Military Incident In The Taiwan Strait Highlights Fragile US-China Relations

On June 4th, 2023 a Chinese navy ship and the American destroyer “USS Chung-Hoon” escaped a near collision in the Taiwan Strait. CBS news reported that the near collision occurred when the Chinese ship cut into the course of the American Destroyer, which had to reduce its speed in order to avoid a fateful clash. The American destroyer was conducting a “freedom of navigation” transit together with the Canadian frigate HMCS Montreal in the Taiwan Strait. The incident highlights the fragile relationship between the United States and China and could indicate a future escalation.

Brad Lendon and Eric Cheung reported in their CNN article entitled “China accuses US of ‘provocation’ after near collision of warships” that Montreal’s commander, Captain Paul Mountford, condemned the behaviour of the Chinese ship as “not professional.” Furthermore, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin called Saturday’s incident as “extremely dangerous” and pointed out that “accidents could happen that could cause things to spiral out of control.”

The incident highlights the strained relationship between the United States and China, particularly regarding Taiwan, a subject partly responsible for the deterioration of US-China relations in the last couple of years. CBS News highlighted in their article entitled “Navy releases video of U.S. destroyer’s close call with Chinese warship in Taiwan Strait”, that China regards Taiwan as part of Chinese territory including the Strait. The United States, on the other hand, who supports Taiwan’s independence and sovereignty, maintains that the waters are international and therefore continues sailing through them. Brad Lendon and Eric Cheung reported that China’s defence minister, Li Shangfu, accused the United States of provoking conflict in the Indo-Pacific and that the United States and its allies should keep their military assets away from Chinese territory if they wanted to avoid conflict. The incident on June 4th follows other events that have severely strained US-China relations. This includes the aggressive maneuverer by a Chinese fighter jet in the presence of a US spy plane two weeks ago as well as China’s rejection of a meeting with Defence Secretary Llyod Austin.

While the near collision, as well as other recent incidents, demonstrate tense US-China relations, efforts are nevertheless being continued to foster diplomatic ties. Felicia Schwartz reported in her Financial Times article entitled “US prepared to address ‘aggressiveness’ of Chinese military” that two senior US officials, namely the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and National Security Council senior director for China and Taiwan affairs Sarah Beran, met with Chinese officials in Beijing on June 5th, 2023. The aim of the meeting was to improve the communication between Beijing and Washington. DW reported in their article entitled “US-China talks foster optimism and lingering tensions” that both parties reported on Tuesday that the discussions on Monday were productive and positive. This meeting shows that the United States and China have to increase their diplomatic ties in order to strengthen their fragile relationship and avoid further military incidents. They can only achieve this by communicating with each other. By increasing their diplomatic ties and communicating more, military conflict might be prevented.

Both countries are aware that an open conflict will be disastrous, it is therefore not surprising that the meeting on Monday took place. However, it cannot be neglected that the current US-China relationship is extremely tense as was seen by the incident last Saturday. However, the talks between the US and Chinese officials show that there is a willingness between the two parties to uphold their diplomatic ties. These diplomatic ties have to be further strengthened. This might be difficult due to the different preferences of the two nations. Especially Taiwan remains a serious issue, but by increasing diplomatic and economic relations, the United States might be able to support Taiwan’s sovereignty, without causing a military conflict. A military conflict between the United States and China would affect the whole world, and therefore needs to be prevented by ensuring that Beijing and Washington uphold their communication. At the end of the day, it is likely that trade between the United States and China will prevent a military conflict, however the fragile relationship of the two countries cannot be underestimated.