MESOP MIDEAST WATCH : With ‘delegation,’ US warns off China on Taiwan amid Russia’s Ukraine invasion

“The United States has not lost focus on the Indo-Pacific region, and […] Xi should not get any ideas from Putin’s aggression,” says Jacob Stokes at CNAS. By   COLIN CLARKon March 01, 2022 BREAKING DEFENSE US –  Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.) appears before Congress on September 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.

SYDNEY: The United States is sending a clear signal to the Peoples Republic of China,

which has tacitly supported Vladimir Putin in his invasion of Ukraine, that America has not taken its eyes off of Taiwan in this chaotic global period.

The signal came in the form of a high-level group of both former military and civilian leaders — including Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff — that the Biden administration put together to visit Taiwan as an “unofficial” delegation.

The group arrived in Taiwan today on a private jet, Reuters reported. They were greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister and are due to meet with Taiwan’s president.

It was unclear if the trip was long-planned or put together hastily in the wake of Russia’s Ukranian invasion. Taiwan had already boosted its military readiness before Putin’s forces crossed the Ukrainian border. But Jacob Stokes, a fellow at the Indo-Pacific Security Program of the Center for a New American Security, said that might be beside the point.

“[E]ither way, it sends the right message at the right time,” Stokes said in an email to Breaking Defense. “Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is of the utmost importance to the United States and our regional allies and partners. And any use of coercion or force that seeks to upend that status quo would pose a major threat to US interests and values.”

There’s been considerable conjecture in the Indo-Pacific that China might read a successful Putin invasion of Ukraine as tacit permission or an opportunity to take Taiwan. But Stokes said the delegation is warning President Xi Jingping that would be a mistake.

In case anyone in Beijing might miss the message, the US official told Reuters the group is being sent to “demonstrate our continued robust support for Taiwan.”

Mullen, who served under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was  accompanied by Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security advisor under Bush, and Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense under Obama, Reuters reported.

China offered some indication that they were interested in continuing to test Taiwan’s resolve when Beijing resumed sending warplanes into Taiwan’s Aircraft Identification Zone (ADIZ) a few days ago.

7 PLA aircraft (Y-8 ASW, J-16*4 and J-10*2) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on February 28, 2022. Please check our official website for more information:

— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C.  (@MoNDefense) February 28, 2022

And a US warship reportedly sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, in what the US military calls routine activity, but which China described as “provocative.” The strait is, of course, an internationally recognized passage for transit.

The Biden administration has clearly demonstrated it knows it must remind China it’s actively engaged in the Indo-Pacific. For example, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Australia for three days earlier this month even as the Ukraine crisis absorbed most of the administration’s foreign policy bandwidth.

Stokes said the bottom line in assessing this delegation’s importance is clear: “The United States has not lost focus on the Indo-Pacific region, and two, Xi should not get any ideas from Putin’s aggression.”