The idea that a US election can be shaken up by an “October surprise” is a well-worn staple of political commentary. Less discussed is the danger that, if China takes advantage of political confusion in the US to make a move on Taiwan, international affairs could be convulsed by a November or December surprise.
The din of the American campaign is drowning out increasingly aggressive words and actions by China, as it threatens to use military force to combat what it regards as intolerable “separatism” by Taiwan, which is, de facto, an independent state, but claimed by Beijing.
Chinese military aircraft now regularly cross the median line between Taiwan and the mainland, forcing the Taiwanese air force to scramble. Last week, a flight from Taiwan was prevented from reaching the Pratas Islands — a Taiwanese-controlled outpost in the South China Sea. The flight was turned back by Hong Kong air traffic control, which cited unspecified dangers in the area and said the airspace is now closed.
Aggressive rhetoric in the Chinese media has been ramped up. Earlier this month, Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a nationalist paper, wrote: “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war . . . The historical turning point is getting closer.”