The US is helping Taiwan battle Covid-19. To China, that's a provocation

Taiwan is finally getting much-needed help from the United States to fight its spiraling coronavirus outbreak. But to Beijing, the offer is a major provocation that risks escalating both cross-strait and US-China relations.

A delegation of US senators visited Taiwan on Sunday morning local time to announce the donation of 750,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called the vaccines "timely rain" for the island, which has only vaccinated 3% of its population and on Saturday recorded its highest daily Covid death toll of 37 fatalities.

"It was critical to the United States that Taiwan be included in the first group to receive vaccines because we recognize your urgent need and we value this partnership," Sen. Tammy Duckworth said during the three-hour visit.

The donation is likely to draw the ire of Beijing, which has bridled at Taipei's apparent refusal to accept its offer of Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines. Taipei, on the other hand, has accused Beijing of blocking its efforts to purchase vaccines internationally, rather than trying to help.

When delivering his welcoming remarks to the US visitors on Sunday, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu again criticized Beijing. "While we are doing our best to import vaccines, we must overcome obstacles to ensure that these lifesaving medicines are delivered free of trouble from Beijing. Taiwan is no stranger to this kind of obstruction," he said.

But the biggest poke in the eye to Beijing is perhaps not Wu's comments or the vaccine donation deal itself, but the US military aircraft parked on the runway.

US senators are seen in front of the US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III freighter upon their arrival at Taipei's Songshan Airport on June 6.

The American delegation arrived at Taiwan's Songshan Airport on a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III freighter -- a primary strategic lift aircraft for the US military.

Previously, US officials and politicians had flown to Taiwan on the C-40, a military version of the Boeing 737 commercial airliner, according to Taiwan's Central News Agency.

The presence of a US military transport plane capable of transporting troops and cargo -- including artillery, battle tanks and helicopters -- in Taiwan is likely to spark a blistering response from Beijing.

Already, the state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times has lashed out at the unusual choice of aircraft. "They want to make the landing of C-17 in the island a fact that must be accepted by the mainland, paving the way for the US and Taiwan to further escalate their collusion," it said in an editorial Sunday.

In a separate report, the newspaper quoted Lv Xiang, an international relations expert from a government-backed think tank, as saying the visit was "the most serious provocation" from the US since Biden took office, and that the mainland "will not sit idly by."

Previously, Chinese state media has threatened against the presence of US military aircraft in Taiwan with war. Last August, amid reports a US Navy spy plane might have taken off from Taiwan, the Global Times said Taipei and Washington were "playing with fire."

"If the island has made arrangements of take-offs and landings of US military jets, it is crossing the Chinese mainland's red line to safeguard national unity. This will be very serious," it said in an editorial on August 31.

"If the mainland has conclusive evidence, it can destroy the relevant airport in the island and the US military aircraft that land there -- a war in the Taiwan Straits will thus begin."

In its Sunday editorial, however, the Global Times seems to have toned down its war talk, calling instead for prudence in Beijing's response.

"We have the actual freedom to take actions that we believe are necessary. What we need to consider is that the effects must be positive and political benefits must outweigh the costs by far," it said.

News courtesy-