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“Beijing is telling the U.S.: ‘We are willing to die to the last Chinese for Taiwan. You Americans are not.’”

By Belal Awad · June 19, 2023

In brief…

  • China’s Navy vessel's dangerous proximity to a US destroyer in Taiwan Strait raises global tensions.
  • Council on Foreign Relations President Haass believes China aims to dissuade the US from pursuing interests in the Indo-Pacific by raising risk level.
  • China sends mixed signals to US: Open to economic talks while raising the temperature on military-security issues.
  • Haass says more US-China standoffs could have “incalcuable” economic consequences.
Richard Haass  Wikimedia

In a move that raised global tensions, a Chinese Navy vessel cruised within 150 yards of an American destroyer, causing a near collision in the Taiwan Strait. This provocative June 4th encounter comes on the heels of a Chinese fighter jet executing an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” near a U.S. surveillance plane just ten days earlier.

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass explained to MSNBC that “Beijing is telling the U.S.: ‘We are willing to die to the last Chinese for Taiwan. You Americans are not.’”

By raising the risk quotient, Haass said China aims to dissuade the United States from pursuing its interests in the Indo-Pacific region. “What the Chinese believe is that by… raising the possibility of something that could escalate…they can get us to pull back.”

Haass noted the discrepancy between their willingness to engage on economic issues versus security matters. “We are getting some mixed signals from China. Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, had a good meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Vienna about two weeks ago.  But the Chinese are essentially saying, ‘We will meet with you on economic issues’…But they are not extending it to the security side, where they do want to keep the temperature high.”

Recalling the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union had mechanisms like hotlines and confidence-building measures, Haass lamented the absence of similar safeguards in dealing with Beijing, which appears determined to behave less predictably towards the Washington. 

Haass said, “The more the [Biden] administration asks for it, the more the Chinese are pushing back. It’s almost like they have concluded that this is something America wants so badly, that to give in… would be some sort of a favor.”

The think-tank chief said both China and the United States have a vested interest in avoiding any incident that could lead to an escalation in tensions. “The last thing either needs is an incident that would escalate. And if it ever did escalate… talk about a situation for which there would be no winners,” Haass said, stressing the potentially disastrous economic repercussions that a major incident in the Pacific Rim could have, given its central role in the global economy.

As China and the US navigate through these tense circumstances, the international community watches with growing concern, hoping both superpowers can lower the temperature and pursue peaceful resolutions that align with their deep mutual interests.