Given months of heightened tensions, the recent Shangri-la Dialogue hosted in Singapore was an opportunity to calm U.S. – China relations through dialogue. That turned out to be a misguided hope, and in fact, the United States will need more than words to reset relations.
Events in Singapore were bookended by a dangerous Chinese air intercept and a purposeful near collision with a U.S. warship. Given the timing of these provocations, China’s leadership seems increasingly willing to take risks to test the U.S. resolve in asserting freedom of navigation and support to regional allies. Moreover, Beijing has been clear that dialogue will not happen until the United States “earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and security…” The problem is that these incidents occur in recognized international waters and airspace.
Given signals since Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last summer to Taiwan and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent visit to the United States in April, a more significant test of U.S. resolve is likely in the offing.
On the heels of April’s large-scale military operations around Taiwan, China’s Secretary General Xi Jinping visited the Southern Theater Command on April 11th, where major joint exercises are typically run in the summer. This could indicate planning for a larger and more aggressive drill soon, with Chairman Xi Jinping ordering his military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to “strengthen military training oriented toward actual combat.”