Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

China’s ‘grey-zone’ warfare tactics against Taiwan | Explained

Why in the news?

Since President Lai Ching-te took office in Taiwan, China has reacted strongly to his pro-independence remarks by using sophisticated tactics against his Democratic Progressive Party.

Background of the China-Taiwan issue

  • The conflict has its roots in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) between the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Communist Party of China. After the Communist victory in 1949, the Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan, establishing the Republic of China (ROC) there, while the Communist Party proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland.
  • China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province that must eventually be reunified with the mainland, while Taiwan sees itself as a distinct, democratic entity. This dispute over Taiwan’s political status is at the heart of the ongoing tensions between China and Taiwan.
  • The strategic importance of Taiwan lies in its location in the “first island chain” in the western Pacific, as well as its dominance in the global semiconductor industry. Control over Taiwan would enhance China’s ability to project power in the region and potentially threaten US interests, while Taiwan’s independence is seen as crucial by the US and its allies

What Are the Coercive Measures China Has Imposed on Taiwan?

  • Military Pressure: China’s People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command (PLA ETC) conducts regular training drills and simulated invasion scenarios to demonstrate its military capability. These include 3D animation videos depicting missile attacks on Taiwan, aiming to intimidate and exert psychological pressure.
  • Grey-Zone Warfare: Continuous sorties by PLA fighter jets, UAVs, and strategic fighters over and around Taiwan. These operations are designed to wear down Taiwan’s defence forces through sustained pressure and intelligence gathering.
  • Economic Coercion: China suspended preferential tax rates for 134 chemical imports from Taiwan, which were previously granted under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). This move was a retaliation against pro-independence statements by Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, and Taipei’s restrictions on over 2,000 Chinese imports.

China’s Ideology and Political Tactics

  • Cognitive Warfare: Deployment of ideological narratives within Taiwan to influence public opinion. For instance, Chinese citizens dropped fliers via drones on Kinmen Island, promoting messages against Taiwan’s independence and framing it as a dead end.
  • Propaganda: These cognitive warfare tactics aim to initiate public discussions and garner attention for the Chinese cause, leveraging social media to propagate Beijing’s ideological stance.

Carrots and Sticks Approach(Political Tactics)

  • Carrots: Favorable treatment towards Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which holds relatively pro-mainland views. The KMT engages with Communist Party of China (CPC) officials, maintaining communication and collaboration that the DPP lacks. The KMT’s interactions with CPC officials have sometimes led to investigations under Taiwan’s ‘anti-infiltration law’.
  • Sticks: Coercive economic measures targeting Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to seek political concessions. The suspension of preferential tax rates for Taiwanese chemical imports is one such tactic.

Conclusion: Taiwan must navigate China’s multifaceted ‘grey-zone’ tactics through resilience in defense, strategic alliances, and international advocacy to safeguard its sovereignty and democratic identity amid escalating pressures.

Mains PYQ:

Q South China Sea has assumed great geopolitical significance in the present context. Comment. (UPSC IAS/2016)

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