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How India should react to a probable Chinese invasion of Taiwan First Post 19 Aug 2023
Three ex-service chiefs, General Naravane, Admiral Karambir Singh (who is also Chairman of India’s National Maritime Foundation) and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria recently attended Taiwan’s Ketagalan Forum’s Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue. Evidently, they were ‘unofficially’ representing the Indian government. Taiwan media reports state that 14 parliamentarians, scholars and politicians representing 12 countries were present at the event, including former PMs of Japan and Estonia.
The Ketagalan Forum is an annual feature jointly hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan and the Prospect Foundation. As per the website, the current event was ‘aimed at enhancing cooperation and dialogue among relevant parties so as to maintain and advance peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.’ The inaugural address for the session was given by the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Around the same time, marking the 96th anniversary of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, aired an eight-part docuseries titled ‘Chasing dreams.’ The docuseries featured military drills and comments by few Chinese troops displaying the determination of China to reunify Taiwan. The release of the docuseries was also intended to boost nationalism at a time when the country was facing severe floods. Simultaneously, the economy is receding and unemployment increasing, leading to dissatisfaction within.
The docuseries also aimed at conveying a message to the US, Japan and Taiwan on Chinese intent and capabilities. It featured live exercises held of the Taiwan coast in Apr, post the stopover of Tsai Ing-wen in the US. Few missiles, fired during this exercise, landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
There have been regular intelligence inputs from the US and Japan on Chinese intent to invade Taiwan. Many believe it would happen around 2027, the time limit laid down by Xi Jinping for the Chinese military to be a global power.
The Taiwanese President, in her remarks in the forum, endorsed the need to maintain a rules-based order. She stated that Taiwan would remain a democratic nation and stem the spread of authoritarianism, hinting towards China. Emphasizing the economic importance of Taiwan, she stated that its domination of the semi-conductor market makes it a crucial player in the global supply chain.
She added that tensions in the Indo-Pacific were on account of increased aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes due to their perception ‘that their model is better and more adaptive than democracy.’ She also added that Taiwan does not take backing of their security partners ‘for granted,’ implying it is prepared to fight alone.
The loss of Taiwan would have an adverse impact on security of Japan as also Guam, a US base in the region, apart from providing China the confidence to push its territorial claims in the South China Sea as also along the LAC. Loss of Taiwan would make the southwestern end of Japan’s archipelago indefensible. China could simultaneously hamper Japan’s trade routes, through the East China Sea, as also enhance pressure on its Senkaku islands, which it claims. Japan is currently strengthening its southern Nansei islands by deploying long range cruise missiles, which are capable of targeting coastal areas of North Korea and China.
The US continues to display confusion on its Taiwan policy. In Sept last year, President Biden stated in a TV interview that the US would intervene militarily in Taiwan. A subsequent White House statement read that US ‘policy towards Taiwan had not changed.’ The US government is obliged by law to ensure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself. There is no mention of military intervention.
In end July, the US announced an additional USD 345 million in military aid to Taiwan. The weapons would be provided from the US’s own stockpiles. These include man-portable air defence systems, intelligence and surveillance capabilities, firearms and missiles. The speed of provision is to possibly strengthen Taiwan and place caution on China. The strategy appears to be to make the price of invasion extremely high for Beijing as being done in Ukraine against the Russians. China protested but these were ignored.
Global tensions are currently highest in the Indo-Pacific, where there is a battle for supremacy between the US and China. Beijing, which considers the region as an extension of China has begun facing resistance from multiple quarters including the QUAD, of which India is a member. It is covertly attempting to bring pro-China or neutral parties to power in nations within its area of interest, as also enhance internal discord in nations it considers as challengers, India being no exception. Hybrid war against its adversaries, including informational, cyber, interference in elections and instigating unrest, continues unabated.
The attendance of the Indian delegation conveyed India’s strategic interest in the Western Pacific. The ‘unofficial Indian viewpoint’ was shared by Admiral Karambir in the session, ‘Situation across the Taiwan Strait and the global security order.’ He emphasized that the Taiwan straits, South and East China Seas, are one of the epicentres of global confrontation, with Taiwan as a flashpoint. This has spilled over into the Indo-Pacific. India, which has a large sea trade (95%) will be adversely impacted and hence desires stability. Karambir mentioned that as the Comprehensive National Power gap between China and the US reduces, China will act against Taiwan.
He also stated, ‘a conflict in the straits would have a serious, direct and second order effects related to geopolitics and economic security on India. Disruption of semiconductor supplies could paralyse industry and enhance unemployment,’ adding that India’s consistent stand has been ‘exercising restraint, avoiding unilateral actions and maintaining status quo.’ Karambir opined that the stand-off at the LAC ‘sharpened India’s competitive instincts vis-à-vis China.’
China considers India as an adversary, which has joined hands with the west to ‘contain and isolate China’ as mentioned by the Global Times, Beijing’s mouthpiece, on numerous occasions. As per Chinese perceptions, India’s membership of the QUAD, joining the ‘Resilient Supply Chain’ initiative with Japan and Australia as also rejecting Chinese proposals in multilateral forums such as the BRICS and SCO add credence to its anti-China bias.
India supporting the Philippines and Vietnam in their dispute with China has also irked Beijing. The Indian spokesperson recently stated on the China-Philippine water cannon incident, ‘We have a long-standing position on this, on the need to adhere to international law in the context of issues relating to South China Sea and also for a rules-based order. We have also underlined the need for peaceful settlement of disputes.’
India is aware of the Chinese dilemma. It is either invading Taiwan or expanding its operations along the LAC. On Taiwan the question is not if but when. India also believes that the PLA could be bogged into a gruelling conflict like Ukraine on either front and success is uncertain. India is simultaneously enhancing its military power and developing its infrastructure to deter China.
Thus, the China-Taiwan equation is of importance to India. There are media reports mentioning that the CDS had ordered a study, involving members of the three services, to assess India’s options in case of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. While India may not respond by involving its armed forces, but to ensure its own economic interests are protected it may act in some form.
India will have to ensure security of its trade routes by deploying its naval resources closer to the area of conflict as also support nations being sucked into the conflict, including Japan and possibly the US. This may imply providing logistics backing, especially since India has signed the LEMOA agreement with the US.
Simultaneously, India will bring together the global south to enhance pressure for cessation of conflict. It will also strengthen defence capabilities of nations in conflict with China including the Philippines and Vietnam, intending to restrict Chinese expansionism. This will keep China engaged on its eastern periphery.
The Indian presence and participation in the Ketagalan Forum further convey a message that while India adheres to its one China policy, it can change its position. It also confirms that India’s interests include the Western Pacific and that India will remain an active member of anti-China blocks, unless the LAC standoff returns to pre-April 2020 positions.