DEFEXPO 2022 INDIA Ministry of Defence

 

Taiwan issue no longer an internal Chinese affair

Taipei needs full regional support for its survival and in its efforts to repel a Chinese invasion;  it cannot afford to be distracted by other lingering issues with other neighbours, including Japan, which Beijing is happy to exploit to its advantage. 

Collins Chong Yew Keat Oct 16, 2022
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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan National Day on 10 October marks an apt turnaround of strategic pushback against China’s sustained encirclement of Taiwan - with both soft and hard power pressures - and regional players in its drive to cement its reunification goal. As Beijing seeks to uphold the “one China” principle and the “1992 consensus” to oppose the secession of Taiwan, it outlines a series of strategic manoeuvres to both test responses and signal its message of readiness and intent. 

By proposing the Hong  Kong model of "one country, two systems," this political formula pushed for cross-Strait unity is based on a two-pronged intent. Firstly, to create a moral high ground for both the internal and external audiences in taking the perceived non-forceful option of unification. Secondly, it serves as a trap for pro-Taiwan independence groups and the West where too forceful of downright rejection and condemnation may backfire. 

America’s approach must constantly be a step ahead in this game that is increasingly dictated by Beijing. The strategic ambiguity approach has long been dead, where both sides realise that Washington will support Taiwan militarily in the event of a forceful move by Beijing. Trust has been lost, and deterrence impact has steadily eroded. Washington’s new approach of strategic clarity must be to ensure that the deterrence scope and intensity must be clear, consistent and overwhelming, while at the same time providing enough opening for Beijing to have a face-saving exit with new incentives for either a peaceful reunification or the preservation of the status quo with an end to the coercive tactics against Taipei.

Taiwan's critical strengths

The question is to what extent China is willing to sacrifice for Taiwan, at the expense of an already slowing economy and the potential pariah status that will ensue. Beijing realises that the world is not necessarily crippled without it; the West can regroup and pool resources with its combined weight to economically isolate Beijing if the need at all arises. Supply chains can be recalibrated as a gradual pivot away from being China-centric, but the most crucial factor will be oil supply. 

For this, the West will need to repair the broken ties with OPEC in solving the entrenched influence by both Moscow and Beijing in using OPEC as an effective counterbalance to the West’s economic clout. The recent rift with OPEC’S decision to continue to limit production against Washington’s wishes reflects the West's vulnerability.

Taiwan’s future rests on ensuring the willingness, readiness and support from its people to fight for its rights and to exploit and secure the future based on key resilience parameters. Washington will need to reorient its approach in not only increasing the speed and intensity of key arms transfers but maximising food and resource security and economic openings that can replace Taipei's conventional reliance on Beijing. 

Taipei will need to strategically capitalise on its niche strength, especially its semiconductor and chips dominance. In preparing for that, a smart partnership with the West in elevating its semiconductor independence and exclusivity remains vital, by making the world more dependent than ever on its critical technological advantage. 

Will Taiwan get regional support?

Taipei needs full regional support for its survival and in its efforts to repel a Chinese invasion;  it cannot afford to be distracted by other lingering issues with other neighbours, including Japan, which Beijing is happy to exploit to its advantage.  An integrated regional readiness and support are crucial in ensuring that its open trade-oriented economy remains flowing even during this security crisis and in getting regional defence support and involvement in its defence efforts.

Taiwan must realise that a large number of countries have no choice but to either support China or be neutral in this faceoff because of Beijing's growing military and economic clout.  The truth remains that this issue is no longer an internal Chinese affair; it is the last stand for democracy, freedom, international values and a rules-based global order. The question remains whether the rest of the world is ready to fight for it.  

Contrary to popular perception, China really remains its own worst enemy and the ball is really in its court in determining the outcome of the cross-Strait future and regional peace.

(The author is a Kuala Lumpur-based strategic and security analyst. Views are personal. He can be contacted at collins@um.edu.my)

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