Ukraine redux in Taiwan Strait

Ukraine has geographical connectivity and land corridors with Russian Federation

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As US C-40C Transport Jet touched down the Taipei’s Songshan Air Base on the eve of 2nd August and Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan for the first time, there has been sabre rattling across the Taiwan Strait and things are heating up. C-40C transport jet is simply a militarised version of the Boeing 737-700 airliner meant for senior military and government leaders. As per Taiwan News; Pelosi’s delegation included Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Mark Takano, chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; Suzan DelBene, vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee; Raja Krishnamoorthi, member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and Andy Kim, member of the House Armed Services Committee and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The US has deliberately used this aircraft and the delegation to send a strong message to China; it is ready to heat up the Taiwan Strait.

Is Taiwan going to become the next battleground for a power struggle between China and the US, is it becoming Ukraine Redux? This is a million-dollar question.

Interestingly, there are similarities and dissimilarities between what happened in Ukraine, especially after the Euromaidan shift in Nov 2013 and the ensuing war between Russia and Ukraine, and what’s now beginning to boil up in South China Sea.

The strategic environment and placing of different forces in the region is one factor which differentiates the two regions of Eastern Europe and Taiwan Strait. US policy in the Indo Pacific has been consistent with an aim to strangulate China and band states in the littoral areas of Indo Pacific under the Quad Plus mechanism.

While Ukraine is not internationally part of the Russian Federation, it comes under the area of influence of Russian Federation due to geographical proximity; Taiwan is a different ball game. In terms of international claims China’s ‘One China policy’ is internationally recognised, Taiwan doesn’t have a seat in the UN and China strongly believes it to be a part of the motherland.

Ukraine has geographical connectivity and land corridors with Russian Federation, in case of Taiwan it is separated by Taiwan Strait from mainland China and this creates some interesting military options on both sides. For any military operation across Taiwan Strait, Chinese military will have to apply amphibious forces as well as deploy strong maritime and air power.

Coinciding with the visit of Nancy Pelosi, Chinese military or the PLA has already adopted an aggressive posture and started a multidimensional joint manoeuvre, surrounding the Island from six sides. This aggressive posture is aimed at telling the world that China is not ready to budge from its stated policy and would use all means to secure her sovereignty. While the US does maintain reasonably strong capability in the Indo Pacific, especially in the South China Sea, it still remains remote from Taiwan because the distance between the nearest US naval base of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Taiwan, even her allies in the region like Japan, India and Australia cannot project matching military capability in defence of Taiwan. While China has the luxury to deploy her forces from her land and naval bases in Fujian province as well as the Eastern Theatre Command to sustain it for a long period of time, the US and her allies will need a logistics tail, with requisite stamina, to stage their naval forces for defence of Taiwan, this will be a tough call for allied military commanders.

Unfortunately, the West has not learnt much from its adventures in the MENA region as well as West Asia. Even the Russia-Ukraine war has exposed the Western philosophy of intervention, as it continues to push Russian Federation into a tight corner. Although the Ukrainians have fought bravely, they have also lost 20% of their land mass and are almost cut off from Black Sea less the port of Odessa. Ukrainian economy has lost almost a trillion dollars in this war and despite Western support they have not been able to effectively stem the tide of Russian offensive. As most of the Russian political commentators have remarked that Ukraine will be used as cannon fodder by the West till the survival of last Ukrainian, this unfortunate philosophy is being applied in Taiwan as well.

People of Taiwan or also divided on whether to buy the American bait and extend military cooperation to an extent that it starts posing threat to China and her stance on One China policy, we have seen some demonstration against the visit of Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan as well.

The visit has also propelled an intensive information war on social media; netizens and social media activists from both sides have attacked each other. The Western activists have tried to ridicule China by stating that China could not stop the visit of Nancy Pelosi despite the rhetoric; some were chiding the PLA to come out and attack Taiwan.

With Chinese 20th National Party Congress due in October this year and President Xi Jinping looking for a third term, Chinese response against Pelosi’s visit could take many forms and colours.

It may also be interesting to find out what could be the response from the countries in the periphery of South China Sea and rest of the world. Russian Federation has already displayed its concern and has assumed that US venture into Taiwan would blow up the situation; other countries are finding it difficult to take sides in a conflict where there will be no winners.

Although Indian politico-military leadership has not taken any formal stance, Indian media has echoed the western feelings and has tried to ridicule PLA, most probably to satisfy their bruised ego and overcome the humiliation suffered by Indian Army at the hands of PLA in Galwan.

Pakistan has come up with a measured response and has stated that it would continue to support One China policy. “Pakistan reaffirms its strong commitment to One China policy and firmly supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Foreign Office stated. “Pakistan is deeply concerned over the evolving situation in the Taiwan Strait, which has serious implications for regional peace and stability.”

With the world already reeling due to the Russia-Ukraine war and the emerging food and energy crisis, it cannot afford another conflict in the very sensitive region of South China Sea. If the things go out of control and there is a military conflict, the global economy will suffer an unbearable shock. Let’s hope sense prevails and US hegemonic attitude is tempered down to let the world heave a sigh of relief.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2022.

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