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Pentagon slams China’s military threats as Taiwan tensions escalate

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A senior A Pentagon official warned on Tuesday of an unprecedented spike in China’s “direct, aggressive and dangerous” behavior against US and partner military forces in the skies over the South China Sea, predicting that the trend would likely worsen as Beijing strives to expand its regional dominance.

Ely RatnerDeputy Secretary of the Ministry of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, called the meetings a campaign of “coercion and harassment” which has intensified considerably over the past five years. He accused the Chinese army of various faults, including intercepting aircraft at dangerously close range and releasing objects into the air that could compromise an aircraft’s engine.

The flurry of activity “feels like a pattern and a policy,” Ratner said, “and not just a decision by an individual pilot.”

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Ratner’s remarks, made during a conference in Washington hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, marked the latest in a series of pointed statements by the Biden administration highlighting the erosion of U.S.-China relations. Speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue last month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also warned that China’s moves towards regional dominance were becoming increasingly “coercive and aggressive”.

A focal point is Washington’s material support for Taiwan, including its defense sector, and the looming suspicion that Beijing, emboldened by Russia’s attempted conquest of Ukraine, intends to act militarily against the Taipei government.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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China, Ratner said, uses “military intimidation and force” in an effort to disrupt the region’s status quo. Its marked departure from Beijing’s longstanding strategy of securing assets and influence through economic and diplomatic coercion, he said.

Overall, the trend was seen mostly in the air, Ratner said, noting that he expects that may change.

“We haven’t seen a similar trend on the water yet, but I suspect it’s coming,” he added. The United States, he said, has no intention of reducing the “freedom of navigational operations”, in which the Navy vessels transit through international waters in the region. He called the patrols “critical to upholding the rules-based international order”.

These last months, Canada and Australia both accused Beijing of dangerous maneuvers to intimidate their pilots during routine flights. U.S. officials haven’t released many more details to back up their claims, Ratner acknowledged, saying he was working to declassify data on China’s recent interceptions to illustrate the trend more substantially.

Some in Washington see a the growing urgency around the issue, particularly in light of the complexities underlying the United States’ relationship with Taiwan.

Washington’s approach has been governed since 1979 by the Taiwan Relations Act, which states in part that US policy is to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons and to help it maintain its ability to resist any threat to its security – without expressly pledge to come to the defense of the island. if China were to attack. The administration has worked to preserve this strategic ambiguity, backtracking on President Biden’s recent statements that the United States would respond “militarily” if Beijing attempted to take control of the island.

Tensions have risen this month after Beijing threatened consequences if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) follows through with a visit to Taiwan in August, pledging to take “strong action” in response. Although delegations of lawmakers visit Taiwan periodically, Pelosi would be the first House speaker to make such a visit since Newt Gingrich in 1997.

Biden said last week that ‘the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now’ for Pelosi to visit Taiwan, fearing Beijing will take advantage of the VIP visit – as a speaker she is third in line for the presidency – to spark wider conflict.

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However, Pelosi did not appear deterred and received uncommon support from Republicans, including former President Donald Trump’s most recent Senate-confirmed Defense Secretary, who during a speaking On Tuesday, he played down China’s rhetoric in response to Pelosi’s planned visit and warned that allowing “another country to dictate where US officials travel” would set a bad precedent.

“We shouldn’t take all these declarations and proclamations from Beijing too seriously,” said Mark T. Esper. “Do we honestly think they’re going to start a war or do something because the Speaker of the House is going to Taipei?” … If we allow Beijing to start dictating who can or cannot travel, then where will it stop?

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that Biden plans to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. The two leaders, he said, would likely discuss Taiwan, Ukraine and how the countries deal with economic competition.

Biden, Kirby said, “wants to ensure that the lines of communication with President Xi on all issues – whether they are issues on which we agree or issues on which we have significant difficulty – that they can always pick up the phone and talk to each other frankly and candidly.

Senate votes to advance bill to subsidize US-made semiconductor chips

Anxiety about when and how Beijing might force a functional reunification of Taiwan with mainland China is also helping to spur initiatives to make the United States less dependent on the island’s exports.

On Tuesday, the Senate introduced a bill that would spend $52 billion on subsidizing semiconductor production. The United States relies heavily on Taiwanese exports for chips that are integral to the operation of electronic and computer equipment, and has lagged behind China in investing in a local industry.

Legislation should get enough votes in the Senate and House to be signed into law.

Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.