Will Beijing perform Moscow’s approach to obtain reunification with Taiwan

 By Soumyodeep Deb
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The ongoing Russia and Ukraine conflict is spiralling out of control, with Moscow now planning to annex major parts of Ukraine. The cause of the outbreak is taken to be Russian aggression due to Ukraine’s growing push to join the western camp and NATO.[1] The rattles of the conflict can also be felt in Indo-Pacific, mainly in the context of China’s military invasion of Taiwan. The analogy between Russia and Ukraine and China and Taiwan are very similar as both have an attachment of nationalistic sentiments, and the factor of western influence is seen as a threat to once security. The current dynamics with China’s growing incursion of Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) points that a similar kind of military manoeuvre in the east cannot be ruled out.[2] Beijing had conducted 380 air intrusion sorties into Taiwanese ADIZ in 2020, which had increased to 950 intrusions in 2021.[3] There is also the growing urban public opinion supporting an armed invasion and unification of Taiwan with the mainland. [4]

For Beijing, the unification of Taiwan is considered its fundamental objective to attain the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. However, Taiwan, under Tsai Ing-wen’s DPP, is aggressively pushing the agenda of independence. Therefore Beijing labels DPP as a separatist force hurting Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. This ultimately led the Chinese president to point out that Beijing has the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its legitimate control.[5] This clearly shows that a similar situation like Ukraine is very much on the cards if things escalate across the strait. US House of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan clearly articulates this argument as Beijing had responded to her visit with a major military exercise around the island. The military exercise, which was pointed to as “special military operations”, had instigated the debate that it was a simulation of Beijing’s actual attack plan on the island.[6] The ferocity and the assessments regarding the exercise had pushed the international community on the backfoot as a major invasion of the island was looking very imminent.

This has, therefore, led to the debate on what implication will the Ukraine crisis have on Taiwan. As pointed out by the Taiwanese president, Taiwan should keep a very close eye on the activities around its vicinity. However, she mentioned that the island’s situation and that of Ukraine are “fundamentally different”.[7] The position that the current situation regarding Ukraine, if not handled carefully, will reciprocate in other parts was also laid by former British PM Boris Johnson. He pointed out that if the western nations fail to fulfil their support towards Ukraine, it can have dangerous consequences worldwide, including Taiwan.[8] However, the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson rubbished any linkage between Taiwan and Ukraine, saying, “Taiwan is not Ukraine”.[9] But as pointed out by some Chinese state media editors, Beijing must support Russia so that it gets the support back when it fights Taiwan. [10]

Being a core national security issue, China will keep all doors open for national unification, and as mentioned above, military options will also lay open. As the Chinese defence ministry spokesperson pointed out, the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) won’t stop its action unless the separatist in Taiwan stop their provocation.[11] He further points out that the PLA is obliged to fight the separatists and deter any action towards Taiwan’s independence. Therefore, it can be argued that China will be a vigilant watcher of this recent conflict and the west’s response toward Moscow. This can help Beijing calculate the outcomes that it might face if Beijing has to militarily unify Taiwan with the mainland.

But the method adopted by Russia against Ukraine, can that be reciprocated by China on Taiwan? It can be argued that with both Russia and China having far superior military capability vis vie its adversary but the situation won’t be the same for China. For China to invade Taiwan, it has to navigate 100 miles of water across the Taiwan Strait. Unlike Russia, which had the capability to drive across the border.[12] Also, in terms of military strength, the Taiwanese military has superior capability to the Ukrainian armed forces, which would create a challenge for China.[13] Recently, Taipei has been ramping its defence with major procurements like modified F-16s from the US,[14] development of indigenous long-range cruise missiles etc.[15] Along with that, the government has also pledged to increase its defence budget exponentially. Also, the geo-political significance of Taiwan is far more significant for the US and the world when compared to Ukraine, as the island is America’s 9th largest trading partner and a substantial contributor to the global supply chain, mainly in regard to semiconductors.[16]

But the case of US security assurance has come under great scrutiny post the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to an editorial in Global Times which is taken to be the CCP’s mouthpiece, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan shows that Taiwan cannot rely on the security guarantee provided by the US, so it should refrain from anti-China activities.[17] However, on the side-line of the 2021 Asian Pacific security forum, former US ambassador to UN Kelly Craft branded the Chinese propaganda as shameful and reiterated America’s security commitment towards Taiwan. She pointed out that if Taiwan is lost, we lose.[18]

The US being a Pacific power, will face a major impact if Taiwan is lost as it will give the Chinese navy to break the first island chain dilemma and push towards the second island chain of Guam. This has therefore led the US to send ex-defence officials to Taiwan in a show of support during the current Ukraine crisis.[19] Also, unlike Ukraine, which is not a signatory of NATO or any treaty with the US, Taiwan is a signatory of the Taiwan Relation Act. According to the TRA, which was articulated post the normalization of Sino-US relations, the US would supply weapons to Taiwan for defensive purposes.[20] The act also points out that the US will take appropriate actions if there is any danger to the US interest and a threat to the socio-economic system of the people of Taiwan. However, it can be argued that the TRA, in its very nature, is ambiguous and does not guarantee the fullest security protection for Taiwan, but it keeps that window of US intervention open as a factor of deterrence.

Therefore, it can be summarised that Moscow’s manoeuvres may be an option for Beijing, but its implementation of it in the context of Taiwan can be challenging. This can be attributed to the various factors stretching from geography, Taiwan’s own growing capabilities and a structural US commitment. However, the working of international politics is very uncertain, and the intention of nations and leaders are dicey. Therefore the speculation of a Moscow-style military operation by China on Taiwan cannot be ruled out.

 

ENDNOTES

  1. , Jonathan Masters. “Why NATO has become a flash point with Russia in Ukraine.” Council on Foreign Relations (2022). https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/why-nato-has-become-flash-point-russia-ukraine
  2. “Taiwan reports largest Chinese incursion since October; fighter jets scramble to warn away 39 aircrafts.” (2022). https://www.wionews.com/world/taiwan-reports-largest-chinese-incursion-since-october-fighter-jets-scramble-to-warn-away-39-aircrafts-446974
  3. Keoni Everington. “Taiwan girds for increased Chinese ADIZ incursions in 2022.” Taiwan News (2021). https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4393206
  4. Qi Dongtao. “Support for Armed unification with Taiwan among Chinese urbanites.” Taiwan Insight (2021). https://taiwaninsight.org/2021/09/03/support-for-armed-unification-with-taiwan-among-chinese-urbanites/
  5. Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee. “China’s Xi threatens Taiwan with force but also seeks peaceful reunification.” Reuters (2019). https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-taiwan-idUSKCN1OW04K
  6. Ananth Krishnan. “China drill simulating attack say Taiwan.” The Hindu (2022). https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/taiwan-says-china-military-drills-appear-to-simulate-attack/article65735645.ece
  7. “Taiwan watching Chinese move amidst Ukraine crisis, but no immediate alarm.” Alarabiya News (2022). https://english.alarabiya.net/News/world/2022/02/23/-Taiwan-watching-Chinese-moves-amid-Ukraine-crisis-but-no-immediate-alarm
  8. “UK sees threat to Taiwan if West does not support Ukraine.” Alarabiya News (2022). https://english.alarabiya.net/News/world/2022/02/19/UK-sees-threat-to-Taiwan-if-West-does-not-support-Ukraine
  9. MOFA PRC. “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s regular Press Conference on February 23, 2022.” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2022). https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/202202/t20220223_10644886.html
  10. Bill Bostock. “China’s state media editor says Beijing must back Russia over Ukraine so it gets support when it fights or Taiwan.” Business Insider (2022). https://www.businessinsider.in/politics/world/news/china-state-media-editor-says-beijing-must-back-russia-over-ukraine-so-it-gets-support-when-it-fights-for-taiwan/articleshow/89775014.cms
  11. Gong Zhe. “PLA actions wont top unless Taiwan separatist stop provocation: Defence Ministry.” CGTN (2022). https://news.cgtn.com/news/2022-02-24/PLA-urges-Taiwan-separatists-to-stop-provocation-17USBL1j48E/index.html
  12. Ryan Hass. “Learning the right lesson from Ukraine for Taiwan.” Brookings Institute (2022). https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2022/02/22/learning-the-right-lessons-from-ukraine-for-taiwan/
  13. Lowy Institute. “Compressive Power” Lowy Institute Asia Power Index 2021 (2021). https://power.lowyinstitute.org/
  14. Phil Steward, Idrees Ali and Yimou Lee. “Exclusive: US seeks ay to speedy delivery of new fighter jets to Taiwan.” Reuters (2022). https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-us-seeks-way-speed-delivery-new-fighter-jets-taiwan-2022-01-20/
  15. Steven Stashwick. “Taiwan mass producing long range missile”. The Diplomat (2021). https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/taiwan-mass-producing-new-long-range-missile/
  16. Ryan Hass. “Learning the right lesson from Ukraine for Taiwan.” Brookings Institute (2022). https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2022/02/22/learning-the-right-lessons-from-ukraine-for-taiwan/
  17. Global Times. “Afghan abandonment a lesson for Taiwan’s DPP- Global Times editorial.” Global Times (2021). https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202108/1231636.shtml
  18. “China’s Afghanistan propaganda shameful: ex US ambassador to UN.” Focus Taiwan CNA (2021). https://focustaiwan.tw/politics/202108310010
  19. Financial Times. “US sends delegation of ex defence officials to Taiwan in show of support.” Financial Times (2022). https://www.ft.com/content/fdf0f21b-1f7b-4d10-a198-dad24634952f
  20. US Congress Report. “Taiwan Relations Act.” House of Foreign Affairs (1979). https://www.congress.gov/bill/96th-congress/house-bill/2479#:~:text=Taiwan%20Relations%20Act%20%2D%20Declares%20it,other%20people%20of%20the%20Western