China’s muted reaction over a US military flight to Taiwan prompted criticism from nationalists online, underscoring the pressures on President Xi Jinping to follow through on heated “red line” rhetoric.
The US Air Force C-17 cargo plane made a three-hour stopover in Taipei to carry a bipartisan congressional delegation visiting Taiwan. Three US senators — Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Chris Coons and Republican Dan Sullivan — met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and announced plans to donate 750,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to help alleviate its shortage of shots.
Although Taiwanese media reported that it was the first C-17 visit since at least 1995, the Chinese response was relatively measured. State media including the official Xinhua News Agency didn’t report on the trip while the Chinese Foreign Ministry sidestepped a question about the plane and focused its criticism on the visit by American lawmakers.
Some nationalist voices in China demanded a stronger reaction to enforce Beijing’s view that the island is part of its territory, as video clips of the American plane at Taipei Songshan Airport circulated on Weibo. The most-liked comment on a post of C-17 photos said: “Our red line is no red line. If this is the case, how can foreigners treat Taiwan as part of China?”
Chinese social media users urged efforts to prevent the US from trying to slowly expand ties without provoking a conflict. “This is a salami-slicing move that is continuously pressing your red line,” one popular Weibo post said.
Such sentiment shows the difficult balancing act facing Xi’s government after years of escalating rhetoric and military activities intended to discourage closer ties between Taipei and Washington. Top Chinese officials have repeatedly vowed to prevent what they see as foreign interference in their affairs, while Foreign Minister Wang Yi specifically warned the US in March to stop “crossing lines and playing with fire” on Taiwan.