The People’s Republic of China seems to have suddenly upped its ante not just against Taiwan but also against India. Such has been Chinese military aircraft’s incursion into Taiwan’s air defence zone that there is serious concern about the possibility of a conflict between the two countries, if not for the annexation of Taiwan by PRC, but the occupation of some nearby islands. The fighter jet build-up in PRC airbases near Taiwan has added to these worries and Taiwanese politicians are talking about a possible conflict with China by 2025. As Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said. “It is the toughest situation I have seen in more than 40 years of my military life”, and that “by 2025, China will bring the cost and attrition to its lowest” and go for a full-scale invasion. He said this to a parliamentary committee, which was reviewing an “extra-military spending plan” of $8.6 billion on missiles, warships and other materiel in the next five years. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden seems to have told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US would abide by the “Taiwan agreement”, that is Taiwan Relations Act, by which US will have diplomatic ties with Beijing rather than with Taipei, but it will be incumbent on PRC to settle Taiwan’s future through peaceful means. Apparently, Xi Jinping agreed to abide by the agreement. If that is the case, why is China flexing its muscles? Under Xi Jinping, China’s policy has changed from peaceful unification to military takeover of Taiwan and that is what Xi seems to be threatening right now, even though in a speech on Saturday he said that he would pursue Taiwan’s reunification through peaceful means.
The sudden increase in incursions into Indian territory needs to be looked at in this context. It is highly unlikely that China would open two fronts simultaneously. But Taiwan is no military pushover. US and Taiwan have a close military relationship, courtesy the Taiwan Relations Act and between 2007 and 2018, the US has sold arms worth $25 billion to Taiwan. The US can come in the defence of Taiwan if China attacks. News reports from Taiwan say that US special operations forces and US Marines have been stationed in Taiwan for a year, providing training to Taiwanese troops. Moreover, Taiwan, very capable of conducting a cyberwarfare, can give a body blow to China by hitting China’s power and banking grids among others. In other words, Taiwan is not the low hanging fruit that the rest of the world may believe it to be. So, does Xi Jinping think that India is the low hanging fruit, which can be defeated in a quick conflict and territory grabbed to make a lesson out of it? But India is anything but a pushover and any move towards a kinetic conflict will result in Xi Jinping getting a bloody nose. This is not 1962. So why is Xi Jinping suddenly ratcheting up tensions? There is increasing speculation that all may not be well for Xi Jinping domestically. The Chinese economy has taken a hit, the real estate sector is collapsing, people are losing their hard earned money, Xi is destroying China’s laissez faire economy by putting the nation into a straitjacket of old rules and regulations. Disparity is increasing, leading to much talk of a socialist “common prosperity”. Apparently, factionalism too is rampant in the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Xi Jinping may not be feeling as secure as he would like to. Any form of conflagration or incursion short of a kinetic conflict could divert the attention of the Chinese public, apart from adding a dose of nationalism to the discourse, making the people rally behind the leader.
Whatever be the case, the bottom line is that here is a power that does not believe in international rules, is a land grabber, is prone to reneging on every agreement it is a part of, violates human rights with impunity, is authoritarian…it’s a long list. It’s a malign power that wants to rule the world and towards this direction, is already at war with the world. It is an “unrestricted warfare”, including a biological warfare in the form of the coronavirus pandemic. Does the world have the instruments to contain such a power? The pushback has started as the Quad summit in Washington last month showed. And China is rattled. But are the democracies that comprise the Quad and the countries that are likely to constitute the Quad Plus too muddled in their thinking? When the Chinese are knocking at India’s and Taiwan’s doors, can the free world afford to work in sloth speed? End of the day, it is not supply chain resilience or vaccine diplomacy that will contain a rogue power like China. The need of the hour is giving Quad military teeth and an Indo-Pacific charter—a formal treaty. Also needed is deeper cooperation between India and Taiwan, two independent sovereign democracies being threatened by China. The two have much to learn from each other’s experiences. A lot of intelligence sharing can happen. Technology is another area that India can benefit from Taiwan. But for that India needs to speak up against China. Time for reticence is gone. Reticence has not stopped China’s aggression against India. India is a big power. It is time it behaved like one.