Why Experts Fear China-Taiwan Conflict Might Trigger A Global War?


Taiwan’s president has warned that her country “will do whatever it takes to defend itself” against any Chinese aggression after Beijing dispatched a record number of military planes into its air defence zone, reports The Week. 

The War drums

Yesterday marked the fourth straight day of Chinese incursions into Taiwanese territory. Nearly 150 aircraft were sent into action in what the BBC described as a “warning” to Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen ahead of the island’s national day on Sunday.

In response, Tsai has written an article published by Foreign Policy in which she fears there would be “catastrophic consequences” if a conflict were to break out between the two nations. 

Taiwan “hopes for peaceful, stable, predictable, and mutually beneficial coexistence with its neighbours”, she said. “But if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.”

Tensions between China and Taiwan

China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s.Beijing has always maintained that the island should at some point be reclaimed. Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China and has described Tsai’s government as separatists, while refusing to rule out the use of force to bring it back into China’s direct orbit.

Tensions between China and Taiwan flare intermittently in the South China Sea. Tsai wrote on Foreign Policy that other nations should “understand the value of working with Taiwan” to defend the democratic island and warned that “if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system”.

Taiwan is an independent nation

Taiwan has full diplomatic relations with only 14 out of 193 United Nations member states – as well as the Holy See – because China has urged its allies to refuse to recognise its legitimacy as an independent nation. The island also has its own constitution, democratically elected leaders and around 300,000 active troops.

Experts have warned for months that “Beijing is becoming increasingly concerned that Taiwan’s government is moving the island towards a formal declaration of independence”, the BBC said, though Tsai’s government has maintained the position that “Taiwan is already an independent state, making any formal declaration unnecessary”.

The catastrophic outcome

“Chinese vessels could also harass ships around Taiwan, restricting vital supplies of fuel and food,” the news site continued, while “airstrikes would quickly aim to kill Taiwan’s top political and military leaders, while also immobilizing local defences”.

This would be followed by warships and submarines traversing some 130 kilometres [80 miles] across the Taiwan Strait, before thousands of paratroopers would appear above Taiwan’s coastlines, looking to penetrate defences [and] capture strategic buildings.

Taiwan would be reliant on “natural defences” – its rugged coastline and rough sea – with plans in place to throw a thousand tanks at the beachhead in the event of a Chinese land invasion that could result in brutal tank battles that help decide the outcome, according to Forbes.

Escalation between two nuclear powers

Beijing massively outguns Taiwan, with estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showing that China spends about 25 times more on its military. Taiwan has a defence pact with the US dating back to the 1954 Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty, meaning the US could, in theory, be drawn into the conflict.

Beijing’s optimistic version of events after the decision to invade would see cyber and electronic warfare units target Taiwan’s financial system and key infrastructure, as well as US satellites to reduce notice of impending ballistic missiles Bloomberg said.

However, this would be complicated if the US flexed its muscles in what The Economist has called a test of America’s military might and its diplomatic and political resolve.

Should the US decide against intervention, China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia and America’s allies around the world would know that they could not count on it, the paper added. In other words, “Pax Americana would collapse”.

This means that the US could see its hand forced as “Joe Biden pivots US foreign policy towards a focus on the Indo-Pacific as the main arena for 21st-century superpower competition”, The Guardian said.

US manoeuvres have so far consisted of building up large amounts of lethal military hardware, the paper added, with the steady buildup of troops and equipment and the proliferation of war games meaning there is more of a chance of conflict triggered by miscalculation or accident.

And the primary danger should the US become involved lies in the fact that both Washington and Beijing possess nuclear weapons.

Leaked documents published by The New York Times earlier this year revealed the extent of Washington’s discussions about using nuclear weapons to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the 1950s.

Provided to the paper by Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower behind the 1971 Pentagon Papers, the documents appeared to show an “acceptance by some US military leaders of possible retaliatory nuclear strikes on US bases”, CNN noted, raising the spectre of how the nuclear powers would square off in a 21st-century conflict.

About the Aukus military pact

Following last month’s signing of Aukus, a historic military pact between the US, UK and Australia, former prime minister Theresa May expressed her concern about the implications of the agreement if China were to launch an invasion of Taiwan.

Speaking in the House of Commons, May asked Boris Johnson of “the implications of this pact for the stance that would be taken by the United Kingdom in its response should China attempt to invade Taiwan?”

At the time, Johnson responded by saying that the pact is “​​not intended to be adversarial towards any other power”, adding: “The UK remains determined to defend international law and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends across the world, and the strong advice that we would give to the government in Beijing.”

In response to the Chinese jets’ incursions, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told ABC that the country is “very concerned that China is going to launch a war against Taiwan at some point”. And as the broadcaster’s global affairs analyst Stan Grant wrote: “Whether the US fights alongside it will determine Australia’s fate.”

Aukus “is designed to send a clear message to China that the US is not going to surrender dominance in the Indo-Pacific”, Grant added. Australia has “dropped the pretence” of playing both sides by “doubling down on the American alliance”.

All of this seems to suggest that Australia could join the US and Japan, which in July also pledged to defend Taiwan, in mounting a resistance to a Chinese invasion, raising questions over what the UK would do if the call came from Washington or Canberra to join its allies.

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Source: The Week


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