Taiwan: US-China military theatre

Taiwan Straits in dire straits, what does it tell us about China
China’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Saturday that it had carried out military exercises as planned in the sea and airspaces to the north, southwest, and east of Taiwan.
China’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Saturday that it had carried out military exercises as planned in the sea and airspaces to the north, southwest, and east of Taiwan.ipdefenseforum [Creative Commons]

Taiwan is a peaceful place. The people there are simple and hardworking, and even if they don’t understand much of the language you speak, they are hospitable to the core - their smile says it all.

That is the language of their communication, perhaps that’s why they represent global market in chips which run almost all our modern-day devices with which we run our lives.

These are firm signs of a universal society that believes in the democratic and human values. Democracy and humanism are two sides of the same coin.

This is universal truth and wherever there is democratic recession, the reliance on military power grows. China was never a democratic country, hence it relies solely on military power to browbeat its neighbours.

Way back I saw some of the glimpses of life in Taiwan, during my visit to the island in August 2005. Wide roads, sleek cars and structures protecting people from elements impress the visitors.

Instant comparisons came to mind vis-à-vis the most developed world of the US and Canada, UK, and I found saying to myself, this place is better in all respects. It was both developed and humane. Human values don’t come by big proclamations, these flourish in society, examples are set by the leadership.

That year, when I walked through the markets of Taipei, I did not see any cop on the roads, not even the traffic cop. Late into the night at night market, I found everyone buying the stuff, there were tourists. As a typical Indian, I was perhaps the only one trying to strike a bargain. The vendor was amused but he did oblige.

There was discipline in its perfect definition. I went to 101, one of the highest buildings in the world, National Museum. The buildings wore marvels in their own right where heritage mingled comfortably with the modernity.

What struck me the most, I was not frisked at any point. It was surprising for me, someone from Jammu and Kashmir, where frisking from head to toe, is a norm. Life there was as normal as it could possibly be under sun.

Why should such a place ever be facing any threat of military intervention, and that too because Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited the place, discarding all the warnings by Beijing that her visit had consequences.

This brings two questions, was it necessary for Pelosi to visit Taiwan which has placed the island in dire straits, or is China behaving too arrogantly. This debate will go on for a long time. But right now there is a situation and it is precarious.

China started live-fire military exercises, encircling the island nation, thus demonstrating that how powerful it is in the world at this crucial moment in history where it can claim any geography as its own. The parallels have been drawn between the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

China, after am unprecedented spell of display of its military power, has halted the exercises. But that is not the end. It is guided by a strategy. The exercises will be resumed at regular intervals. This is how China works. That is equivalent to wars without actual wars. Beijing is doing all this to punish Taiwanese for hosting Pelosi.

By the way Pelosi is not the first Speaker of the US House of Representatives to visit Taiwan. One of her predecessors Newt Gingrich had visited the island 25 years ago. China had objected to the visit that time, but the situation has changed massively since then.

That time the US was the sole superpower after the end of the Cold War, and China had just hit the road of economic power. The geopolitics was different and the world looked toward Washington for providing solutions to all the problems, ranging from Europe to Asia.

Times have changed. China has seen the limits of US’ strategic, military and economic powers. This has been best elaborated the way America played its card in Ukraine, the nation that is scrambling to get out of war. The US arms supplies to Ukraine, and sanctions against Russia have not brought about the desired results even as the war is in its sixth month.

At the moment, China is firing missiles over Taiwan Straits, some of which have overflown the island. This is unprecedented. Beijing is executing the threat that it had delivered on the eve of the visit, which it considered violative of its sovereignty and the very reality of one China-Taiwan is part of China.

These military exercises, having the potential to escalate the situation, can bring much more disruptions in the world order already facing fuel and food shortage. The military drills in the Taiwan Straits puts supply chains in jeopardy.

Taiwanese technology and other supplies will get disrupted. It is also important to note here that shipping in and around because of the Beijing’s belligerence will become difficult and expensive. Ships hesitate to move in the waters that are under threat of military strikes.

And, the stark reality is that the US cannot provide counter-military cover to Taiwan to protect it because of the costs it has incurred because of Ukraine, and also because of its internal political situation. President Joe Biden is not having all the cards in his hands. He knows that he is in a tight spot, almost as much squeezed, as Taiwan at the moment is.

What is China’s claim on Taiwan

For us, the students of history in the times when the history is being rewritten all over, it is important to know, why China is claiming Taiwan as its own. As per the recorded history, the island had been a Japanese colony since 1895. In his book, “ The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle of Modern China “, Joy Taylor, the American author, who studied China very closely said that “allies agreed that on Japan’s surrender (as per the Potsdam Declaration of 26 July 1945, which was formally announced on August 15 and formally executed on September 2, 1945 but not before the US dropped atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6), it should be returned to China, where Chang Kai-shek’s ruling Kuomintang (kmt) was about to become embroiled in civil war with the Chinese Communist Party. As it lost the war, it retreated to Taiwan and for decades maintained the fiction that it was the legitimate government of all of China. Alliance with the dictatorship Chiang established there seemed to be one of those embarrassing right-wing entanglements the cold war foisted on America.”

For many young Taiwanese, noted veteran American diplomat George H Kerr in his 1960s classic “Formosa Betrayed”, “ the Japanese surrender held the promise of “ liberation.” . But that was not the way it turned out, some of the international commentators observed. They have also recalled that how in February 1947 , as also noted in the above mentioned book, physical beating of an old woman for selling cigarettes without a licence, locals became angry and that led to the island wide insurrection. The nationalist feelings were further fuelled because of the arrival of about 1.5 to 2 million refugees from mainland China.

This tells us about the conflict between the mainland China and Taiwan.

Can military interventions or threats yield results ?

China is a big country, and it saw the visit as a breach of its territory and sovereignty. Now it has translated the warnings into real-time military exercises in Taiwan straits.

This is threatening the stability and peace of the whole region. The simmering tensions between the US and China have peaked to a dangerous level, and China is exhibiting its military power, not just to Taiwan, but to the world at large. It is a precarious state of affairs.

The world has already been roiled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is an invasion, and no euphemism can help denying the truth. Conflict is the very convenient way to be escapist.

And what we are witnessing is a conflict threatening to escalate into a war, which again, if it takes place will be between two unequal. Taiwan is no match to China in military terms. But that doesn’t mean it should capitulate to wishes of China.

China should know and acknowledge it in realistic terms that the display of the military power whether through air , or amassing of troops or backed by sanctions is not an answer to the problems, it complicates already knotty issues.

The military intervention or the threat of the same is bad for the health of the nations. If looked at from realistic perspective, the use of military to attain the geopolitical or political objectives undermines the claims that are made to the land and the people.

This is a universal truth. Adequate lessons are splattered all over as to how the display of the brute military power to secure the political objectives backfires.

A deafening silence, enforced through military boots, is not the end of the resistance or end of the aspirations of the people. China should have known it by looking around the world where it wants to emerge as the sole superpower.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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