his Saturday call with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that “when the Security Council discussed the resolution related to the Ukraine issue, China prevented quoting expressions that contain the authorization of the use of force and sanctions.” Wang was referring to U.N. Charter Chapter 7, as China has opposed the authorization of the use of force and sanctions against Russia under Chapter 7.
Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.