Many prominent analysts believe that a crisis is brewing on the island and the chances of war are very likely.
China considers establishing full control over Taiwan its number one priority, Admiral John Aquilno said at a congressional hearing in March, confirming he was the next commander of US forces in the Peaceful. We need to be ready today because, in my opinion, this problem is much closer to us than most think. Retired General HR McMaster agrees. Taiwan is currently the most important flashpoint that could lead to full-scale war, the former US national security adviser said last month.
Over the past four decades, the United States has played a pivotal role in deterring China from using force against Taiwan, as Beijing cannot be sure that the United States would stand aside in the face of it. Chinese aggression. Likewise, the United States has dissuaded Taiwan from seeking formal independence, as Taipei cannot be certain that the United States would come to its defense if it provoked a Chinese attack. Taiwan has long been the most volatile issue between the United States and China, and both sides have avoided war by leaving the question of who really owns the island unresolved.
So, is this constructive ambiguity, as President Joe Biden likes to call it, finally coming to an end? An increasingly assertive president, Xi Jinping, is he about to pursue his goal of reclaiming what he sees as his country’s loss of territory? The US Pacific Fleet and Taiwanese voters have twice elected a leader who rejects the claim that the two sides are part of one China.
But why is Taiwan so important to Beijing? You have to go back to 1895 and the humiliating defeat of the Chinese Qing Dynasty by losing Taiwan to Japan to understand why the island’s reunification with mainland China has been a rallying cry for generations of Chinese. Current tensions date back to the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when US ally Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalists abandoned the mainland to communist Mao Zedongs and established the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan. Washington recognized Chiang as China’s rightful leader until former President Richard Nixon in 1979 established formal diplomatic relations with the Communist government in Beijing. It was in the spirit of China becoming one of us that Washington recognized the People’s Republic (PRC) as China’s only legal government, without clarifying its position on Taiwan sovereignty. A constructive ambiguity arose and Taiwan gradually transformed into a de facto independent democracy without officially declaring its independence.
Since then, Taiwan has grown into one of the most successful societies in the world. A flourishing democracy governed by the rule of law, it organizes fair and free elections, protects the political and human rights of its citizens, has free and competitive media, supports religious diversity and is a responsible international actor. Compare all this with the autocratic and shameful PRC, and it will be obvious why the population of 23 million is so reluctant to support reunification. The numbers speak for themselves. Last year, following the presidential elections which recorded an impressive turnout of 75%, a survey found that 79.7% of those polled said democracy was the best system of government for Taiwan.
With high technology (Taiwan dominates the global microchip technology market) and a sophisticated corporate culture, Taiwan became the top performing economy in Asia in 2020, overtaking the PRC for the first time. This came as strong global demand for island technology exports surpassed the modest success of Covid-19 (911 confirmed infections and 8 deaths to date), producing growth of 2.98%, compared to to RPCs of 2.58%.
It is therefore not surprising that a vibrant and wealthy society, with a GDP per capita almost three times that of the PRC, is not enthusiastic about joining the continent. Until recently, the former ruling Kuomintang party favored closer ties with Beijing and eventual reunification, but China’s recent brutal actions in Hong Kong have given Taiwanese a glimpse of their possible future. In his 2019 New Year’s message, Xi Jinping demanded that Taiwan look to the one country and two systems approach as a model for future relations, but after the recent brutal crackdown in Hong Kong and Xis who criticized his treaty on two systems, the Taiwanese people gave a no thanks. Either way, young people in Taiwan have no emotional attachment to the past and want to preserve the only way of life they have known.
Without any possibility for a voluntary Taiwan to return to the mainland, the only option left for Beijing to achieve its objective is to take the island by military force. Even Deng Xiaoping, X is a less aggressive predecessor, said in 1984 If the (Taiwan) problem cannot be solved by peaceful means, then it must be solved by force. So is Xi planning military action?
You might think so in light of Chinese military activity in the region. Last year, 380 Chinese military aircraft incursions into Taiwan’s airspace were recorded. Just last week, more than 20 Chinese military planes, some with nuclear capabilities, carried out exercises simulating an operation against US warships off the coast of the islands. Two months earlier, Chinese fighter jets and bombers had simulated missile attacks on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, spending two days entering and exiting the Taiwans air defense zone, just days after. the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States.
And it’s not just in the air. A year ago, China sailed on one of its two aircraft carriers (two more, both nuclear-powered, are under construction) in a show of force across the Taiwan Strait, one of the most militarized areas in the world. China’s naval forces have grown dramatically over the past decade, even overtaking the United States. Over the past five years, the country has produced five times as many ships a year as the United States Navy. The Chinese Navy is now expected to have over 550 ships and submarines by 2030, while the US Navy is struggling to figure out how to get 350. Most of the ships built by Beijing are amphibious warships, which are associated with an expanding marine corps. , would play a critical role in any possible invasion of Taiwan.
But would it really be in Beijing’s best interests to carry out a full invasion? Although possible, this option would involve enormous risks, not only for Taiwan but also for China, whose image in the world would suffer a catastrophic decline. The United States would also face the dilemma of whether to intervene, which could spark a war between two superpowers. China is likely to deem the costs of such a violent confrontation to be too high, compared to the benefits, leaving only an invasion as a last resort.
A more likely scenario would be China’s use of military power to control access to the island by air and sea, effectively asserting sovereign control over Taiwan, while allowing the people to run their own affairs. With the United States having sent large amounts of weapon systems to Taiwan that could theoretically be used against China, Beijing could argue that this action is simply analogous to the United States’ action against Cuba in 1962. The foundation for this quarantine scenario was laid in January of this year. when China passed a new law allowing its coast guard vessels to use any means necessary against foreign vessels and to board and inspect such vessels in waters claimed by Beijing.
A third scenario is for China to demonstrate its might and intentions by invading one or more of the many offshore islands controlled by the Taiwanthe Crimea option. This could be Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, or the Pratas Islands (also called Dongsha) closer to China and Taiwan, or perhaps the Penghu Islands (also called the Pescadores) closer to Taiwan. Off mainland China are Kinmen and Matsu Islands, both with large populations of thousands, which would be the easiest to invade. Beijing might be tempted to bet that the Taiwanese defenders of these islands wouldn’t fight and simply surrender, making this option a low-risk activity. But what would China have achieved in this scenario? Rather than settling the underlying question of Taiwan sovereignty, they could have only made it worse.
So what is the likelihood that China will use any of these scenarios against Taiwan? Many prominent analysts believe that a crisis is brewing on the island and the chances of war are very likely. US Indo-Pacific Command Commander Admiral Philip Davidson told a Senate committee this year that he expects action in the next six years or sooner. However, other experts believe that Beijing will only apply pressure on Taiwan just below the threshold for triggering a US military response, but sufficient to convince the people of Taiwan that it does not have to. no choice but to be part of China.
All eyes are on two dates when Jinping might decide to step into Taiwan: July 1 of this year, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party; and the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022, key to confirming the extension of Xis’ position as Chinese leader for a third term. Although Xi Jinping seems reasonably safe, he has a lot of enemies. Over one million party members have been jailed or punished by Xis’ extrajudicial anti-corruption campaign. Senior party officials still play cards close to their chests, but not everyone is believed to be happy with Xis’ performance. Will he decide to increase his popularity at home and get a third term by imitating Putin’s approach in Crimea? Just as Putin rekindled his waning popularity with a military enterprise overseas, Xi Jinping was able to secure his future by using military force to achieve China’s cherished goal of bringing Taiwan back into the fold. So will he decide that it’s time to start using the military capacity that China has spent more than two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars building? We may soon find out.
John Dobson is a former British diplomat, who also worked in the office of British Prime Minister John Majors between 1995 and 1998.
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