The three U.S. senators’ “lightning” visit to Taiwan on Sunday (June 6) is long over, but the outrage the visit inspired in China is still festering, and the target of Chinese netizens’ anger and flirtation has become the Chinese government, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan and wants to reunite with it at the cost of a war.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, Senator Christopher Coons, Democrat of Delaware, and Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, arrived in Taiwan aboard an active U.S. Air Force C-17A strategic transport aircraft. and met with President Tsai Ing-wen and donated 750,000 doses of Taiwan’s much-needed New Crown vaccine to Taiwan during a short three-hour layover.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press conference on Monday (June 7) that the U.S. Congressman’s visit to Taiwan and his meeting with Taiwan’s “leaders” seriously violated the one-China principle and the three joint communiqués, which China “resolutely opposes” and has already made serious representations to the U.S. side. The Chinese side is “resolutely opposed” to this and has made serious representations to the U.S. side. Wang also called on the U.S. side to immediately stop “official contacts” with Taiwan, handle the Taiwan issue carefully, and refrain from sending any wrong signals to the so-called “Taiwan independence secessionist forces” to avoid further serious damage to U.S.-China relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Wang’s response was not unusual from past official statements, although it was striking that he did not mention the most talked about and debated issue, namely the C-17A U.S. Air Force strategic transport aircraft on which the U.S. senator visited Taiwan.
In 2017, the U.S. Congress introduced an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that calls for renewed visits and docking of U.S. and Taiwan military ships and aircraft. In early December of the same year, Li Kexin, minister of the Chinese Embassy in the United States, publicly stated in Washington that “the day U.S. warships arrive in Kaohsiung is the day the PLA unifies Taiwan by force.” Last August, when a U.S. EP-3E electronic reconnaissance aircraft was suspected to have taken off from Taiwan’s main island, the nationalistic Beijing-based Global Times warned in an editorial that “if a U.S. military aircraft takes off and lands directly in Taiwan, a war in the Taiwan Strait will start. “
After the end of the U.S. senator’s visit to Taiwan aboard a U.S. military plane and the relatively mild reaction of Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, some nationalist Chinese netizens began to express their anger. But while only some of their anger was directed at the U.S. and Taiwan, more of their discontent was directed at the Chinese government.
“Our bottom line is that there is no bottom line,” one Chinese netizen was quoted by the Union-Tribune as saying, “The motherland’s military planes can’t fly over, but the United States can?” Another netizen said of the so-called “red line” that China has been emphasizing, “In the end, there is no bottom line, what red line is there?” Some even questioned the Chinese authorities, “Why don’t PLA military planes follow them into Taiwan’s airspace?” “Enemy military planes are intruding, and they don’t even dare to intercept or drive away?”
Bloomberg quoted a popular online poster as saying, “Our red line is that there is no red line. In that case, how can foreigners see Taiwan as part of China?” Bloomberg believes that the Chinese government’s relatively mild response and the outcry from netizens has put enormous pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to implement the so-called “red line” statement.
Beijing passed the “Anti-Secession Law” in 2005, emphasizing China’s right to “use non-peaceful and other necessary” means to prevent Taiwan from formally declaring independence. Other than that, Beijing’s so-called “red line” on Taiwan has not been defined in detail.
The visit of three U.S. senators to Taiwan is not the first time that U.S. military aircraft have landed in Taiwan since the breakup of diplomatic relations between the United States and Taiwan, but it is likely to be the first time that the U.S. military has not landed in Taiwan on the grounds of humanitarian aid or accidental landing. In 2015, two U.S. F-18s were forced to land at Taiwan’s Tainan Airport due to a component failure, and then the U.S. military sent a C-130 transport plane to Taiwan to deliver repair tools and equipment.
The United Daily News quoted Su Ziyun, a scholar at Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense think tank and National Defense Security Research Institute, as saying that the U.S. C-17A strategic transport aircraft landing in Taiwan has special military and political significance, and its military significance lies in the implementation of Taiwan-U.S. military cooperation, especially at the tactical implementation level of “operational commonality.