The Taiwan Strait-  A likely arena for clash of arms [GS II, International Relations]

CONTEXT:

If the rising confrontation between U.S.A. and China erupts into a clash of arms, the likely arena may well be the Taiwan Strait. 

HISTORY/BACKGROUND:

  • Issue of Taiwan is still unresolved. In the 1945-49 civil war, the CCP forces under Mao Zedong defeated the Kuomintang (KMT) forces led by Chiang Kai-shek .

  •  Chiang retreated to Taiwan and set up a govt. that claimed authority over the whole of China and decided to recover mainland China.

  • The CCP committed to reclaim Taiwan to achieve the final reunification of China but failed, because during the Korean War of 1950-53, It became a military ally of the United States. China, though declares its commitment to pursue peaceful unification but reserves the right to use force also. 

The PRC has promised a high degree of independence to Taiwan under the “one country two systems” formula first applied to Hong Kong after its reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

  One country Two systems Formula :

To Hong Kong- It may retain its free market system with political and judicial Institutions and Processes, for a period of 50 years. 

To Taiwan, it was promised that it could also retain its armed forces during the transition period, alongwith same scheme of Hong-Kong.

Economic links between China and Taiwan:

Since 1978, China has been rising economically and commercially (in power) globally. Taiwan business entities have invested heavily in mainland China and the two economies have become increasingly integrated while Chinese investments in Taiwan are very low in comparison i.e. barely U.S. $2.4 billion, if Hong Kong is not considered.

  • Taiwanese capital investment in China (b/w 1991 and 2020) →  U.S. $188.5 billion

  •  Bilateral trade in 2019 → U.S. $150 billion

China hopes that the considerable economic benefits that Taiwan business and industry enjoy through a developing relationship with China would weaken opposition to its unification plan.

 If Taiwan is seen drifting towards an independent status, China is capable of causing economic pain on Taiwan through repressive policies.

IN THE POLITICS OF TAIWAN:

Taiwan has two major political parties:

  1. The KMT, who came to Taiwan along with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, remains committed to one-China policy and does not support Taiwanese independence

  2. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), representative of the indigenous population of Taiwan, favours independence.

However, faced with Chinese aggression and lack of international support, the demand for independence has been muted.

STANCE OF MAINLAND CHINA AGAINST TAIWAN:

 China feels comfortable with the KMT and is aggressive towards the DPP.

 Ever since the DPP won the presidential elections in 2016 (under Tsai Ing-wen) , China has taken back to a series of actions like economic pressures and military threats, which re-escalated since the re-election of Tsai Ing-wen in the 2020 elections.

CHINESE ACTIONS AND THEIR RESULTS: 

The increasing military threats against Taiwan, through daily violations of its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) and aggressive naval plans in the Taiwan Strait, are obstructive in nature.

With such Chinese actions, chances of peaceful unification have reduced. Sentiment in favour of Taiwanese independence have increased. 

INDIA’s STANCE: In pursuance of its Indo-Pacific strategy, India needs to be watchful of the China-U.S. equations in the region.

The U.S. stance:

 The U.S. recognised the PRC as the legal government of China in 1979.

While the U.S. does not support a declaration of independence by Taiwan, it has gradually reversed the policy of avoiding official-level engagements with the Taiwan government. 

In a recent incident, a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine ran into an “unidentified object” in the South China Sea. China has objected to these U.S. actions clearly.

In the latest telephone talk between President Joe Biden and Mr. Xi, Mr. Biden confirmed Mr. Xi that the U.S. will abide by the “Taiwan agreement”, i.e. the U.S. would not reverse its one China policy.

IS CHINA’S NEXT STEP TO INVADE TAIWAN MILITARILY ?

In March this year, the U.S. Pacific Commander, Philip Davidson, alerted that China could invade Taiwan within the next six years as part of its strategy to displace U.S. power in Asia. 

While other analysts gives different opinions like-

  • Cross-strait operations will be extremely complex 

  • Pacifying a hostile population may prove to be long drawn out and costly exercise.

  • China may await a further decline of U.S. power and its will to intervene in the Taiwanese defence.

Deterrence against China :

  • The recent crystallisation of the Quad (India a part of it) 

  • The announcement of the AUKUS alliance, with Australia promoted to a power with nuclear-powered submarines, may act as a check against Chinese moves on Taiwan.

TO CONCLUDE: For different reasons, Taiwan is emerging as a potential trigger point for a clash of arms between the U.S. and China. In pursuing its Indo-Pacific strategy, Indiahas to keep these possible scenarios in mind.

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