Aamina Ikram is currently pursuing her degree in international relations from International Islamic University. Her areas of interest lie include Middle Eastern politics and espionage operations.
Has the US “secure the strait” and “strategic ambiguity” policy failed to make Taiwan a ‘Porcupine’? Or is it the failure of coordinated sanctions policy in deterring Russia from invading Ukraine which catalyzed for America to reassess its policy and robustly support Taiwan against China? Since 1997, it has been the first high-level US visit paid by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on 2nd August 2022, despite China’s warning of “extreme measures.”
The US is not ready to let China’s hegemonic designs in the Indo-Pacific succeed and allow it to gain control of the first island with 80% of the world’s semi-conductors production and meaningful sea route connections. The Taiwan Strait is on high alert amid increasing violations of its airspace and a display of military power by China over its waters.
The Communist Party in China, led by Xi Jinping, is optimistic about achieving its milestone of unifying “Taiwan by 2027,” for which it is ratcheting up pressure on Taiwan through conventional means below the threshold of military force.
China’s Military Operations Near Taiwan
China carried out its largest-ever military exercises near Taiwan, setting the stage on fire using howitzer and target flares in the sea and sending 22 warplanes that crossed the median line, an unratified divide between China and Taiwan, in response to Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taipei. Under Xi Jinping, China’s policy over Taiwan has become more aggressive and rhetorical; approximately 969 incursions were conducted into the island’s air defense identification zone in 2021.
Beijing has spurred up its use of grey-zone tactics to shift the military balance on its side, compelling Taiwan to be on its toes. The contemporary situation completely fits in the Chinese aphorism which explains this approach, “once ripe, the melon will drop from its stem”. Considering the pace of Chinese operations in Taiwan, it seems like the melon is ripe. Taiwan’s bourgeoning upheaval and worsening security have alarmed the US to prepare for an upcoming war.
It doesn’t seem that China will take a step back from Taiwan since it’s not 1997 when China had called back its warfare from the strait under US pressure, but 2022 when it is just a few steps from jeopardizing the US’s global hegemony. Nancy Pelosi’s visit offered unwavering support to its crucial “unofficial ally” Taiwan in East Asia, a “gold mine” for America to contain the hegemonic designs of China.
Elbridge A. Colby writes in the denial strategy, “The goal of an anti-hegemonic coalition…is to prevent an aspiring hegemon like China from dominating a region like Asia by convincing important states that it would prevail in a systemic regional war.”
Even though Nancy Pelosi’s visit lacked government backing, it triggered the ire of Chinese higher authorities, who responded by curbing trade with the self-governing island, located about 100 miles from mainland China. Trade restrictions imposed on fruits, fish imports, and the export of sand to the island will bear limited influence over the economy of the island.
However, the more significant risk would be if Beijing widens the restrictions on trade or continues destroying the busiest shipment lanes of international travel via military drills. A $273 billion bilateral trade was closed between China and Taiwan last year, with the latter depending on China for 33% of its total trade. China has cashed the moment of Pelosi’s visit to tighten its grip on Taiwan by pacing up military drill operations and reducing economic activities.
Inflation has hit the global economy hard following the COVID-19 pandemic, harsh climate conditions, and the war in Ukraine, but a trade derail between China and Taiwan will severely devastate the global economy supply chain. America had a significant role in putting Ukraine in the war by giving empty assurances and false hopes, and Pelosi’s recent visit has all the potential to do that for Taiwan.
Was Henry Kissinger right when he said: To be an enemy of America can be dangerous but to be a friend is fatal?
A New Reality for America
Nancy Pelosi’s gamble of visiting Taiwan in an atmosphere of spiraling turmoil has ruffled feathers of the higher echelons in mainland China who have responded by announcing the conduction of live-fire military drills in the air and at sea around Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army. Recent geopolitical setbacks, woeful withdrawal from Afghanistan, and failure to make Russia comply despite crippling its economy have made America rethink its policy over Taiwan and China.
If the Biden administration fails to construct a terrific strategy, China has all the potential to reunify Taiwan forcibly. China is perhaps waiting for the “Davidson window” to strike its first blow and seize Taiwan, as described by Admiral Philip Davidson, leading US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).
Peaceful or Military Unification
According to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, “The current tensions in the Taiwan Strait are a product of strategic dilemma with a military component, and not a military dilemma with a military solution.” Being claimed as China’s ‘legitimate right,’ reunification can be seen as a significant possibility if the US fails to draft a well-integrated policy.
The imperfect alignment between America and Taiwan has served as a precursor for China to achieve its ambitions in Taiwan in recent times. China has undergone enormous efforts to isolate Taiwan, launching cyber attacks and sparking social divisions to break the trust of Taiwanese people in Taiwan’s future autonomy and the democratic norms of their country.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit markedly damaged Chinese efforts by announcing unflinching support, boosting the morale of the populace which has been shattered since 2016 when the PRC intensified its campaign of coercion. The only solution left for China to amalgamate with Taiwan is by resorting to force. Recent war games conducted by the Pentagon is a testimony to the fact that if a military clash were to occur between China and the US over Taiwan, it would result in the US’s defeat.
Has Nancy Pelosi forced the Chinese hardliners to reconsider the cost and benefit of a military invasion? China is planning for a “Z-Day” invasion under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Following the increased grey-zone pressure on Taiwan by PLA forces and Xi’s approval of the “legitimacy” of the Russian attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty, a forced reunification has become indispensable.
Taiwan is a “strategic asset” and “power projection platform” for the US in Asia, a pillar to hold its dominance in the region, and the US will not let it slip out of its hands so easily. Should the world expect a world war between two global powers, the answer comes in ‘no’; nuclear deterrence stopped America from directly intervening in the Ukraine crisis, and considering China’s improved nuclear arsenal, any such option is ruled out.
In Graham Allison’s words, “When a rising power is threatening to displace a ruling power, standard crises that could otherwise be contained…can initiate a cascade of reactions that, in turn, produce outcomes none of the parties would otherwise have chosen.”
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