On New Year’s Day1979, The Standing Committee of the Fifth National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China abruptly stopped shelling Taiwan’s offshore islands, changed their rhetoric from one of ‘liberation’ to ‘unification’(Laurus 2019) and sent a message of greetings and wishes for a hopeful reuniting of the Chinese people (Fifth National People’s Congress 1979).On the fortieth anniversary of this message, Communist Party Secretary-General Xi Jinping of China in perhaps his strongest messaging to date, warned the breakaway republic of Taiwan that it “must and will be reunited” with mainland China despite interference from foreigners, a not so subtle hint at the United States (BBC News 2019). This strong language was evidence that China was willing to move towards a forceful reunification with Taiwan if efforts for a peaceful reintegration remained stagnant.This paper focuses on what the probable leading indicators are that Japanese and Taiwanese intelligence agencies would focus on to discern signals of Chinese intent to move forward with a forcible reunification of Taiwan.
The Chinese Perspective
China sees the Taiwan issue as one similar to that of Hong Kong or Macau. Both islands have been administered under the “One China-Two Systems” approach after returning to Chinese control following agreements with their former colonizing powers. Macau was released from Portugal in 1987 and Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. Under “One China-Two Systems,” each territory would be autonomous in all matters except foreign affairs and defense-related activities for a period of fifty years. China has proposed a similar reunification plan with Taiwan, which has been routinely rejected. China has always considered the integrity of the nation as a “core interest” which includes “the sovereignty of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang (Nie 2016).”
China has always maintained that it has the right to use military force to compel Taiwan to rejoin China (Chaudhury 2019). However, it has used many other tactics to undermine Taiwan’s resistance. China has moved to sever ties with any country that seeks to establish relations with Taiwan and to exclude Taiwan from participating in international organizations that could confer a semblance of national recognition (Brown and Scott 2014, 64). Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, his language and actions have ratcheted up the calls for reunification with Taiwan and perhaps signaled a stronger possibility for military action.
Xi has made several moves to consolidate his power within the PRC. Most notably his removal of term limits from the constitution, which will allow him to serve indefinitely (Womack 2017, 402). His ‘anti-corruption’ efforts, which he undertook shortly after taking power (Nie 2016, 426), while billed as an effort to root out corruption within the government. Xi’s efforts to remove those seen as disloyal in the higher ranks has created a Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) that is both loyal and firmly in the control of Xi with many calling him “the New Emperor(Brown and Scott 2018, 62).” The PRC has also increased pressure on many fronts following Taiwan’s election of Tsai Ing-Wen: the staging of military exercises including China’s aircraft carrier the Liaoning; live fire exercises near Taiwanese waters; the establishment of a new commercial flight path that encroaches upon Taiwanese airspace; interfering in various non-government and international forums to force the removal of references to Taiwan as being anything other than a part of China (Brown and Scott 2018, 63-65).Under Xi, China appears to be making a full court press to drive Taiwan to what it considers a ‘peaceful unification.’
The View from Taiwan
Taiwan has effectively ruled itself independently of the mainland and has never seen itself as being under PRC control. Polls in Taiwan have consistently shown very high support for independence, normally in the 70% range (Keum and Campbell 2001, 71)&(Jennings and Lai 2019). Support for independence among younger demographics is typically higher as they feel less bonding with the mainland than their parent’s generation (Jennings and Lai 2019). Per capita income for Taiwanese citizens is much higher than that on the mainland(Chiu 1983, 1092). China’s abandonment of promises made to the Tibetan people after it invaded and the continuing erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong and Macau under the “One China-Two Systems” since reunification has also not gone unnoticed (Keum and Campbell 2001, 73).
The National Security Policy of Taiwan states in its opening paragraph on cross-strait negotiations that: “mutual non-recognition and mutual non-denial” means “the two sides do not recognize each other’s sovereignty, nor do they deny each other’s authority to govern (ROC).”Like the PRC, Taiwan sees itself as the only legitimate “true” China and will be unwilling to concede its independence and sovereignty to the PRC as it has long seen mainland China as the one that should come under Taiwanese control (Chang 2014, 303).
Japan Caught in the Middle
Japan has the most complicated position of the three nations, which it must carefully navigate as it has significant military, economic, and diplomatic ties with China, Taiwan, and the United States. Despite having been a former colonial occupier of Taiwan, its relations by and large have been increasingly beneficial between the two countries. While Japan has spoken up at international venues on behalf of Taiwan without establishing formal relations and has supported the development of a high-speed rail system on Taiwan, Japan has been careful not to draw too much ire from the PRC (Bartlett 2018). China views Japan as having fully accepted its One Belt-One Road (OBOR) initiative, despite Prime Minister Abe being somewhat cagy in his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May 2018. Abe admitted that “the possibility of cooperation will be explored on a case-by-case basis, under the proviso that openness, transparency, economic efficiency and financial soundness all accord to international standards (Kawashima 2018).”Abe is seen as a strong leader in Japan and despite his attempts to improve Sino-Japanese relations he has moved to strengthen Japan’s position in the region to counter China’s rise.
While China’s ascendency and the current pre-eminence of the United States as the global power has led many scholars to discuss the impending Thucydides Trap (TT) with the United States (see for example Er 2016), China’s rise also presents a similar TT with Japan. Until recently, Japan and China have not held positions of strength as regional powers at the same time. China surpassing a stagnant Japanese economy in 2010 to become the second largest economy poses economic and security concerns for Japan (Yuan 2018, 4). Additionally, China has announced the planned development of a four-ship aircraft carrier fleet. In response, Japan has sought to increase its submarine fleet from 16 to 22 and has sought to remove constitutional limitations on the Japanese military to increase its flexibility and allow for the development of increased military capability, all designed to counter the Chinese PLA. This could extend to Japan pursuing its own nuclear weapons program if it sees the United States as becoming an unreliable partner in sharing its nuclear deterrence (Er 2016, 43). Japansees a reunification of China with Taiwan as not “a good thing for Japan”with respect to its national security and will move to counter such an event.
Taiwanese/Japanese Intelligence Services and the Search for Leading Indicators
In such a complicated region where global and regional powers are intertwined, what indicators should the Taiwanese and Japanese intelligence services be monitoring to provide warning that China may be moving towards forceful reunification? What capabilities and technologies are these organizations employing in such monitoring?
National Security Bureau (NSB) – The NSB is the official intelligence agency of Taiwan. The NSB’s history was shrouded in a dark past of covert arrests and assassinations until 1994 when legislative changes created the National Security Bureau Organization Act. This act formalized the organization and published the names of its leadership. The first responsibility assigned to the NSB is the “Security for the Taiwan area, intelligence work for the Mainland area and international intelligence work (ROC 2011).” This is an admission that the ROC intends to conduct intelligence activities inside the PRC but the act does not discuss in detail any capabilities, technologies, personnel strength or other related information. Not much is known publicly about the NSB other than its organizational hierarchy and what is published on its website as the NSB has rarely published documents for public consumption. However, due to its advanced economy and technological access, the NSB likely maintains comparable capabilities to most western intelligence agencies. It is known that Taiwan has successfully launched several satellites under Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSO). However, any relation between the NSB and the NSO is not public. The NSB also is likely not adverse to using classical techniques as demonstrated by the PRC accusing Taiwan of using “honey pots” to lure Chinese students into espionage, a charge that Taiwan has publicly denied (NDTV).
Japanese Intelligence Services – Japan maintains a complex organization of several intelligence services including the Naicho – Cabinet Research Office, a small central intelligence agency and coordinating office under the Prime Minister that focuses on foreign intelligence concerns (see figure 1). Japan also has a Defense Intelligence Office and subordinate intelligence agencies in its Ground, Maritime and Air defense forces (fas.org).
Japan’s intelligence capabilities and techniques are similar to its western peers but is smaller in size. It also does not maintain an organization specializing in foreign human intelligence (HUMINT) akin to the CIA and no internal security organization like Britain’s MI5 (Yoshiki 2015, 721). China’s increasing regional hegemony has driven Japan to pursue its own military and space intelligence capabilities and to seek closer cooperation with the United States on intelligence matters to fill these gaps (Yuan 2018, 5).
Japan and Taiwan should direct its national technical means towards monitoring the following indicators. First, since Xi’s anti-corruption campaign resulted in him solidifying control of the military by placing loyalists in leadership roles, any rhetoric from senior military leaders could be perceived as being reflective of Xi’s policies. Should senior military leaders start calling for increased military action against Taiwan, this would be a worrisome sign. Secondly, China’s current amphibious capability needed to transport troops and expertise in deployment has been insufficient for a Taiwanese invasion. A sharp increase in amphibious related exercises or calls for an abnormal increase in the acquisition of amphibious ships and landing craft would also be key preparations for an assault on Taiwan. Third, the PRC has been attempting to isolate the ROC from involvement in international engagements, devaluing Taiwan’s name and image globally (Brown and Scott 2017, 64). A significant increase in these activities could be a policy shift by Xi’s government away from peaceful unification.
A military venture by China to force Taiwan into reunification could result in swift military action by the United States and subsequently would draw Japan into the conflict through treaty entanglements. Such a conflict would undoubtedly be devastating for the region. An uneasy stalemate has existed between China and Taiwan for nearly three decades. Rapprochement between the two respective leaders seems a decreasing possibility and the probability of conflict correspondingly rising. President Xi’s strongman approach to leadership, a desire for the emergence of a powerful China through the One Belt-One Road initiative, and a willingness to absorb short-term suffering for long-term gain may in fact signal the coming end of China’s patience on the Taiwan issue. We live in interesting times, indeed.
Nepal-China Boundary Treaty: An example of peaceful Himalayan frontiers
Chairman Mao: How is everything with Your Excellency? Have all the problems been solved?
King Mahendra: Everything is settled.
Chairman Mao: Fair and reasonable?
King Mahendra: Yes. We all agree.
Chairman Mao: It is good that we agree. There is goodwill on both sides. We hope that will get along well, and you hope we shall get along well too. We do not want to harm you, nor do you want to harm us.
King Mahendra: We fully understand.
Chairman Mao: We are equals; we cannot say one country is superior or inferior to the other.
King Mahendra: We very much appreciate the way of speaking.
This was a snippet of the candid conversation between founding father of People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong and Nepal’s the then king Mahendra on the historic Nepal-China Border Treaty day of 5 October 1961. A book titled ‘MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ has detailed this conversation. The conversation is mentioned under the topic of ”Talk with Nepal’s king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva and the queen’ (page 366 and 367) in the book.
This famous diplomatic book of Mao was compiled by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and the Party Literature Research Center under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and was published by Foreign Languages Press Beijing on 1998.
This conversation, from the verbatim records, speaks volumes about the level of trust and the height of friendship between two neighbors Nepal and China.
Nepal-China boundary: An example of speedy settlement
Nepal and China boundary settlement has reached 59 years of its signing ceremony at Beijing. It is an extraordinary example of speedy settlement. Nepal and China formally established diplomatic relationship on 1 August 1955.
Few years later on 21 March 1960, Nepal and China signed Boundary Agreement. Nepal’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prashad Koirala signed it during the official China visit. The friendly diplomatic dialogue of Koirala and Mao is also included in the book ”MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ under the topic of ”The Sino-Nepal Border Must be Peaceful and Friendly Forever.”
On 5 October 1961, Nepal and China signed Boundary Treaty at Beijing during the state visit of the then king Mahendra. The 1414-kilometer-long border treaty protocol was finally inscribed on 20 January 1963.
The adjustment was made on equal footing by land-swapping with Nepal gaining more land than it gave. According to a working paper presented at ”International Cross-Border Conference on Border Regions in Transition (BRIT)-XII Fukuoka (Japan)-Busan (South Korea) 13-16 November 2012” by Nepal’s former Director General of Survey Department and the author of the book titled ‘Boundary of Nepal’, China had given 302.75 square kilometer more land to Nepal.
The paper says, ”the adjustment was made on the basis of ‘give’ and ‘take’ and the inclusion of some pasture land within Nepalese territory. With this principle, Nepal had given 1,836.25 square kilometer of land to China and Nepal had taken 2,139.00 square kilometer, as it has been added 302.75 square kilometer of Chinese territory into Nepal.”
Nepal-China border settlement is an excellent example of speedy border settlement compared to Nepal’s southern neighbor India. Since the formal diplomatic engagement of 1955, it just took around eight years to ink full-fledged technical border adjustment between Nepal and China.
Tragically, Nepal and India are at odds over the border demarked by 204-year-old Treaty of Sugauli. The recent issue of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura and new political map of Nepal unanimously approved by lower and upper houses of the federal parliament point to the long-pending friendly border settlements between Nepal and India.
Media myths on China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory
Nepal and India has not resolved much of their border tensions since long. Lately, there are some media reports, mainly from India, about so-called Chinese ‘encroachment’ of Nepal’s territory. There was report about missed pillar number 11. However, it came out to be untrue with the finding of the pillar. After field inspection and technical studies, Chief District Officer of Humla district, Chiranjibi Giri, made it clear that the rumored border encroachment from China was not the fact.
Similar incident was reported few weeks ago when Nepal’s leading daily Kantipur claimed China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory citing unverified Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry that has nothing to do with border issues. However, after formal clarification from Nepal Government, the report was found to be false and the biggest daily of the nation apologized.
There is a section in Nepal that desperately wants to draw parallel between factual Nepal-India border tensions with fictitious Nepal-China border rows. However, so far, this mission has proven wrong at times.
Nepal does not have any serious border tension with China. The only concern Nepal has it about China-India agreement to ‘boost border trade at Quiangla/Lipu-Lekh Pass’ as said in the 28th point of the joint communiqué issued by visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on 15 May 2015.
Nepal has diplomatically protested about this agreement by two countries as Lipulekh falls in Nepali territory not only based on the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 but also the Nepal-China Boundary Treaty of 5 October 1961. Given China’s generosity and friendliness towards Nepal, it is not a big issue to address. Nepalese citizens are optimistic on China’s support on Nepal’s sovereignty over Lipulekh.
Why doesn’t China take India seriously?
India needs to formulate a long-term strategy on China, lest it be lurching from one crisis to another.
Amid rising anti-China sentiment in the aftermath of the bloody border clash with China, India has announced a slew of measures to curtail Chinese presence in the Indian economy. Building on previously imposed restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) from China, the latest round of regulations constitute banning over 200 Chinese apps and clamping down on Chinese investments in Indian startups. These measures, while drawing applause from Western governments such as the US and helping massage the nationalistic ego, have seemingly failed to irk the Chinese administration as much as India would have intended, let alone compel the PLA to pull back from the disputed areas along the long and undemarcated Indo-China border. In previous instances as well, India’s signalling to China of allying more closely with the United States in response to China’s aggressive posture on the border has failed to yield desirable results. This begs the question: why does not China take India seriously? The answer may lie in India’s China policy which can be described as reactive at best and incoherent at worst.
India’s Policy Conundrum
Although its geopolitical rise has been significant – next only to China, India still finds itself bereft of a world order concept or a guiding foreign policy framework. The lack of which, when it comes to dealing with China, has translated into a foreign policy muddle. Mohan Malik, for instance, points out that there are three schools of thought in India’s policy-making with regards to China – pragmatism, hyperrealism, and appeasement. Pragmatists maintain that India should balance China both internally (increasing its economic and military strength w.r.t. China) and externally (by forging alliances and enhancing interstate cooperation with other powers) while mitigating differences through economic and diplomatic engagement. Hyperrealists decry pragmatists’ optimism that increased trade and economic engagement can win over a territorially unsatiated China and instead argue for an unabashed encirclement strategy towards it with other China-wary powers. Appeasers posit that China is a benign and friendly power, meaning no harm to India and that it should be enthusiastically engaged. In trying to accommodate such plethora of views in dealing with China, successive Indian governments have found themselves muddling through one approach to another.
Current Government and Policy Flip-Flops
Following the Galwan clash, India appears to be hinting at a change of tack as evinced by India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s repeated assertions that realism should shape India’s China policy and that peace and tranquillity on the border cannot be separated from the overall architecture of bilateral ties. India’s slashing of Chinese presence in the Indian economy suggests a move in that direction. China’s rather staid response to India’s manoeuvres stems from a general under appreciation of Indian resolve to follow through on such a policy initiative. China’s belief in Indian irresoluteness is not without basis either. The new dispensation led by Narendra Modi started off by trying to bring the “pragmatic” element more into play in India’s dealings with China. To this end, it resorted to a two-pronged strategy of bolstering strategic ties with other regional partners alarmed by China’s newfound boldness such as Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Australia among others and spurred up defense and strategic ties with the US, while simultaneously trying to improve relations with China by enhancing bilateral trade (which was already heavily-tilted in China’s favour). However, relations nosedived with the Doklam standoff in June 2017 which lasted for over three months. Cognizant of its power differential with China, and therefore not keen on antagonizing it any further, India broached the idea of organizing an informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and India’s PM Narendra Modi. As the two leaders met in picturesque Wuhan, India had by then made up its mind to drop the “pragmatic” yet somewhat “confrontational” approach and decided in favour of going full throttle with appeasement vis-à-vis China. Following the summit, the Indian government scaled down its contact with the Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile and refused to back Australia’s bid to participate in the annual Malabar exercise. What exactly did India hope to achieve with such tactics is anyone’s guess as China continued to brazenly oppose India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and block India’s efforts to get Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar admitted to the UN Sanctions list – eventually relenting on the latter (courtesy of US pressure) while continuing to hyphenate India’s cause with Pakistan’s in the case of former.
A Long History of Fluctuating China Policy
As a matter of fact, the blame for such a vacillating policy cannot be squarely put at Modi’s doorsteps. Historical precedents abound where previous Indian governments too have struggled to come up with a comprehensive and coherent strategy on China. Notable examples include Jawaharlal Nehru’s flip-flops on China threat which not only cost India loss of territory but also resulted in a personal loss of face for Nehru. Some twenty-five years later, Rajiv Gandhi who showed remarkable courage in standing up to the Chinese challenge in a serious military provocation along the eastern flank of the LAC let go of the chance to articulate India’s long-term strategy vis-à-vis China and instead sought a quick return to normalcy in bilateral ties following his visit to Beijing in 1988. A decade later, AB Vajpayee, after having justified India’s nuclear tests as a response to Chinese nuclear weapons, ended up describing China as a “good neighbour” in his address at the Peking University only a couple of years later. Indeed, India’s foreign policy history is riddled with complacency on the part of successive Indian governments in dealing with its largest neighbour, and a continual cause of strategic concern.
It is clear that unless India does away with policy ad-hocism and sticks with a clear, long-term China policy,it would not be able to effect a change in China’s attitude towards itself. In this regard, Jaishankar’s recoupling of economic and trade ties with the larger border question is a welcome move, but a lot would depend on how determined India is to persevere through the demanding nature of realpolitik.
- Mohan Malik’s article on three schools of thought on India’s China policy: accessible at: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a591916.pdf
India-China Relations: A Turbulent Future?
On the 10th May 2020, Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a cross-border dispute in Sikkim. After built up tensions, a month later another clash began in The Galwan Valley. By September, shots had been fired for the first time in over 40 years. Such confrontations are the worst India and China have seen in recent years. Although face-offs between the two sides are not uncommon, border disputes do pose a challenge for Indian and Chinese security. Also, their economic relationship could be strained if the two rising giants do not resolve their territorial dispute. Therefore, this article looks at the recent tensions between the two states and considers what this means for the future of their bilateral relationship.
Where did it Begin?
The Sino-Indian war took place in 1962, when Indian and Chinese troops fought over the Himalayan territory of Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is located between Tibet, Xinjiang and Ladakh and territory was the primary cause of the war, as well as other issues including sporadic violence. China had gradually exerted its influence over Aksai Chin for four years before the war. At the time, India placed its forces along the border, but China’s strategy was to launch a full-blown attack. China’s standpoint was that the territory they were fighting over was deemed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and they should have sovereignty over it. As India’s strategy was one of defence, they were outnumbered and lacked sufficient weaponry. Therefore, they suffered heavy casualties with many of the army killed, wounded, missing and captured. The war lasted until China announced a unilateral ceasefire on 21stNovember 1962.India was left defeated and humiliated as it was never prepared for a war with China. Until 1962, India had always focused on the security threat posed by Pakistan and had the upper hand militarily.
Since the 1962 war there have occurred numerous infrequent stand-offs between Indian armed forces and Chinese armed forces along the disputed territory. There is a competitive nature between the two states whereby these stand-offs become an opportunity to militarily flex their muscles. Episodes occurred in Northern Ladakh in 2013 and Eastern Ladakh in 2014. In 2017, the situation escalated when China attempted to form a road that would extend its border into India. India opposed this and feared that if the road was built, China would have increased access to the Siliguri Corridor, also known as the ‘chicken’s neck’. This is a highly contentious area for India as they believe it is a strategic asset to them because it connects the North Eastern states to the mainland. The high-altitude stand-off lasted for over a month. In September 2019, another violent clash took place near the Pangong Tso (lake), an area that China has control over two thirds of. The most recent disputes involved pushing, shoving, fists, wooden clubs, and stone throwing. The skirmish in May resulted in 11 injured in total, 4 Indian forces and 7 Chinese forces. It was resolved by local brigadier-level sector commanders who were able to discuss the tensions and come to a resolution. However, the clash in June saw 20 Indian soldiers dead and up to 40 Chinese casualties. In late July, it was believed that troops were withdrawing from the border region. However, this remained incomplete and throughout August and September, Indian troops were continuing to deploy along the LAC. For over 40 years, no bullets were fired in these skirmishes because of the de facto border code that prohibits the use of firearms. However, this changed in September when the first shots were fired. The most recent disputes are believed to have been triggered by a disagreement over the location of Chinese observation towers and tents. It seems, tensions have been building since India’s revocation of Article 370 in 2019 and China’s resistance against India’s infrastructure plans in the borderlands.
A Turbulent Future?
In 2018, PM Modi and President Jinping agreed to maintain peace along the border at the Wuhan summit. India and China’s collective economies make up over 17% of the entire global economy. Also, China is India’s primary trading partner with annual trade worth $92 billion. They have attempted to increase cooperation and build confidence measures by undertaking joint projects including a training program for Afghan diplomats and reviving the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor. However, these efforts are undermined by the pervasive feeling of distrust between the two states and the echoes of Cold War history. Also, the summits and efforts of cooperation have not stopped the outbreaks of violence, nor have they solved any of the underlying issues. Underlying issues that strain the Sino-Indian relationship include nuclear weapons, China’s support for Pakistan, the situation in Tibet and India’s sheltering of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese navy making an appearance in Indian waters and Indian foreign policy. The Covid-19 pandemic has added pressure to Sino-Indian relations as the Indian general public blame China for the outbreak thus causing an anti-China sentiment. Both states have downplayed the recent stand-off’s as short-term and temporary incidents. However, if relations continue to sour over territorial boundaries and the border remains unresolved, this could compromise their economic relationship. To prevent prolonged crisis, China would need to withdraw its aggressive position voluntarily through peaceful negotiations with India. India could attempt a forceful removal of Chinese forces, but that would lead to increased escalation. Further, India should tread with caution as neighbouring countries including Sri Lanka and Nepal are becoming increasingly supportive of China. In other words, unless India and China find a way to trust each other, it is highly likely that they will be pushed to the brink of war once again.
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