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TematicheCina e Indo-PacificoThe cost of a Chinese misadventure in Taiwan may...

The cost of a Chinese misadventure in Taiwan may be prohibitive for Beijing


For an aggressive Beijing planning to integrate Taiwan with the Chinese mainland by force, Moscow’s experience with the invasion of Ukraine has come as a warning shot. Ukraine, a minnow, has stalled the offensive of the mighty Russian superpower, which is a lesson for Beijing that Taiwan would not be a cakewalk for them. Besides, the sanctions imposed by the USA and the European Union on Russia for the misadventure in Ukraine are a message that the world opinion is ready to galvanize in isolating China should it try to overrun the island of Taiwan. 

Analysts say the invasion of Ukraine has given Beijing a good insight into how the world might react to a conflict with Taiwan.  The stalled Russian offensive reveals to China that the cost of attempting an invasion of Taiwan is likely to be prohibitively high, even without a direct military conflict with the United States. It is reported that mandarins in Beijing who have traditionally admired the military capabilities of Moscow are surprised and unsettled over Russia’s failure to occupy Kyiv.

Though the USA has refused to deploy combat troops in Ukraine, it should offer no comforting thought to Beijing that the same would be the American stand should China attack Taiwan. U. S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have repeatedly said that China is now the main threat to a peaceful world order. Analysts have pointed out that the U. S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year was a strategic move to concentrate American troops and weapon platforms against aggressive moves by Beijing in the Indo – Pacific.

Unlike in the case of Ukraine, the Taiwan Relations Act of the United States mandates that “in any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts of embargoes, force or any other coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social and economic system of the people of Taiwan, the United States shall provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.” In a factsheet on U. S. Relations with Taiwan released last May, the U. S. Department of State wrote: “As a leading democracy and a technological powerhouse, Taiwan is a key economic partner in the Indo – Pacific region. We have a robust unofficial relationship. The United States and Taiwan share similar values, deep commercial and economic links and strong people-to-people ties, which form the bedrock of our friendship and serve as the impetus for expanding U. S. engagement with Taiwan.” 

The U. S. has encouraged Taiwan to acquire more mobile weapons for its military that would better enable it to carry out an asymmetric warfare, should Beijing launch an all-out assault on Taiwan. A surprise attack, analysts say, could blunt the ability of Taiwan to offer a resistance to China the way Ukraine is defending Russia. Nevertheless, like in the case of Ukraine, the U. S. intelligence would also come in the aid of Taipei in denying Beijing the advantages of a surprise attack. Besides, while Russian troops only had to cross a land border to enter Ukraine, China would have to launch a full-scale amphibious invasion of the island of Taiwan, a much more difficult operation. Above all, the swipe and speed of the financial and economic sanctions against Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine are likely to unnerve leaders in China. The cost of attempting to invade Taiwan could be intolerably high, even without a direct military confrontation with the United States. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already made it clear that the Joe Biden administration is aiming to lead the international bloc opposed to Russian invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter a “more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.” This would mean not only economic sanctions against Beijing but also helping Taipei with arms and ammunition. Besides the USA, most of the European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea are helping Ukraine with liberal military assistance.

China is more integrated into the world economy and the international community than Russia; Beijing has reasons to be more wary of international sanctions than Moscow. Besides, China is likely to be more sensitive than Russia to disruptions in the economy as the legitimacy of the rule of the Communist Party of China on Zhongguo, or the Middle Kingdom as imperial China described itself, depends on continued economic growth and prosperity. It will be difficult for China to insulate its economy from external influences. The disruptions in the Chinese economy caused by Covid – 19, the looming real estate crisis, marked by the rise in debt levels of real estate developers and the slump in the real estate market, and an ageing population will stand in the way of China sustaining its economic growth on the strength of a buoyant domestic demand.

It is no wonder that President of China, Xi Jinping, has sharply criticized the sanctions imposed by the USA and the European Union against Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine, calling international sanctions an abuse. “They ignored the rights and interests of other countries while seeking supremacy,” he said in a veiled attack on the USA and the EU. “The world will become more volatile and unstable if we allow this dangerous trend to continue.” Unnerved over U. S. arms sale to Taiwan, China has lately warned of a possible conflict over the island. On June 10, 2022, Defence Minister of China, General Wei Fenghe, told U. S. Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, in a meeting in Singapore that the arms sale would seriously undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests. Washington announced in early June, in the latest arms package, the sale of parts for Taiwanese naval ships at an estimated cost of $120 million. The parts would help sustain the surface vessel fleet of Taiwan, with the ability to meet threats. The USA prefers the sale of smaller systems which would better help repeal a Chinese attack. Lloyd Austin made it clear to General Wei Fenghe, however, that the USA had major concerns about recent behaviours of China. Washington suspected that Beijing was trying to change the status quo in Taiwan.

To reiterate America’s support for Taiwan, U. S. Senator Tammy Duckworth visited Taipei on May 31st, 2022, her second visit in a year. In a meeting with President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, Duckworth reconfirmed the close economic, political and security relations between Taipei and Washington. Emphasizing on America’s support for the security of Taiwan, Duckworth, a former army helicopter pilot and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard of the United States, cited the strong bipartisan backing for a Bill she had put forward promoting co-operation between the armed forced of Taiwan and the National Guard, which is a state-based military force that becomes part of the reserve components of the United States Army and United States Air Force when activated for federal missions. The Bill thus enjoys the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

Disregarding threats from Beijing, a six-member team of U. S. Senators, led by Chairman of the influential Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Bob Menendez, visited Taipei in April 2022 and held talks with Defence officials in Taipei. Menendez was among a group of lawmakers who introduced a Bill in February 2022 to rename Taipei’s de facto embassy in Washington the “Taiwan Representative Office.” Vocal China critic Senator Lindsey Graham was a member of the delegation. Describing Biden’s assertion that the U. S. would intervene militarily should China invade Taiwan as an “erroneous signal,” Beijing said it strongly deplored Duckworth’s visit. Thirty Chinese military aircraft were sent towards the island on May 30th, a day before Duckworth’s visit.  Undeterred, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on June 11 reaffirmed America’s support for Taiwan. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the premier defence summit in Asia, he said Chinese military activity around the self-governing island of Taiwan threatened to change the status quo, noting the steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activities near Taiwan, including the almost daily military flights near the island. “Our policy hasn’t changed,” he warned. “Washington allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei. We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the PRC’s moves threaten to undermine security, stability and prosperity in the Indo – Pacific.”

Drawing a parallel with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lloyd Austin delivered a note of caution to Beijing. “The indefensible assault on a peaceful neighbour has galvanized the world, has reminded us all of the dangers of undercutting an order rooted in rules and respect. The rule-based international order matters just as much in the Indo – Pacific as it does in Europe.”

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