Conflict Alerts # 504, 20 April 2022
In the news
On 14 April, a six-member bipartisan Congressional delegation led by the United States senator, Lindsey Graham, visited Taiwan to discuss US-Taiwan relations and regional security. On the same day, the eastern command of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) held military drills, using bombers, aircraft and warships around Taiwan in response to the US officials' visit to Taiwan. On 15 April, during the visit, Graham said: “We have a strong military, not to take other people’s property but to protect our freedom and the freedom of the world. We’re here in this part of the world not to conquer but to be a good ally.”
On 15 April, post the meeting with the US delegation, the Taiwan Foreign Ministry said: “In the face of increasing threats to international peace and stability brought about by China's authoritarian expansion, Taiwan continues to improve its self-defence capabilities.”
On 15 April, after the military drill, PLA eastern theatre command, colonel Shi said: “This operation is in response to the recent frequent release of wrong signals by the US on the Taiwan issue. The US bad actions and tricks are completely futile and very dangerous. Those who play with fire will burn themselves.’’
Issues at large
First, the recent US interactions in Taiwan. A series of US delegations visited Taiwan amidst the Ukraine crisis. The visits were focused on collective action to maintain regional security, military deterrence, finance collaborations, and developing green technology. One such important action taken by the US is the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, which proposes Taiwan taking part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), military exercise. Under this, it recommends cooperation between the National Guard and Taiwan, mandates Taiwan to provide a report on its “asymmetric defensive capabilities,” and drafts policy objectives on partnering with Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region. The US is strengthening its presence in Taiwan to discourage China from any military adventurism. It does not want a Ukraine-like situation in Taiwan. On the economic front, the US senate seeks to bolster Taiwan’s participation in the WHO and other international forums to build resilience against China’s economic coercion. Apart from the military and economic aspects, the US has also been focusing on maintaining close ties through increased military exchange with its allies, Australia and Japan to be ready in case of a conflict in Taiwan.
Second, China’s response. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and believes reunification is inevitable in the long run. It has gradually increased its military drills around Taiwan and the South China Sea by deploying heavy bombers, aircraft and patrol vehicles. Recently China is observed to be expanding its nuclear capabilities, carrying out a series of hypersonic weapon tests, and flying its warplanes in air-defence identification zone (ADIZ) of Taiwan. Which has triggered fear, questioning the military action of Taiwan against China in case of an incursion. At the economic level, its recent focus has been in bridging Taiwan with its semiconductor industry. Taiwan being the largest producer with 90 per cent contribution to high-end semiconductor products in the world.
Third, Taiwan’s strategy to counter China. Taiwan is fearful of Beijing’s long-standing reunification aspirations but the government and the public want the status quo. China’s increasing military drills and aircraft incursions have pushed Taiwan to rethink its security and economic strategies. Taiwan believes that the war in Ukraine might provoke China to launch against Taiwan in the future. Taiwan’s military is found to be training with US-made Javelin missiles after its success in the Ukraine war. It also plans to extend its “mandatory military service requirement,” to prepare against China. Other strategies opted by Taiwan are, sending its military delegation to Sweden and Finland to learn about their civilian defence programme.
First, China’s apprehensions. Taiwan is roughly 100 miles away from the coast of southeast China. The US indulging in intense strategic ties with Taiwan may ruin the probability of China's great rejuvenation and will nurture the credibility of the US-led western order in east Asia. China could try to strengthen its economic ties with Taiwan, especially in the semiconductor industry. Second, the possibility of a Ukraine-like situation in Taiwan. Drawing lessons from Ukraine, and the failure to get Russia under immediate control through sanctions, the West has opted to increase its military support to help Ukraine win the war. Similarly, the US on the decision to support Taiwan can end up supplying high-end weapons sooner than Ukraine to counter China as the economic dependency is more complex. But, if the US decides to underplay in a conflict situation prioritizing its interests, then Taiwan might become the next Hong Kong.