China – Taiwan? Has USA Checkmated China?

Russia – Ukraine war is an eye opener to China in many ways. In fact, it should make China wise unless Chinese leadership wants to behave in a unwise way because of nationalist surge to achieve quick results in unification of Taiwan with it.

NewsBharati    07-Jan-2023 10:26:24 AM   
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If Nancy Pelosi is to visit Taiwan again in near future, the most vociferus objection will come form People Republic of China, to the extent that the entire world will be uneasy and disturbed about the possible escalation of rhetoric between China and Taiwan (PRC and ROC) and possibility of a wrong military drill by China and retaliation by Taiwan and possibly USA and allies. No doubt China has to show some action to its people to prove the point that Taiwan is part of mainland China which will be taken over by China, through peaceful means some times in the future, though military option will always be kept open rhetorically and in real terms.

So, when it is going to happen?
First of all, is it really required for China to exercise military option? The answer is yes. China has got strong desire to be a strong super power, sole super power, if possible, even at the cost of dethroning USA or be at least the alternate super power when USA is in the horizon and yet to be dethroned. Is this possible without merging a small island nation which has no legitimate claim for being a independent sovereign state for two reasons, it has lost a military conflict (Civil war) against Communist China and secondly USA, the main supporter of Taiwan itself says that it follows the ONE CHINA POLICY. However, USA wants China to negotiate the merger of Taiwan with mainland through peaceful means. However, as Taiwan watches very carefully what is happening in Hongkong, peaceful negotiations for one China – Two nations theory is grounded.
USA is master in maintaining strategic ambiguity and this is a classical case to amplify this point. USA established the diplomatic relations with PRC on 01 Jan 1979 following the ice breaking visit by Nixon to Beijing in 1972. While USA accepted PRC as part of ONE CHINA POLICY, it did not abandon Taiwan altogether. Taiwan Relations Act came into being in 1979. Infact China is finding now to its horror that USA is following ONE CHINA ONE TAIWAN policy.
The TRA requires the United States to have a policy "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character", and "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan."
So, who is going to decide what is an offensive weapon or what is the defensive weapon? USA will decide. That should have sounded like a warning bell to China in 1979 but it did not. So, USA actually passed its strategic ambiguity to China while it continued to supply offensive weapons to Taiwan for its defence against China.
Strange but true. China believed it because it wanted to believe. USA wanted to improve relations with China and that master diplomat Henry Kissinger assured that China will have its way probably at some point of time in future. Future is always uncertain as China realises now.
Henry Kissinger: "To be an enemy of the US is dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal". Both China and Taiwan must be realising now.
Russia – Ukraine war is an eye opener to China in many ways. In fact, it should make China wise unless Chinese leadership wants to behave in a unwise way because of nationalist surge to achieve quick results in unification of Taiwan with it.
Most important question is – Will Taiwan unification help China in gaining the Super power status? The answer is big YES but only when China is able to do it with peaceful means. A military invasion and disastrous consequences for China and Taiwan in terms of military stalemate as seen Ukraine, will not only derail Chinese dream of being the super power but push it really back. In fact, it can happen even earlier as China moves on escalation ladder with blockade and trade isolation of Taiwan and resultant consequences to itself as a result of US and allies’ action.
Most important point is that even now, USA is capable to enforce naval blockade on China, even though Chinese Navy is fastest growing Navy and biggest Navy in the world in terms of number of war ships. Nancy Pelosi is no fool when she travelled to Taiwan even against so much of Chinese noise and military drills. Tomorrow if Anthony Blinken travels to Taiwan, Chinese rhetoric and military drills may increase but it will end there. However, you should see the latest Chinese – Russian Naval exercise in Pacific Ocean in Dec 2022 named as “Maritime Cooperation 2022” in that context. That also gives you answer to the question that why so many of western block nations like – UK, France and Canada are showing so much interest in Indo- Pacific region and ocean.
Second most important question is -How can China stop US and allies to align itself with Taiwan militarily and economically? As on now, it looks highly improbable. Is China being perceived as adversary by USA? The answer is Yes.
Third most important question is – Can China sway the US public opinion so strongly against military support to Taiwan, in case it decides to unify the island with military means. It depends on the cost to USA and its tax payers. USA will not be fighting on its land. The war will be on the Chinese and Taiwanese Land and in the Taiwanese Strait. Secondly Japan and South Korea will definitely be involved at an early stage to assist Taiwan. Both have immense resources and distrust the Chinese in their international conduct.
Forth question is -Does China have military capability to successfully invade Taiwan, that too in shortest possible time? The answer is NO. Taiwan has the capability to defend itself very well in a coordinated way and with US and allies support it can certainly put an unbearable cost on China for such a misadventure.
Where does it leave USA in terms of options?
Unification of Taiwan with China will make China a very formidable economic power to strongly challenge the super power status of USA and USA can not allow that to happen, neither through peaceful means or through Military means. This is the beauty of “Strategic Ambiguity” of US. Pentagon has been watching very carefully how Chinese Military industry is gearing up for war preparations. 12 Oct 2022 ban on US Citizens and green card holders for working in Chinese Chip Industry should be seen in this light. Xi Jinping efforts to reduce the dependence on US talent at an early date has been derailed for the time being. Sooner or later, Chinese will find the way out.
Chinese are watching very carefully how Russian military is performing in Ukraine. Russian missiles do have updated technology but what about other weapons? Chinese are surprised if not horrified to see the ground level poor performance of Russian weapons. They would like to deploy updated weapons in an operation which is going to be more and more complex and challenging for them if they choose to go for amphibious assault on Taiwan. Other options may prove equally disastrous.
Ultimately, China will be left with options to compromise on its ambitions of becoming economic super power with or without Taiwan unification if it plans to invade Taiwan with military means. Now, that will not go well with nationalist pride which has been inculcated in Chinese people by the present Chinese leadership. If Chinese economy performs badly, Chinese public will be uneasy and that is the reason why not a single Chinese company is circumventing the sanction regime against Russia. Probably they are studying how Russian economy is sustaining without their significant support for lessons to themselves.
Weakening of Russia and poor Russian military performance has diminished Chinese options against Taiwan. It will be worth watching how Russia cope up with that. It will take some more time for China to learn and inculcate lessons of Ukraine war. Xi Jin Ping knows too well that merger of Taiwan with China cannot happen peacefully. Nationalism is too difficult a horse to ride. Russia is yet to become a liability for China but as the war prolongs, Chinese options will be further limited as it has to take the side one way or another. USA and allies will ensure that economic cost of China siding with Russia be the severe most. EU will follow suit.
Most challenging phase of Xi Jinping starts now .

Col Virendra Kumar

Col Virendra Kumar, a Military Veteran with 27 years of Army , alumni of Pantnagar, IIM Bangalore , Symbiosis Pune ,wears multiple hats . He has got national and international exposure during his Army tenures and corporate stint with leading US MNC He is passionate about Military history , Indian history , national and international affairs .