The Asian Cold War: China and Taiwan in a Silent Clash


Oblivious encounters and looming tensions between historical rivals

China’s government has accelerated military operations within the nearby Eastern Asia regions specifically over Taiwan. With tensions skyrocketing between the two nations further as the US allows Washington’s military to advance into Taiwan. Taiwan’s military effort and defense strategy must therefore be focused on as Beijing Foreign Policy looks to assert its dominance over the region and the possibility of a cross-strait conflict is becoming ever more imminent.

Concerningly, the People's Republic of China, continues to proclaim that Taiwan is part of its mainland provinces while Taiwan refuses to submit allegiance to Beijing. Moreover, in September, earlier this year, the People's Liberations Army Aircraft had crossed into Taiwan’s Strait which had been an area of peace for many years. Though both nations must recognise the severe economic losses, stability and livelihood of their citizens in the likely outcomes of an all out war. Though forces that may drive conflict appear to be China’s president Xi Jinping’s goal to determine his own legacy via regaining ‘’lost’’ territory and support of the Taipei citizens.

Picture Courtesy: Google Images

A chess game that the world will watch eagerly

Recent tensions and struggle for influence has seen Taiwan enter a new area of development with efforts focused on investing in large military grade submarines with estimates of the fleet numbers ranging from 2,500 to 3,000 metric tons with expert analysts anticipating the capacity of shipbuilding that the island nation may possess. Significantly analysts have however highlighted that the balance of power over the long run would still be in Beijing’s favor as the US Defence Department highlighted that China’s submarine fleets may harbor around 60 to 70 in fleet size in the near future.

Encouragingly, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen has attempted to maintain peace between the two nations clarifying her intentions and drive to support Taiwan’s citizens best interests, “we will continue these efforts, and we are willing to engage in dialogue with China and make more concrete contributions to regional security.”On the other hand China has cut formal talks mechanisms in 2016 as Tsai was sworn into office for her first term. Unsurprisingly, Taiwan has recently distanced itself from China and in July introduced two new legislative proposals, the first being a rebranding of carrier China airlines while the second involved signposting Taiwan on official passports which were currently labelled,’Republic of China’.

‘One China’: A conflicted consensus and lost identity

A signed consensus between the two nations in 1992 involving the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and the former ruling party, the KMT(Kuomintang) declared that there is ‘One China’ allowing for differing viewpoints to exist and that Taipei confirms that Taiwan belongs to China, though there has never been a registered governing body.

This consensus, as well as the tacit agreement previously declared that Taiwan would not seek independence, though in January 2019, Tsai Ing-wen leader of the DPP(Democratic Progressive Party) in her speech, had denounced and refuted the consensus. The political strategy has also been implemented in Hong Kong as a means to encourage and isolate Taiwan from outside nations as it recently forced Solomon Islands and Kiribati to cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan thus restricting its allies to 15 nations.

With China attempting to assert its locus of control on the island nation, Tawainese local newspaper, Liberty Times noted the need for Taiwanese F16 fighter jets defensive air patrol taking place 17 times within the space of four hours, signalling China’s air force to back down. Worryingly, China has shown no official sign of slowing down the pressure or autocratic leadership it has placed on Taiwan as it aims to deter US presence and recent actions of an alleged US Navy Admiral visiting the island nation.

Moreover, the 2020 China Military Power Report had signalled China’s insecurities regarding Taiwan as a threat towards its identity and thus aims to utilise its military power to secure unification.

President of Taiwan Picture Courtesy: Google Images

The Issue, Escalation and Present Scenario

The development of its first new submarines in a decade by Taiwan is considered a historic benchmark. When the ships enter service beginning around 2025, they could help tip the balance of power towards Taipei across the Taiwan Strait. The goal of Taipei is to purchase as many as eight vessels. The prospect of a follow-on submarine purchase started to be discussed by Taipei. But China leaned on the sub-builders of the world, threatening sanctions against any nation selling new ships to Taiwan. President Xi Jinping of China has promised that Beijing would never allow the island to become independent and has declined, if possible, to rule out the use of force. Yet Tsai was adamant, saying that Taiwan is at the forefront of Asia's "defending democracy from authoritarian aggression"

By using the narrow body of water separating Taiwan from mainland China, Taiwan's planned submarines may make a major difference in thwarting Chinese expansionist architecture. China's People's Liberation Army has been growing military pressure on the island for several months, sending warplanes into the identification zone of Taiwan's air defense and stepping up military drills on nearby islands, moves widely viewed as a threat to Taipei.

Involvement of USA

The U.S. The Department of Defense (DOD), warned of Beijing's capability to take over Taiwan through military force. The report does an authoritative assessment of China's military and security progress, highlighting Beijing's determination to occupy Taiwan by any means needed. It also answers possible questions about the Taiwan Strait military gap, noting that China's national defense budget is nearly 15 times that of Taiwan's. The U.S. regularly expresses resistance to efforts by Beijing to shift the status quo. "Taiwan's commitment to build submarines and invest in its own defense makes it easier for US officials to politically support helping an island under attack from China since Taiwan is doing what it can to defend itself.

Taiwanese Navy’s indigenous defense submarines (IDS) Picture Courtesy: The Nationalist

Taiwan to implement stringent military reforms from January

As reported by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Sunday, strict military reforms will take effect next month. In October, MND spokesman, Shih Shun-wen said the ministry had set up a pilot disciplinary reform program to implement discipline and maintain a high-quality combat force. From October to December, the trial process lasted and has now undergone a comprehensive analysis to decide if it will be completely enforced. The reforms come as China has increased its aggressive military activities, including numerous air defense identification zone incursions into Taiwan and regular naval exercises in the South China Sea. Maintaining a well-disciplined, powerful battle force is of the utmost importance for Taiwan.

Although military operations against Taiwan have always been an option for China, peaceful unification is also a choice that has not been ruled out. Voices within academia calling for peaceful unification with Taiwan.


By Richardt Schoonraad I Srijita Chakrabarti

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