ISSN 2330-717X

US–China Sabre-Rattling Over Taiwan – OpEd

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The United States approach to Taiwan has remained consistent across decades and the “US has a longstanding one China policy”, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act …We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side; “We do not support Taiwan independence”… Consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the US makes available defense articles and services as necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability   and US maintains capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of Taiwan.(US Department of State -28 May 2022).

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Visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was ill-timed and provocative during the prevailing global situation which is already tense due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It was on America’s insistence on NATO’s eastern expansion that was a key factor that provoked Russia to invade Ukraine its neighbour in February. Was it America’s intention to reiterate its commitment to Taiwan’s democracy, play to the international gallery about its resolve or merely to test China?

National Security coordinator John Kirby, in Washington, reiterated   the above in a press briefing.  “We are clear that nothing has changed about our One China policy which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We do not support Taiwan’s independence.” The Biden administration continued to be “clear with the Chinese about where we stand on the issues and the One China policy and our support for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Having stated that position John Kirby has further unfortunately confused the World about the American policy that how does it stand with Taiwan as their own stand on One China policy is not clear to the world.

A different point of View on ‘One China policy’

The ROC government of Chiang Kai-shek’s  was overthrown and defeated in the 1949 civil war by the communists from mainland China and pushed, fled or withdrew to the Taiwan Island then part of the mainland China. Logically the Kuomintang government was on its own original Island which they were ruling having lost the mainland China to the communists. It continued to hold the seat of “China” at the UN and was a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power. ROC was formally expelled from the UN in 1979 by a vote of the General Assembly and replaced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. China points to  history to say that Taiwan was originally a Chinese province. But the Taiwanese point to the same history to argue that they were never part of the modern Chinese state  or the PRC that was established under Mao in 1949.So how was the island in illegal occupation of Chiang Kai-shek since 1949?

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Pandora’s Box was opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when in 2007, Taiwan approached the UN to process its application for full membership wanting to have its sovereignty legitimised by becoming a new member of the UN having lost the membership in 1979. However, Ban Ki-moon refused to accept the application on the grounds that in 1979 the UN General Assembly has approved Taiwan for all purposes to be an integral part of the PRC.” Before this statement, the UN had remained vague on the status of Taiwan. Why not both the countries could have been made members of the UN?

Sabre-Rattling Over and around Taiwan

Sabre-Rattling Over and around Taiwan commenced from the time US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan on the night of 02 August and even before when the visit was being planned. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) begun military exercises and training activities, including live-fire drills, in six large maritime areas around Taiwan island a near Blockade of the Island” to some extent. On 11 August afternoon, PLA’s Eastern Theater Command dispatched over 100 warplanes, and its Rocket Force launched fire assaults with multiple types of conventional missiles at several designated sea areas to the east of Taiwan island. Shortly after Pelosi landed, reportedly 20 Chinese military planes entered Taiwan’s airspace on the day of her arrival. On the same day, four US warships were deployed towards the east of the island. The US had said that these are “routine” deployments.

Pelosi; “Our visit,” she tweeted , “reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific.”  In travelling to the province, the Speaker was honouring  a commitment to democracy, “reaffirming that the freedoms of Taiwan – and all democracies – must be respected.”

Reunification of Taiwan:President Xi

For China and President Xi, nothing is more important than the acquisition of the lost territories and the reunification of China. China’s President Xi  has said “Reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled   and does not rule out the possible use of force to achieve this.Mao had made it clear to Kissinger that China would be patient providing the One-China policy was strictly observed and the Taiwanese government did not declare independence. According to Kissinger, Mao said, “We can do without Taiwan for the time being, and let it come after 100 years.” 

China  provided the right opportunity for show of force 

China’s policy toward the offensive strategy of the US has been defensive. China at the moment knows it cannot match the US and is building up through its economic power. While Washington has already started considering China as their primary enemy in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region. China does not want to be an enemy of the US. But if the US strategy is to push China into a hostile position, then China has only one option that is to react forcefully. 

Despite the tough rhetoric between the two powers and the mounting tensions, China was not looking to start a war over Pelosi’s visit and was seeking to stage a show of force for which the visit has provided the right opportunity.For the moment, Chinese President Xi is focused on enhancing the economy and securing his third term and yet do the power projection.

The situation between the two powers compared to two decades back is very different, now it is aggressively contested and is a much more lethal environment.The new military might on either side is changing the strategic environment for the US and Taiwan, raising the potential risks of a conflict. Chinese President Xi , unlike his predecessors, now has a capable worthy military power at his disposal which prompts at times overconfidence in his decision-making. 

Taiwan is becoming a testing ground to test the brinkmanship of both the leaders.However, a mistaken spark can be disastrous to both the powers and the world when the Russia-Ukraine conflict is far from over. The two countries need to reaffirm the basic principles of their long-held and shared understanding over Taiwan.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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