Which Asian Countries Support China in the Taiwan Strait Crisis – and Which Don’t?

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Which Asian Countries Support China in the Taiwan Strait Crisis – and Which Don’t?

An analysis of foreign ministry statements from across the Asia-Pacific region reveals which countries are hewing close to China’s line, which lean toward the U.S., and which are staying neutral.

Which Asian Countries Support China in the Taiwan Strait Crisis – and Which Don’t?

This handout photo from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense shows a PLA J-11 fighter jet, which the MND says encroached on Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on Aug. 4, 2022.

Credit: Ministry of National Defense, ROC (Taiwan)

It seems every country in the Asia-Pacific region can agree on one thing: The current situation in the Taiwan Strait is concerning and poses a potential threat to peace and stability throughout the region. But beyond that baseline, countries diverge sharply, especially on who is to blame for the current tensions – the United States, for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan; or China, for its provocative and precedent-breaking military drills around the island.

China claims that international consensus is on its side. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on August 8 that “more than 170 countries… have voiced staunch support for China on the Taiwan question through various means.” China’s supporters “form an overwhelming majority versus the US and its few followers,” Wang added.

However, what China claims as “support” encompasses a wide range of nuance. Some partners, notably Russia and North Korea, have joined China in explicitly condemning the United States for Pelosi’s visit and blamed Washington for stirring up the current tensions, but they are few. Far more have voiced positions closely aligned with China’s without explicitly criticizing the United States, and many have stayed neutral, merely expressing “concerns” without ascribing blame.

On the other end of the scale, several countries – including some listed by China as among its supporters – have used rhetoric that more closely aligns with the position taken by the United States and Taiwan, emphasizing the risks of escalation over China’s claims that its sovereignty was violated. And a few countries, close U.S. allies Australia and Japan, have explicitly condemned China’s actions as destabilizing and escalatory.

To tease out these nuances, I examined official foreign ministry statements, press releases, and on-the-record comments to media outlets from 33 counties in the Asia-Pacific region, encompassing East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and Australia and New Zealand. I then rated their statements on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being rhetoric most closely aligned with China’s and 5 the least aligned (or, phrased another way, matching the U.S. and Taiwanese positions). The results are mapped below; countries closer to China’s position are in shades of red; those closer to the U.S. are in blue, with neutral countries in yellow.

Three countries are most forward-leaning in their support of China: Myanmar, North Korea, and Russia. All three explicitly blame the United States for provoking the current tensions. The statement from Myanmar’s military government said that Pelosi’s visit “is causing escalation of tensions on the Taiwan Straits.” North Korea, meanwhile, railed against “the impudent interference of the U.S. in internal affairs of other countries and its intentional political and military provocation.” Russia spoke of “problems and crises created by Washington” and accused the United States of “violating” the “fundamental principle of the sovereign equality of states.”

This level of support is rare, but another 10 countries expressed positions closely in line with China’s without condemning the United States directly. These countries’ statements meet one or more of the following criteria: they express the position that Taiwan “is an inalienable part of China”; they express support for or concern about violations of “China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”; and/or they call for “non-interference” in China’s internal affairs. All of these closely match Beijing’s talking points.

Pakistan’s statement is a useful example of states in category 2:

Pakistan reaffirms its strong commitment to ‘One-China’ Policy and firmly supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pakistan is deeply concerned over the evolving situation in the Taiwan Strait, which has serious implications for regional peace and stability… Pakistan strongly believes that inter-state relations should be based on mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs, and peaceful resolution of issues by upholding of principles of UN charter, international law and bilateral agreements.

Another six countries adopted what I would categorize as true neutral positions, a 3 on the 1-5 scale. These countries issued statements of “concern” and called on “all parties” to exercise restraint and caution and refrain from escalating the situation. Their statements may reference both “sovereignty” and “escalation” concerns, reflecting both Chinese and U.S. talking points. Indonesia’s statement, for example, says that “​Indonesia is deeply concerned with the increasing rivalry among major powers” and “calls on all parties to refrain from provocative actions that may worsen the situation.” There is no mention of specific actions that sparked Indonesia’s concern.

Four countries – India, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam – positioned themselves closer to the United States, while not directly condemning China. These countries (category 4) mentioned the need to “de-escalate tensions” and “exercise restraint” – language used by Washington – without similar expressions of concern about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Singapore, for example, “emphasized the need to avoid miscalculation and accidents, which could lead to an escalatory spiral and destabilize the region.” India, which delayed making any comment at all for 10 days after Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, finally remarked that “We urge the exercise of restraint, avoidance of unilateral actions to change status quo, de-escalation of tensions and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, just two countries – Australia and Japan – joined the United States and Taiwan in directly criticizing China for its military exercises near Taiwan. Japan, in a joint statement with the other G-7 foreign ministers, denounced “threatening actions by the People’s Republic of China.” Australia said it was “deeply concerned about the launch of ballistic missiles by China into waters around Taiwan’s coastline,” which Canberra called “disproportionate and destabilizing.”

One final note: Reaffirmations of the “One China policy” do not factor into this scale, for the simple reason that every single country that issued a statement included such rhetoric – including the United States, which clearly disagrees with China’s position. China’s Foreign Ministry, however, routinely includes countries’ reiteration of their commitment to the “One China policy” as proof of their support, even when the rest of the statement clearly signals otherwise.

A number of Asia-Pacific countries did not issue formal statements at all, with South Korea, a U.S. ally, being the most notable omission.

Countries’ positioning on the recent Taiwan Strait crisis maps closely onto broader geopolitical positioning. Governments that are generally aligned more closely to the U.S. or China matched those inclinations in their statements on Taiwan. But a large chunk of the region – including almost all of Southeast Asia – does not want to take sides at all.