Taiwan Now the 'Flashpoint' for Biden Administration's China Policy, Flournoy Says

The USS John S. McCain conducts routine underway operations.
In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain conducts routine underway operations in support of stability and security for a free and open Indo-Pacific, at the Taiwan Strait, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Markus Castaneda/U.S. Navy via AP)

When the Navy carrier Roosevelt entered the South China Sea on the same day Chinese bombers and fighters flew into Taiwan's airspace, it signaled how difficult it will be for the Biden administration to craft a new China policy, former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy said Monday.

"Taiwan has really become the flashpoint" of U.S. China relations following efforts in the waning days of the Trump administration to bolster military ties to Taiwan, said Flournoy, who was widely expected to be nominated to lead the Pentagon under Biden. The job of defense secretary ultimately went to Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.

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The Trump administration's actions "poked China in the eye on this issue," adding another level of tension to an already fraught relationship with Beijing, Flournoy said.

The result will be an "all China, all the time" focus in the Biden administration's policy review, U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, said retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Central Command and

"The possible flashpoints include, obviously, Taiwan," said Petraeus, who joined Flournoy for a virtual Council on Foreign Relations discussion of the strategic issues facing the U.S. in 2021.

On Sunday, U.S. Indo-Pacific command announced that the Roosevelt strike group had passed into the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day Taiwan charged that at least eight Chinese bombers and four fighters flew into its claimed airspace.

The Command made no reference to the Taiwanese charge, saying that the Roosevelt's presence was "to ensure freedom of the seas" and "build partnerships that foster maritime security."

However, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the U.S. was urging China "to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan's democratically-elected representatives."

In a statement, Taiwan's defense ministry said that as the Chinese bombers and fighters approached, "airborne alert sorties had been tasked, radio warnings issued and air defense missile systems deployed to monitor the activity."

In the wide-ranging CFR discussion, Flournoy said the task of deterring China while seeking avenues of cooperation was hindered by divisions in the U.S.

"I am concerned about the risks of miscalculation" in deterring China, she said, but "what concerns me most is what we've been going through in the U.S. -- the mishandling of the pandemic, the incredibly dire economic impact that's had on us, and the internal political divisions that erupted in violence and attacks on our own democracy."

Those struggles, Flournoy said, "[Feed] the narrative of U.S. decline."

"If you watch China or Russia TV, you see the tapes of chaos [in the U.S.] over and over and over again, she said. "And if they really start to believe their own propaganda about us, that could increase their risk-taking."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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