Beijing can't wait to deal with Biden

Editorial | Mary Ma 11 Jan 2021

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's lifting of so-called self-imposed restrictions on diplomatic contacts with Taiwan has certainly angered Beijing, but this is unlikely to escalate further.

This is because Donald Trump will step down in less than 10 days and Beijing will wait to deal with incoming US President Joe Biden.

Unlike his predecessors, Pompeo appears to be going out of his way to keep playing aggressively on the China issue.

Perhaps he is preoccupied with a possible run for the presidency in 2024.

Will he venture even further with a personal visit to Taiwan while still secretary of state in these waning days of the current administration?

Predictably, Beijing responded angrily to Pompeo removing the restrictions and warned him not to risk things further with a visit to Taiwan in person. Otherwise, Chinese warplanes would fly directly over Taipei.

The rhetoric was high. The way that both Xinhua and the Global Times played up the prospect of a military response is a sign that the crisis has escalated to a new level.

To some, the intensity was unprecedented and scary. Yet the situation is unlikely to swirl out of control because Beijing knows the one it will have to deal with is Biden, and no longer Trump, whose time is numbered as his last day in office is January 19.

No matter how angrily state media expressed the threat, it was on the condition that the military response would only start if Pompeo took the risk and flew to Taiwan for a visit in person. If he does not make such a visit, the situation will be frozen at the present level and warplanes from the mainland will not appear directly over Taipei.

It would be extremely risky for the mainland to fly its J-10 or J-20 fighters there as this would push a tense situation to the limit.

Would such a move leave Taipei with no choice but to shoot down some of the intruding jet fighters?

If so, Beijing might feel it has no choice but to start a war, even amidst a sluggish economy.

Tensions are already high pending a visit by the US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, to Taiwan from January 13 to 25.

Pompeo may well be eyeing the US presidency four years from now but, in angering Beijing with the Taiwan card, he is actually giving Biden additional ammo in future dealings with China.

Notice that, while criticizing Trump and his supporters, Biden has been largely silent on the president's conflicts with Beijing in these final days.

He knows Trump is giving him ammo. Trump's maximum pressure on China gives Biden flexibility over the next four years as he can conveniently use the pressure built by Trump as a bargaining chip with Beijing.

In this sense, it is in Biden's interest to see Craft visit Taiwan and for Pompeo to remove US restrictions against the island.

The development will not bode well for the region, including Taiwan. After Hong Kong, Taiwan is now at the center of the Sino-US game play.

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