Taiwan: From status quo towards a fourth strait crisis | The Financial Express

Taiwan: From status quo towards a fourth strait crisis

Taiwan will be the next singular challenge at risk of China’s ambitions of global pre-eminence, authoritarian influence and coercion.

Taiwan: From status quo towards a fourth strait crisis
The speaker’s hard and clear note was one of US affirmation for Taiwan's Status as a vibrant democracy, commitment and unwavering support in line with its longstanding policy on Taiwan. (Representational image: Reuters)

Lt Gen (Dr) A S Lamba

Taiwan is a key part of his legacy and a requirement for China’s “national rejuvenation” China will never renounce the option of using force to achieve it” – President Xi Jinping at the 20th Congress of CPC.

Speaker Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan on August 4 as part of her four-nation itinerary marked a new phase in U.S. Power play, risks and conflict in the region, altering the geopolitics of the region significantly. The visit scripted a new narrative of U.S. Policy perspectives with greater clarity. The speaker’s hard and clear note was one of US affirmation for Taiwan’s Status as a vibrant democracy, commitment and unwavering support in line with its longstanding policy on Taiwan.

Pelosi’s visit capped her political pursuit of decades as a leading US critic of the Beijing government, signifying a long history of the US Congress taking a harder line than the White House in dealing with Beijing.

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Making this visit a pretext for provocation, China intensified its exercises raising risks of confrontation. China’s attempted Isolation of Taiwan militarily by blockades and access denial by warships in a series of “Command Air and Sea operations around Taiwan Island, and Aircraft crossing neutral lines and airspaces of the northern, South-Western, and South Eastern Taiwan Islands” were a state of operational readiness for a blitzkrieg for invasion.

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By War Norms and conventions, ICBMs and DF missiles fired over Taipei was an act of war.  If the US Patriot Missile systems and Taiwan’s Tien Kung II and III Missies in the integrated air defence deployment had responded by fire or were even activated, the conflict was unstoppable.

Missiles fired into Japan’s territorial waters, clearly underscored China’s intent of enlarging the arena of domination of Indo Pacific region and not just Taiwan. Meng Xiangqing, a professor at the National Defence University in Beijing said, “These are a clear signal to Taiwan authorities that China’s current drills had exceeded all previous ones in scale and deterrence.”

Reflecting the US perspective, US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns called PRC’s actions in and around the Taiwan Straits as threatening the status quo of many decades. Tagging Secretary of state Anthony Blinken’ calling China as the US’ “greatest geopolitical challenge of the 21st century”, Burns warned China against any “justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response” and that the world should hold Beijing accountable to maintain peace. U.S. President Joe Biden’s emphatic reiteration on his commitment to defend Taiwan in eventuality of unprecedented attacks” by China, is a distinct shift of the US position from “strategic ambiguity.” to “strategic clarity”, defining a foundational change for military planners.

Rearmed Taiwan

While Speaker Pelosi’s declared US commitment was explicit and unambiguous in strategic clarity, President Tsai stood firm on her position of “no room for compromise” over the “self-ruled island’s sovereignty”, as declared in her National Day speech on October 6.

The Senior Leadership of Taiwan including President Tsai have expressed serious concerns of the growing Chinese threat, while Foreign Minister Joseph WU, sharing serious concerns on violations of the median line urging its allies to help endure this demarcation line to safeguard peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait – Taiwan has hardened its Military readiness by its shift to an asymmetric approach based on the Overall Defence Concept (ODC), introduced by Admiral Lee in 2018, its current strategy for dealing with a potential Chinese invasion in a resource-constrained environment.

Rearming of Taiwan’s Military encompasses its 200 F-16s under upgrade to the Viper Version, acquisition of MQ-9B UAVs and HIMARS from the US, US upgrading its Patriot systems to PAC 3 system, integrated into the THAAD system deployed in South Korea making it a very potent posture for deterrence.

US’ New Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 having already cleared senate approval in September 22 , will bolster Taiwan’s defence capabilities, providing almost $4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years and designating Taiwan as a “Major Non-NATO Ally”, leading to a comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

Till the Policy Act is approved, the Accelerating Arms Transfers to Taiwan Act (H.R. 8842) already passed has made Taiwan eligible for priority delivery of excess defense articles.

Towards A Fourth Crisis

Given Xi’s “Reunification of Taiwan” as his topmost national priority in the recently concluded 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, for which plans have been practiced and battle drills rehearsed over several months, China could exploit strategic deception and surprise to prosecute a military option in timelines earlier than traditionally estimated. Taiwan will be the next singular challenge at risk of China’s ambitions of global pre-eminence, authoritarian influence and coercion.

In response, the US Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 has impelled a broader securitisation of Washington’s Taiwan policy that will comprehensively address any large-scale regional contingency of China’s creation. The US would require a “Triple Deterrence” capability that can restore the military balance in the region, ramp up Taiwan’s military strategy and create a resilient regional security architecture that addresses threats to both Taiwan and Japan.

Robert Ross’ wrote on the 1995-1990 Taiwan Strait Confrontation at its climax in March 1996, when China displayed a dramatic show of force consisting of military exercises and missile tests targeted Taiwan that was responded by an equally dramatic deployment of two carrier battle groups that brought the state to a close confrontation. This time, Military and Political build up by US, support by Indo Pacific Countries, QUAD Navies in Exercise Malabar, and declarations in the recent ASEAN Summit reflect the growing challenges for China. As New Zealand Herald of 09 November reports, with an all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee stacked with loyalists, Beijing was pivoting towards military and state power and Xi Jinping has asked Chinese military to prepare for war against Taiwan.

China, with its new “Single Point” Leadership and military might, is pushing Taiwan towards a Fourth Srait Crisis. Taiwan, US and their Allies must prepare for this crisis in significantly closer timelines, perhaps within next two years, contrary to traditional assessments.

(The author is the former Vice Chief of Army Staff. He presently heads IPCS and is a strategic Analyst, who has written extensively on International Relations, National Security and Strategy and Military Diplomacy. He is an alumnus of Kings College London.)

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First published on: 21-11-2022 at 13:03 IST