China and Russia, America’s two adversaries, suffered significant blows on the foreign policy front last week.
In Europe, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined other allies to welcome Finland as the latest North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member. Finland applied for NATO membership a year ago, prompted by security concerns after Russia invaded Ukraine. According to The Wall Street Journal, Finland adds tremendous value to NATO.
Unlike Germany, Finland already follows NATO’s guidelines by allocating 2 percent of its gross domestic product to military spending, and the nation boasts one of the best-prepared defense forces in Europe. Since Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia, adding Finland allows NATO to double its frontier with Russia, and to get closer to “one of Russia’s most sensitive military outposts, the Kola Peninsula, home to Russia’s Northern Fleet and the majority of its nuclear-powered submarines,” the Journal reports.
Thus, Finland’s NATO membership has substantially affected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical ambitions. One of Putin’s top priorities has always been stopping NATO from further expansion. After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, one of the justifications Putin offered was to keep Ukraine outside of NATO. Yet, Putin’s gamble has backfired. He has failed to conquer Ukraine as quickly as he had envisioned, and he is now stuck in a prolonged war. The war has also exposed that Russia’s military is not as mighty as portrayed.
To Putin’s dismay, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine accelerated NATO’s expansion — Finland and Sweden abandoned their neutrality status and applied for NATO membership last year. Russia threatened to retaliate after Finland joined NATO last week. Putin may want to hold off his indignation a bit longer because it is only a matter of time before Sweden becomes a NATO member. Even though Sweden doesn’t share a land border with Russia, the nation has a significant presence in the Baltic Sea.
China and Taiwan
While Putin is furious about Finland’s NATO membership, his pal in Beijing, China’s leader Xi Jinping, also had a bad week.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) announced that the Philippine government had granted the U.S. military four new sites in its country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Arrangement (EDCA). Among the four recent locations, three are on the main island of Luzon, which is close to Taiwan, and one is in Palawan province in the South China Sea.
In its press release, the DOD explained that having access to these new sites is strategically vital because “In addition to the five existing sites, these new locations will strengthen the interoperability of the U.S. and Philippine Armed Forces and allow us to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”
What the DOD didn’t say, but Beijing and every China observer understand, is that these sites, with their proximity to Taiwan and the South China Sea, will enable the U.S. military to respond quickly in the event of China’s invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese embassy in the Philippines has been very critical of the EDCA and accused it of being part of “U.S. efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country.”
But what upset Xi most was Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the U.S. last week. Her meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was the highest profile for Taiwan’s president on U.S. soil. Nothing irritates the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) more than witnessing Taiwan’s political leaders gaining diplomatic exposure on the world stage. Although the CCP never ruled Taiwan, the party has long insisted that the self-governing island is merely a province of communist China. The CCP vehemently opposes any official interactions of Taiwan’s leaders with the rest of the world because it believes such interactions reinforce the independence movement in Taiwan.
When former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August, an enraged Beijing launched week-long live-fire drills and sent ballistic missiles over Taiwan, five of which landed in Japanese-controlled water. Beijing issued many warnings this time before McCarthy met with Tsai. But McCarthy let it know he wouldn’t allow the CCP to dictate when and how he interacted with Taiwan’s president.
The day before McCarthy and Tsai’s meeting in California, the People’s Liberation Army’s navy launched another live-fire drill, followed by a joint cruise and patrol operation in the Taiwan Strait. Notably, the Chinese military’s response has been more muted than last year, probably because Xi wanted to act more like a global statesman as he hosted French President Emmanuel Macron in Beijing last week.
Still, Xi was probably seething about Tsai’s warm welcome from McCarthy and his accompanying bipartisan congressional delegation. Yet Xi has only himself to blame for the growing public and political support in the U.S. for Taiwan. China’s rapid military build-up and Xi’s repeated vow not to give up “reuniting” with Taiwan by force have destabilized the region and threatened the security of U.S. allies from South Korea to Japan. The CCP’s political suppression in Hong Kong became a warning to the Taiwanese people and the rest of the world that Beijing had no intention of keeping its treaty promises. Should Taiwan reunite with communist China, the CCP will impose its authoritarian political model on the island as it has done to Hong Kong. Taiwanese people will lose their freedom and democracy.
Beijing’s cover-up of the Covid-19 outbreak in the early days of the pandemic and later how it stonewalled any effort to uncover the origin of the coronavirus have further eroded communist China’s international standing. Many nations learned from their pandemic experiences that Beijing is an unreliable global health and security partner.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese government’s successful handling of the pandemic and transparency has won the island many friends and much goodwill. Not surprisingly, government officials from the European Union to the United States have visited Taiwan post-pandemic, defying China’s furious condemnations and threats. Tsai’s high-profile visit to the U.S. last week, especially her meeting with McCarthy on U.S. soil, marked the peak of Taiwan’s diplomatic breakthrough. We could only imagine Xi’s fury.
China and Russia, two of America’s most significant adversaries, had a bad week as they both suffered some blows on the foreign policy front. Yet America cannot afford to sit back and relax. The Biden administration has devoted enormous resources to helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia, while offering the American people no vision of how the Russia-Ukraine war will end.
Should China’s Xi invade Taiwan, something that looks more and more likely as the days go by, the United States will have to face two nuclear powers with two of the largest armies in the world. The Biden administration hasn’t made the case to the American people about what the administration has done to prepare for such a dangerous scenario, what America’s commitment will be, and what strategic goals we hope to achieve.
Rhetoric and hashtags won’t keep either Taiwan or America safe. The lack of plans and communications from the Biden administration is worrisome.