Flashpoint Asia 2022: Taiwan

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Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Although the US and Taiwan do not have a diplomatic relationship, the US is still committed to helping arm Taiwan for self-defence

The National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2022, signed by US President Joe Biden, contains many overtures to Taiwan. Beijing has taken this very harshly; notching up the “cold-war-like” situation between the two countries. The legislation has marked $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence initiative. The Congressional Support Statement in favour of Taiwan did not help.
China has always claimed Taiwan to be a part of China while Taiwan, of course, does not accept the dominance of Beijing. Interestingly, although the US and Taiwan do not have a diplomatic relationship (the only diplomatic relation Taiwan enjoys is with the Vatican City), the US is still committed to maintaining peace in Western Pacific and, thereby, helping arm Taiwan for self-defence.
In November 2021, the first official delegation of the European Parliament visited Taiwan. It spoke of strengthening EU-Taiwan as the island faces pressure from Beijing. Japan appointed a “planning official” for Taiwan. The US had invited Taiwan not so long ago to its Summit of Democracy; also demarcating US$750 million for arms sale.
Added to the menu is an escalation of stress between China and Australia. The latter’s call for a COVID-19 probe led to a harsh response by China in form of a trade war. China blocked the timber exports from Tasmania and South Australia. This was followed by a similar ban on Victorian and Queensland timber earlier. Bans were also imposed on other products from Australia, like lobster, barley, sugar, copper ore, wine, and concentrate. Australian call to investigate the cause of the start of COVID-19, with the first case being detected in Wuhan, was seen as a direct insult by China. It was among the countries that had heavily criticised China for bringing in a law that dealt with anti-Beijing protests. In retaliation, Australia offered safe haven extensions to Hong Kong residents in Australia. The relationship between China and Australia has continued to deteriorate at a fast pace since then.
Looking more like a ping-pong match, the US declared a boycott of the Winter Olympics of Beijing, claiming human rights issues. No official representative of the US will be sent to the event. In this background, Australia and Japan have signed an agreement whereby both countries can “deploy from each other’s bases and establish common practices, protocols, and processes that can foster a much closer defence relationship.”(Malcolm Davis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, CNBC, January 7, 2022).
Till the end of December 2021, two Australians were in detention in China on “alleged espionage and illegally supplying state secrets.” Nothing has yet been decided about their release.
The situation is much worse than briefly touched upon above.
The future of Taiwan and whatever happens in Taiwan has and will have a deep impact on the Asia-Pacific region. Many Taiwanese like their independent status. Most however prefer a status-quo. However, the ongoing status quo is seen by China as favouring Taiwan. Beijing sees this situation as favouring Japan and the US strategic supporters to Taiwan and China’s competitors in this conflict.
China would not like to use military force against Taiwan backed by the US. China has many balls up in the air that it’s juggling. Challenges include demographic, economic, and environmental. China cannot jeopardise the balance with Taiwan being a strong source of direct investment in China.
Disaster will have a spillover effect not only over the region but also in all those spots in the world where China and the US face conflicts in interest. In case the situation between China and Taiwan turns from bad to worse, the US may likely intervene. This intervention can only lead to destabilising the region, and a strong possibility of a war. The US will have its allies Australia and Japan support her in this intervention. This is almost a given.
A fluid situation of distrust over Taiwan will have a negative cascading effect on the working of various trade and security organisations like the Conference on Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Tensions between Beijing and Washington will meet stress in working to iron out tensions in South Asia. One must not overlook the Korean Peninsula.
It is unlikely that Beijing and Taipei are contemplating an out-and-out war. In all probability, negotiations, delays, dragging on talks is the likely scenario one can predict. Both understand that their domestic politics and political variables need to be balanced with the ongoing conflict. China has never been a country to rely on military use for achieving its goals. Persuasive means offering economic and ancillary benefits is the strategy used. If China wants a positive outcome in her favour, the concessions have to be very high. However, at this point, it is unlikely that Taiwan will give way after being independent since 1895.
The best strategy for Beijing is to maintain its stake without upsetting the balance in the region. Such an unfortunate scenario will allow powers unhappy with the Chinese power to become party to the US camp.