Hawaii is linked to Taiwan-China tensions

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Oct. 13—Taiwan's president said over the weekend that her country will not bow to pressure from China, while Chinese President Xi Jinping said that "peaceful reunification " is sought, but complete reunification "must be realized."

Taiwan's defense minister last week said tensions with China are the worst they've been in 40 years. China is sending record numbers of warplanes in drills aimed at Taiwan, while the U.S. and its allies mount growing naval exercises in the western Pacific.

A new Cold War—or worse—may loom ahead, and Hawaii is in the thick of it.

"The situation in the Indo-­Pacific region is becoming more tense and complex by the day, " Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in her National Day address.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks observed earlier this month, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, that the "Chinese are advancing their (military ) capabilities at a remarkable clip."

That includes submarines, Hicks added, "but even beyond what they're doing in the undersea, it's a very clear pattern of expanding out the geographic capability, the range of their capability to (threaten ) other interested parties—whether that's around Japan, whether that's around, in the case of the United States, Guam or even Hawaii."

China is "spanning out now, getting closer to Australia, (with ) the ability to threaten their interests, " Hicks said.

In late August, during a patrol in the Bering Sea and Arctic region, the Coast Guard cutters Bertholf and Kimball—the latter of which is out of Honolulu—observed four People's Republic of China ships—a guided missile cruiser, guided missile destroyer, an intelligence-­gathering ship and an auxiliary vessel—operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast.

While China's reach is growing across the Pacific, it is the more immediate threat to locations including Taiwan, and by extension, Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam, that is of greatest concern.

Asked about a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Hicks said, "It's something we watch very carefully. If you're (at ) Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, you're watching it day to day. We have a significant amount of capability forward in the region to tamp down any such potential."

She added that, "The United States and China and the globe have a significant interest in maintaining peace and stability in the western Pacific."

"So the fact that the United States and the U.K. and Australia are coming together around this issue set I think just demonstrates how the opinions in the region, in the western Pacific, are shifting, and honestly, in Europe, how the positions are shifting with regard to how serious this Chinese challenge is, " Hicks said.

Earlier this month, the U.S., Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Netherlands navies came together in the Philippine Sea for an approximately 20-ship interoperability exercise involving an impressive four aircraft carriers—two U.S., one Japanese and one British—and more than 15, 000 sailors from the six nations.

Japan's Ministry of Defense said part of the multilateral exercise occurred in the waters and airspace southwest of Okinawa. The U.S. Navy said the strike groups conducted air defense operations and simulated strikes against maritime targets.

The commander of the U.K. carrier strike group tweeted that it was a "momentous weekend " with the quad carriers and escort ships representing "half a million tons of sea power projection from six nations."

After rebuffing communist China's reunification demands for more than 70 years, Taiwan now is at the heart of a deepening discord between the United States and China, the New York Times reported. "The Taiwan issue has ceased to be a sort of narrow, boutique issue, and it's become a central theater—if not the central drama—in U.S.-China strategic competition, " Evan Medeiros, a member of President Barack Obama's National Security Council, told the Times.

The U.S. and allied goal is to deter President Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan, a thriving Democracy that's strategically located just 100 miles from mainland China.

Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at think tank the Hudson Institute, said at an Oct. 4 forum that despite Chinese fighter aircraft swarming the air defense identification zone of Taiwan, he believes an attack is not imminent. Rather, coercion in the form of psychological and other operations to wear Taiwan down is likely to persist.

China may be thinking, "Let's test the Americans, the Japanese, the Taiwan government ... about strategic stability, " Cronin said.

From an invasion standpoint, Taiwan "is not an easy problem " for China, H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser under President Donald Trump, said at the forum.

Scott Harold, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. and Asia expert, said at the same forum that Taiwan "needs to do much more, much faster " militarily, but it's position is not hopeless in part because it has the will and some capacity to resist an invasion.

The channel is rough and choppy for much of the year and most of the beaches are not ideal for an amphibious landing.

"Taiwan is a highly urbanized terrain, meaning that it's basically built right up to the coast, " Harold said. "So as soon as Beijing tries to push on shore, it's either pushing across mud flats and rice paddy, which is not ideal for heavy vehicles, or it is pushing into urban terrain, " which is extremely dangerous.

Taiwan has fielded "very capable " anti-ship cruise and other missiles that have some deterrent capacity. He also noted that Taiwan has "spent the last 70 years preparing to defeat a Chinese assault."

Cronin said that not only does China have to worry about Taiwan, "they're going to have to really worry about the U.S.-Japan alliance, " and "there's a lot for China to worry about."

Japan has become "much more vocal " about the Taiwan Strait and the government position has "been very clear that Taiwan is part of the vital interest of Japan. And that's because they see Taiwan security as inextricably linked to the territorial sovereignty of Japan, " Cronin said.

Adm. Phil Davidson, the former head of U.S. Indo-­Pacific Command on Oahu, now is famous for his "Davidson window " statement "that by 2027, ostensibly at the end of a third five-year term as general secretary of the Chinese communist party, Xi Jinping may think, 'Ah, the military balance is now more in my favor. This is my chance for history and legacy, ' " and mount an invasion, Cronin said.

That's the concern, he said.

"So we have to be ready. The United States, Japan, obviously the Taiwanese, and the international community, for that kind of miscalculation on the part of Xi Jinping and the Chinese, " Cronin said.

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