Views & Reviews
The Dictator’s Dilemma
Cross-strait relations between Taiwan and the Communist country of China have time and again caught our attention due to the fraught relations between the two: One, a booming democracy and the other, an authoritarian regime bugged by irredentism.
January 2024 will be historic for the East Asian region as it will decide the fate of more than the 20 million strong island-nation this year in the hustings. Incumbent President Tsai-Ing Wen is set to make way for a new Head of State after completing two successive terms, which makes her ineligible constitutionally to contest again. Foreign relations with Communist China will occupy the centre stage in this year’s three-way political battle. It will not be an overstatement to say that the outcome of elections will have a significant impact on the sovereignty of Taiwan.
Taiwan or the Republic of China, is a stark contrast of its mainland counterpart and has been a booming example of democracy, pluralism, inclusivity and freedom, all in less than 4 decades time period since the revocation of martial law in the year 1987. This makes it all the more an irritant to its neighbour that thrives on its leader’s cult and persona.
Taiwan is currently an economic powerhouse due to its innovation and manufacturing capability, particularly in the field of microchips and other cutting-edge technologies. This has increased its stature on the global arena and attracted interest from top investors around the world. In this backdrop, a full-scale Chinese invasion into Taiwan is sure to raise temperatures even in the most distant parts of the world.
According to Bloomberg Economics estimate, a military confrontation between Taiwan and China will cost at least a tenth of global GDP, amounting to around $10 trillion. In other words, the dent will be far worse than the Global Financial Crisis, Covid pandemic and Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine all combined. The huge cost is in itself a deterrent for the stakeholders involved to avoid such a scenario. It will also be interesting to see what role America plays in the event of a Chinese assault.
During their most recent meeting on the sidelines of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit held in November 2023, President Xi and President Biden did touch upon the subject of Taiwan quite bluntly. While Xi made reassuring statements, such as promising “heart-warming” measures for making his economy more investor-friendly and refuting claims of a Chinese invasion into Taiwan by 2027, Biden on the other hand, made it clear to Xi in no uncertain terms about America’s unequivocal support for Taiwan’s right to defend itself in case of any Chinese misadventure. This has quite literally bust America’s strategic ambiguity with regards to Taiwan.
In the meanwhile, there have been reports of wholesale changes of personnel in the Chinese armed forces, owing to massive corruption and equipment malfunction. While this may have cast a shadow on President Xi’s immediate military ambitions, it may not be safe to completely rule out military action on the part of China in the future.
It is also quite noteworthy to mention here that Xi Jin Ping has time and again made his intentions clear on the imminent reunification of Taiwan with the mainland of China. It forms one of the pillars of “rebirth” of the Chinese nation and is central to Xi’s hyper-national rhetoric. Time is however running out for Xi due to a dwindling birth rate among the Chinese, which may render its military too old to fight long wars.
The Chinese sabre-rattling in the aftermath of the visit of the then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, did ring alarm bells in the western bloc. The West, led by America has since then made it their mission to gather international support against the Chinese aggression to deter them from making such moves. Taiwan too considers the possibility of a direct confrontation with China a reality and has since conducted its own military drills to scale up its readiness.
Recent trends have shown at a diversification of supply chains in the sector of microchips by countries like US, UK, France and Japan, who have increased greenfield investments in other countries. This points at the level of seriousness of the issue and a looming conflict in the region.
A sinking economy, growing hardships and frustration among the Chinese people due to the recent fallout from the pandemic may create fertile ground for Xi to launch external wars, in order to consolidate his domestic hold onto power. A dilemma of such dramatic proportions, often pushes authoritarian regimes into making fatal miscalculations and getting embroiled in unending wars.
With another potential conflict looming in its backyard, India too would have to maintain vigil, in order to manoeuvre its economy out of any potential trouble. India’s ‘One China Policy’ has so far remained immune from any bickering between China and Taiwan.
However, it remains to be seen what strategy does India chalk out if faced with the challenge of picking on either side.
India has also portrayed itself as the ‘Voice of the Global South’ and must make suitable decisions in the interest of the developing world. Any kind of confrontation in the Taiwan strait is sure to send ripples across the supply chain of multiple sectors, but India can and should cushion the developing world from the doomsday. This is also in the best interest of its people and the world as a whole.
The author is a freelance writer dealing with Indian Political System and International Affairs.