NICHOLAS WILCOX WRITES – As countries around the globe focus on combating the coronavirus by slowing their economies to a near-halt and hunkering down indefinitely, China keeps on grinding. In a move that experts in Beijing-Taipei relations are calling “unprecedented,” China carried out a nighttime military air exercise in close proximity to Taiwanese soil. On March 16, Chinese J-11 fighters and KJ-500 aircraft were detected near Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry.
The historically sour relations between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (China) have worsened since the 2016 election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. While the Taiwanese government has alerted people to the Chinese drills and ensured that there is no cause for alarm, these air exercises do indeed show a growing pattern of agitation, especially since Tsai Ing-Wen supports Taiwanese independence. So China has been running “island encirclement” drills in which Chinese jets, bombers, and other aircraft patrol the island, making it known that the use of force to bring the island fully under the power of the PRC is never out of the question.
Meanwhile, as they try to brush off the threat of invasion, the Taiwanese response to the Coronavirus has proven incredibly effective and perhaps one that the world can use as a model. Despite having a population of over 23 million people, there have only been 67 reported cases in the country as of March 16. The number has been kept low due to early response measures such as closing of the borders, contact tracing and wide-spread sharing of information with the public.
No wonder the island was fully prepared for the impact of the virus. Frustrated and angry that the Chinese government has raised tensions since 2016, why would the Taiwanese expect it to muster all its resources and assets to keep the virus at bay? The U.S. State Department has called the military exercises “completely inappropriate.” It seems that it has been easier to keep the coronavirus, rather than the Chinese, at bay.
However, spirits remain optimistic. In an address to her people on March 19, President Ing-wen said “Taiwan has demonstrated its resilience and strength during this pandemic, and nations around the world should step up collaboration to stop the coronavirus — and Taiwan can help.” Hopefully this call for collaboration can be one for diplomacy as well, between even the most unlikely of pairs.