In the latest show of US support for Taiwan, a group of US senators flew to the island on a military aircraft on Sunday, a trip that drew sharp condemnation from Beijing.
Senators Dan Sullivan (D-AK), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Chris Coons (D-DE) arrived in Taiwan aboard a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane to announce the US was donating 750,000 Covid-19 vaccines to the island. According to Reuters, US officials typically visit Taiwan in unmarked private jets.
On Tuesday, China denounced the visit. "The US senators visited Taiwan by military plane, using the Taiwan issue to engage in a 'political show', challenging the one-China principle and trying to achieve the so-called goal of 'using Taiwan to control China,'" the Chinese Defense Ministry said.
Since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979, the US has always provided weapons to Taiwan and sailed the occasional warship through the sensitive Taiwan Strait. But in recent years, the US has taken steps to boost diplomatic ties with Taipei, and US warships and warplanes are now almost constantly operating in the region.
Chinese-based analysts told The South China Morning Post that the increased US support for Taiwan makes China taking military action to take the island more likely.
"Everyone is watching to see how Beijing will react," said Liu Weidong, a US affairs specialist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It is heading towards a bad situation … if the US keeps adding pressure on Beijing then it seems there will be only one option left: military reunification."
Zhu Songling, a professor with the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Beijing Union University, said growing nationalism among mainland Chinese is putting pressure on Beijing to take a more hardline stance.
"If the US continues these gestures and keeps trying to strengthen official ties with Taiwan, as well as the military relationship and other official communications, then this will be seen as provocative. Public opinion could move further in the direction of military action," Zhu said.
The US officially maintains a policy of "strategic ambiguity" concerning Taiwan and a possible Chinese invasion. But there are growing calls among China hawks in Washington for the US to adopt a policy of "strategic clarity" that would mean the US would commit to going to war for Taiwan if Beijing moves to take the island. The policy change in itself would be a major provocation towards China and make conflict more likely.