Contention over South China Sea

Explained: China-Taiwan tussle

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Taiwan straight, South China Sea

Mains level : Taiwan as a new global flashpoint

Recently China flew over 100 fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone setting off alarm around the world that it was preparing to take over the island by force.

Taiwan: the Republic of China (RoC)

  • Taiwan, earlier known as Formosa, a tiny island off the east coast of China, is where Chinese republicans of the Kuomintang government retreated after the 1949 victory of the communists.
  • It has since continued as the Republic of China (RoC).
  • Although largely unrecognized by other countries as such, self-ruled Taiwan sees itself as no less than an independent nation.
  • Its leaders, have vowed to defend its sovereignty against the Chinese goal of “reunification”.

Chinese claims over Taiwan

  • Since its establishment in 1949, the PRC has believed that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland, while the RoC claim to be an independent country.
  • The RoC became the non-communist frontier against China during the Cold War, and was the only ‘China’ recognised at the UN until 1971.
  • That was when the US inaugurated ties with China through the secret diplomacy under President Richard Nixon.

Independence politics by Taipei

  • In 1975, Taiwan got its first democratic reforms. Trade ties with PRC were established.
  • As the British prepared to exit Hong Kong in 1999, the “One China, Two Systems” solution was offered to Taiwan as well, but it was rejected by the Taiwanese.
  • In 2004, China started drafting an anti-secession law aimed at Taiwan; trade and connectivity, however, continued to improve.

Hurdles for Taiwanese independence

  • Taiwan now has massive economic interests, including investments in China, and pro-independence sections worry that this might come in the way of their goals.
  • Inversely, the pro-reunification sections of the polity, as well as China, hope that economic dependence and increasing people-to-people contacts will wear out the pro-independence lobbies.

Global significance of Taiwan

  • The island is located in the East China Sea, to the northeast of Hong Kong, north of the Philippines and south of South Korea, and southwest of Japan.
  • What happens in and around Taiwan is of deep concern to all of East Asia.

Geopolitics: US ties with Taiwan

  • Officially, the US has subscribed to PRC’s “One China Policy” which means there is only one legitimate Chinese government.
  • The most serious encounter was in 1995-96, when China began testing missiles in the seas around Taiwan, triggering the biggest US mobilization in the region since the Vietnam War.
  • Now, the US backs Taiwan’s independence, maintains ties with Taipei, and sells weapons to it.
  • Taiwan is entirely dependent on the US for its defense against possible Chinese aggression.
  • This is why every spike in military tensions between China and Taiwan injects more hostility into the already strained relationship between Washington and Beijing.

Challenge for the US

  • The Biden Administration has declared “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan after an incursion by Chinese warplanes.
  • As tensions rise, the world is watching the US, which is face-saving after exiting from Afghanistan.
  • In East and Southeast Asia, several countries including Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, which are sheltered under the Protective umbrella of the US, are reading the situation.
  • The US has also agreed to abide by the “Taiwan Agreement”, under which US support for the “One China Policy” is premised on Beijing not invading Taiwan.

Recent initiatives against China

  • The AUKUS pact among the US, UK, and Australia, under which Australia will be supplied with nuclear submarines, has imparted a new dimension to the security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific.
  • Taiwan has welcomed the pact, while China has denounced it as seriously undermining regional peace.

Implications for India

  • With India facing its own problems with China at the LAC, there have been suggestions that it should review its One China Policy.
  • It has in any case long stopped reiterating this officially — and use not just the Tibet card, but also develop more robust relations with Taiwan to send a message to Beijing.
  • India and Taiwan currently maintain “trade and cultural exchange” offices in each other’s capitals.

India-Taiwan Ties: A backgrounder

  • India and Taiwan both do not maintain any official diplomatic relations.
  • India recognizes only the People’s Republic of China (in mainland China) and not Taiwan’s claims of being the legitimate government of Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
  • However, India’s economic and commercial links, as well as people-to-people contacts with Taiwan, have expanded in recent years.
  • Major Taiwanese exports to India include integrated circuits, machinery, and other electronic products.

India’s interest

Ans. Semiconductor economy

  • Taiwan’s position as a semiconductor superpower opens the door for more intensive strategic-economic cooperation between Delhi and Taipei.
  • The talks with Taipei are ongoing to bring a $7.5-billion semiconductor or chip manufacturing plant to India.
  • Chips are used in a range of devices from computers to 5G smartphones, to electric cars and medical equipment.

Way forward

  • Delhi must begin to deal with Taiwan as a weighty entity in its own right that offers so much to advance India’s prosperity.
  • Delhi does not have to discard its “One-China policy” to recognise that Taiwan is once again becoming the lightning rod in US-China tensions.

Conclusion

  • As Taiwan becomes the world’s most dangerous flashpoint, the geopolitical consequences for Asia are real.
  • Although Delhi has embraced the Indo-Pacific maritime construct, it is yet to come to terms with Taiwan’s critical role in shaping the strategic future of Asia’s waters.

 

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