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Libyan conflict puts NATO to the test

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Domestic and external actors never tire of calling for a ceasefire in Libya, but the situation continues to escalate nonetheless, both in and outside the war-torn North African country.

Turkey’s military activity in Libya is already having a knock-on effect with Egypt now threatening to enter the war. Small wonder, because the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi came to power by ousting the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood (now banned in the Russian Federation), which the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) is chummy with. Since the «Brothers” currently play a prominent role in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, Cairo would hate to see them gaining strength also in neighboring Libya. Here Egypt enjoys the support of the monarchs in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi who are wary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s support for the idea whereby people are free to elect their political leaders.

After proclaiming his internationally-backed “Cairo initiative” to resolve the Libyan conflict, al-Sisi followed this up with a stern warning: “Any direct intervention from the Egyptian State in the Libyan crisis is now having international legitimacy… restoring security and stability in Libya is part and parcel of Egyptian security and stability…Sirte and al-Jufra (a major air base – A.I.) are the “red line” that we will not allow to cross.”

According to the Abu Dhabi-based Al-Arabiya television channel, the Egyptian government is consulting with representatives of EU countries on measures to prevent the GNA forces’ seizure of Sirte. And Ankara has allegedly been “advised” to refrain from any military action in Libya’s oil-bearing regions. The Speaker of the House of Representatives (the parliament in Tobruk) Aguila Saleh has confirmed that the authorities of eastern Libya have asked Egypt for military assistance in the “war on terrorism and in countering foreign invasion.”

Presently, Libya is the place where the interests of at least four NATO members – Turkey, France, Italy and Greece intertwine. 

Ankara openly supports the GNA and makes future peace negotiations in Libya conditional on the seizure of Sirte and al-Jufra. However, while rejecting the “Cairo initiative” and refusing to recognize the legitimate status of the Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, Turkey simultaneously makes clear its readiness to communicate with Aguila Saleh.

Turkish delegations are frequent guests in Tripoli, just as the head of the Government of National Accord, Fayez Sarraj, is in Ankara. By providing across-the-board assistance to the authorities in Tripoli, Turkey expects to set up its military bases in Libya, secure a share of the production and sale of Libyan oil, and make sure that Turkish construction firms are invited to assist in Libya’s post-war restoration. And again, Ankara and Tripoli share a great deal of ideological affinity for the political and religious beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Italy also supports the GNA, though not as zealously as Turkey, with Rome already cooperating with Tripoli in the oil and gas sector and counting on its assistance in curbing illegal emigration to its territory.

France, meanwhile, is staking on Khalifa Haftar, who it believes is someone capable of stabilizing the situation in the country, which borders Chad and Niger, both of which are part of Paris’ zone of interests in Africa.

As for Greece, it feels uneasy about the agreements between Ankara and Tripoli, none of which recognize Athens’ right to the continental shelf between Rhodes and Crete.

In the meantime, contradictions between NATO Allies begin to “materialize”: on June 10, a Turkish navy frigate used its fire control radars to “illuminate” a French warship that was to inspect, as part of NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian, the cargo on board a Turkish ship headed for Libya’s Misrata. France slammed the accident as “extremely aggressive” and demanded that the matter be investigated under the NATO format. The Turkish news agency Anadolu then reported, citing the Turkish naval command, that the frigate had not used its radars to target the French ship, but was only monitoring its “dangerous maneuvers.”

In response, the French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the incident confirmed his earlier view about the “brain-dead” North Atlantic Alliance, and his Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the EU needed to discuss the prospects of its relationship with Turkey as soon as possible.

Turkey has long been an internal irritant within NATO. Late last year, Ankara blocked a NATO defense plan for Poland and the Baltic countries unless Brussels adopted a similar plan to defend Turkey against the terrorist threat from the Kurdish “People’s Self-Defense Units” in Syria. In fact, this would be tantamount to the organization that acted as the Western coalition’s ally in the war against Islamic radicals being branded as a terrorist one. They eventually reached a compromise, but Reuters recently reported about the French defense ministry complaining about Turkey’s opportunistic position: “While Ankara has approved the plan, known as Eagle Defender, it has not allowed NATO military chiefs to put it into action.”  The NATO headquarters declined to comment on this information.

During a joint videoconference of NATO countries’ foreign ministers in April, the Turkish and Greek top diplomats bickered over the issue of migrants. When denied by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg a chance to make yet another statement, the Turkish foreign minister simply “signed off.”

However, looking at the situation from the standpoint of Ankara it would seem that recently it has had ample reasons for resentment.

In 2016, in the wake of the botched military coup, many Turkish military officers, fearing reprisals, requested asylum, of all places, in Turkey’s fellow NATO countries. A year later, during NATO exercises in Norway, someone posted the photographs of Ataturk and Erdogan on the stand listing the “accomplices of NATO’s enemies.” The trickster was eventually found and fired, but the Turkish president even refused to accept an apology from his allies.

Finally, after a Syrian airstrike in Idlib left dozens of Turkish servicemen dead earlier this year, Erdogan convened an emergency NATO summit. All he got from his allies, though, was just an expression of moral support.   Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that because Turkey had not coordinated its military operation in Idlib with NATO, the pertinent article in the NATO Charter on collective defense against an outside aggression was not applicable in this case. Exactly the same thing happed five years ago when a Russian warplane was shot down by a Turkish missile and Ankara requested NATO assistance in the event of a possible conflict with Moscow.

Therefore, the results of a February poll by the Pew Research Center, which showed that only one in five Turkish citizens were satisfied with NATO’s policies (compared with the 53-percent average in 16 member-countries) look fairly logical. As for the Turks, more than 55 percent of them showed the thumbs down to Brussels.

In recent years, Turkey has pursued an increasingly independent policy, which is more and more at variance with the interests of some of its NATO allies, and refuses to put the bloc’s interests ahead of its own.  Moreover, Ankara primarily uses its membership in the Alliance to increase its political clout in relations with third countries. Bruno Tertre, deputy director of the Strategic Research Fund, hit the nail right on the head when he told the Paris-based weekly business magazine Challenges that “the Alliance must be based on shared values and interests. However, in the case of Turkey, Erdogan, we do not share either one.”

This reality is only highlighted by the conflict in Libya.

However, Turkey’s “intra-bloc destructiveness” is a far cry from what is being done by the administration of the current US president. Donald Trump, who regularly complains about America’s European allies spending too little on defense, has even threatened to pull the United States out of NATO. Dissatisfaction with German “stinginess” was one of the reasons behind Trump’s decision to move part of the US military from Germany to Poland. Angela Merkel aptly commented to this by saying that the European countries should wake up to a new reality where the United States will no longer strive for the role of world leader. Yuri Wendik from the BBC’s Russian Service even complained that Trump views NATO as just a “commercial joint venture.”

Meanwhile, it looks like relations between the two “rabble-rousers” start warming up again: the FBI has opened a preliminary probe of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher, who currently lives in Pennsylvania, hiding from the Turkish authorities; Trump keeps delaying the introduction of long-promised sanctions for Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. Erdogan, for his part, has all but stopped mentioning Washington’s support for Kurdish forces in Syria; Ankara and Washington seem to have clinched some agreement on Libya. Overall, the Turkish-American agenda is less and less correlated with NATO’s.

Make no mistake, NATO is still far from being a “lame duck,” but it still seems that the process is already gaining traction, and that the Libyan test can spur it on.

Last November, George Friedman, the founder and chairman of Stratfor, a private company that publishes geopolitical analyses and forecasting of international affairs, wrote that the biggest problem today, is America inability to be constantly at war as it has been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq for 18 years now. He adds that the US no longer wants to be in the region and expects countries like Turkey to take responsibility for the region.”  

Ankara apparently agrees and Washington would hate to disappoint its Turkish partners.

From our partner International Affairs

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The East Expands into NATO: Japan’s and South Korea’s New Approaches to Security

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

The 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid can be seen as a momentous occasion not just for NATO but also for security in the Asia-Pacific. For the first time in NATO’s 73-year-long history, Japanese and South Korean leaders participated in the meeting as “Asia-Pacific partners”. For the first time, the Alliance named China a threat in their documents. However, having approached the hic sunt dracones (here be dragons) mark, NATO and its partners will soon have to think about the limits and purpose of expanding the organization’s areas of activity.

The Bargaining Yen

Fumio Kishida was Japan’s first premier to ever attend a NATO summit. Japan’s leader called for enhancing Tokyo’s ties with NATO based on the 2014 Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme. However, he also proposed permanently attaching representatives of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to NATO’s headquarters, mutually exchanging observers at military drills, as well as to regularly involve Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea in NATO’s activities.

We should note Japan’s rather loose interpretation of the concept of indivisible security. For instance, Russia and China insist that the security of any state cannot be bolstered at the expense of other states. However, Kishida believes that security in Europe and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable from each other; therefore, attempts to change the status quo by force in any region should be stopped through joint efforts.

As part of the steps taken to assist European partners amid the events in Ukraine, Tokyo imposed additional sanctions on 70 Russian individuals and companies since Japan “is not ready to provide any military support to the Alliance.” In exchange, Japan hopes that NATO will fully support Japan’s course for militarization. Particularly, Japan is expected to publish its revised National Security Strategy to replace the 2013 Strategy by the end of 2022. Over five years, “the land of the rising sun” will ramp up its defense capabilities by significantly increasing its spending (up to 2% of the GDP) and by stepping up its interactions with the U.S. It is also possible that the Strategy will, for the first time, name China as a clear and present danger to Japan—previously, Tokyo avoided openly labelling China as its adversary.

The West heard the Japanese leadership’s message of European stability being impossible without eliminating the threats in the Asia-Pacific. Ultimately, the NATO 2022 Strategic Concept that determines the activities of member states for the next ten years states that Beijing’s “ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” Principal threats include China’s non-transparent conventional and nuclear military build-up, malicious hybrid and cyber operations, confrontational rhetoric and disinformation, attempts to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains, and creating strategic dependencies intended to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains.

The list would certainly have been incomplete without sending an alarm regarding the deepening strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing. NATO’s Madrid Summit declaration also contains a statement on competition with China and on Beijing’s challenge to NATO members’ security and development.

At the summit’s sidelines, Kishida attended a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, and then a quadrilateral meeting with South Korea’s President and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The leaders discussed the threats from China and North Korea, while the U.S. President reaffirmed guarantees to every party present military aid in case of an attack on their states. At the same time, it appears that the idea of putting China on NATO’s agenda and generally under the organization’s purview had been spearheaded by Washington that has less and less strength and willingness to challenge the “dragon” to an honest battle.

Korean Tanks in Polish Woods

Similar to Japan’s leader, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol noted in his debut NATO summit address that security in any given region has global ramifications. Consequently, a crisis cannot be resolved through the efforts of a regional alliance or union. Therefore, South Korea’s President announced plans to consistently bolster security cooperation between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo, primarily for counteracting the threat of North Korea’s nuclear missile program. Moreover, since, in Yoon Suk Yeol’s opinion, Pyongyang’s actions posit a major threat to peace and stability and to the non-proliferation regime, all NATO members will need to assist in resolving this problem. Generally, South Korea raised the issue of North Korea’s denuclearization at every event at the Madrid Summit, including the plenary session, the three-party meeting between the leaders of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, and a dozen of bilateral talks.

In turn, in order to bolster European security, Seoul is ready to expand its economic interactions with NATO states—in particular, to ensure uninterrupted deliveries of semi-conductors—assist in building NPPs and modernizing power facilities, and also ramp up military technical cooperation. Among the successes already achieved by the South Koreans is an agreement to deliver FA-50 jet trainers/light combat aircraft, K-2 main battle tanks, K-9 self-propelled howitzers and AS21 IFVs to Poland, and to participate in building NPPs in the UK, the Czech Republic, Poland, France, Romania and the Netherlands.

Curiously, unlike Japan, Yoon Suk Yeol avoided in every way directly mentioning Beijing in connection with threats to global and regional security. Moreover, Seoul believes that South Korea’s interactions, both with NATO and otherwise, should not be aimed against any specific country. Even though some surveys indicate that only 26% of South Koreans have a positive opinion of China, the country’s leadership is not prepared to oppose Beijing and fully commit to U.S.-led containment initiatives. Besides, in the near future, Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration will have to explain to China its own plans to deploy a second THAAD missile defense unit and Seoul actively arming its navy, air force, and ground forces with state-of-the-art strike missile weapons.

Despite of both Japanese and South Korean leaders attending the 2022 NATO Summit, questions still remain regarding normalizing relations between Seoul and Tokyo. The parties noted that there is potential for improvements and the problems of the past and the future would need to be discussed together. At the same time, internal forces in both states have very mixed feelings concerning the prospects of setting up practical interactions on security issues. Kishida’s government is concerned with South Korea’s growing military capabilities, unacceptable compensation demands to victims of the Japanese occupation, and its intractable stance on the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima islands). Particularly, Japan vehemently protested Korea’s military drill around the islands on July 30, 2022, although this time the drill was far more modest than before and did not involve a beach landing. One of the few shared sentiments between Seoul and Tokyo is their negative attitude to North Korea’s nuclear missile program, although Japan’s current potential for resolving this matter via talks is small since Tokyo has virtually completely severed contacts with Pyongyang.

Beyond the Purview

According to Le Monde, NATO’s focus on the events in Ukraine does not mean that the Alliance is ignoring threats emanating from beyond the organization’s traditional purview, for instance, like those from the Asia-Pacific. Asia-Pacific’s “collective West” representatives gradually expanding their involvement in the region evidences both the Alliance’s transformation into a certain global security body, and Seoul’s and Tokyo’s transforming approaches to protecting their interests by expanding their partnership network.

Japan is already a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) whose principal and implicit goal is to form a counterbalance to China. In Kishida’s opinion voiced on June 10, 2022 at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Russia’s actions in Ukraine may spur a similar scenario in Asia Pacific, particularly toward Taiwan, especially given a recent surge in the regional activities of China’s People’s Liberation Army. That, however, did not prevent Japan from sending a parliamentary delegation, including two former defense ministers, to Taipei to “discuss extensively the regional security situation in Taiwan, especially in the context of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict.” In this situation, it would be odd to expect anything from Beijing except a protest boosted by military aircraft patrolling around the island.

Yoon Suk Yeol seems intent on significantly increasing South Korea’s role in regional affairs by using the image of a liberal democracy in a crusade against authoritarian regimes around it. However, Seoul intends to wage such a battle solely against the neighboring regime, and even that is not quite a real crusade with clearly defined results. Getting North Korea, to abandon its nuclear weapons though intimidation during an exacerbating East Asian crisis is utterly impossible, particularly in view of Kim Jong Un’s proclaimed readiness for any military action against the U.S.

NATO believes that comprehensive security cooperation with “partners in Asia Pacific” should be conducive to making the international situation more predictable. However, given the Alliance’s track record, should it interfere in the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait, there will be little cause to expect a positive outcome.

From our partner RIAC

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A war where the machine decides who to kill! (LAWs wars)

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Which country wants to be attacked by an AI-controlled system with no one in command? Which country wants their soldiers to be killed by an autonomous machine, and potentially, some civilians by mistake? The answer is evidently no one! No country wants that. But which country intends to possess such weapons, then the answer is more ambiguous. The last report of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) reflects this. After a week (25-29 July) of discussion at the Palais des Nations, UN Geneva, the adopted report is hollowed without meaningful conclusion or commitments.

Lethal autonomous weapons

Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) are military system that can autonomously search for and engage targets based on programmed constraints and descriptions. LAWs are also known as killer robots.

Autonomous weapons have existed for many years; for example, land mines trigger and kill or an injury without any human action. With emerging technology, including AI, we understand the interest of certain states to include these technologies in weapons to improve their autonomy. Since the 70s, the US has used the Phalanx CIWS, which can autonomously identify and attack incoming missiles. With AI, its capacities are considerably increased! Continuing with the example of mines, Russia’s anti-personnel mines of the POM-3 type are particularly deadly. They are disseminated in the land of operations but do not explode immediately. When activated, they rise in the air before exploding and causing multiple ravages, which can be fatal within a radius of 16 meters. Equipped with sensors and software, they choose their target, when they explode or not, depending on the identity of the people or equipment that approach. There are, unfortunately, so many other systems that will be too long to cite here. To conclude this part, in Libya in 2020, a Kargu 2 drone hunted down and attacked a human target. According to a report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, published in March 2021. This may have been the first time an autonomous killer robot armed with lethal weaponry attacked human beings. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_robot]

We quickly understand all potential ethical and legal issues. Autonomous systems can make mistakes; who is responsible then? Like mine killed millions of civilians, new systems may have bias and kill unstintingly, with no one to stop them. The range of potential problems is extensive.

A slow-downed convention

For nine years, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons or CCW, also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention, has tried to regulate it with its GGE. For the most ambitious, it would be a question of agreeing on a treaty, or another international instrument, which would guarantee the prohibition that a weapon can operate autonomously, i.e., without the intervention of human supervision. Many Latin Americans, and European states are now advocating for this outright ban. The answer is less clear-cut for other states, including the USA. They consent to the prohibition of specific weapon systems as well as to a certain regulation but refuse a binding legal framework. Finally, Russia is slowing down all negotiations and reducing its content.

Russia and the game of consensus

A majority of States are now convinced of the need to act significantly, even asking for more days to debate in 2023. But the main problem is the rule of consensus, which prohibits any discussion breakthrough”.

Many little disagreements, for instance, delegations, wasted time discussing whether the CCW is an appropriate forum or the only appropriate forum for dealing with the issue of autonomous weapons.

These discussions have even been theatrical when Russia attacked many times the presence of civil societies to limit their intervention and participation in informal meetings. It was a tool to slow down the discussion, focusing the debate on organizational points. At the same time, we can also be afraid that this Russian posture is appearing in others GGEs. Meanwhile, some other states, like Israel and India, are discrete and do not oppose it. They probably use this condition to their advantage. Russia is doing all the work for them.

Therefore with the refusal of a few states, all the details about elements and possible measures for an agreement on autonomous weapons were removed. All conclusions about what kinds of control are necessary, and possible processes to achieve that control, were taken out. The present conclusions section just outlines the types of proposals discussed, recognizes ethical perspectives, and repeats the respect for international humanitarian law. It confirms then that states are responsible for wrongful acts in accordance with international law [link to report], so no new laws. 

Not only are the conclusions disappointing, but the way the discussion was carried out was disappointing, and the mandate for 2023 remains uncertain.

We can not wait on CCW, the urgency of the problem is too critical.

The slow process is to the advantage of countries using these technologies. The Russian POM-3 mines, for instance, have been used in Ukraine, accordingly to Human Right Watch. The development and deployment by Russia and other countries will continue as long as no agreement is reached. LAWs have to be outlaws! And the CCW seems not to be anymore the right platform.

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Escalating Big Power Contestation on Taiwan: Can It Lead to War?

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Xi Jinping is seeking to hide his humiliation over US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. His premature and unjustifiable warning to the US about the visit caused him embarrassment, and Pelosi’s purposeful visit after the warning not only hyped it, but humiliated him. China is using its Three Warfare Concept  which entails public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare along with aggressive military posturing, air violations, firepower power exhibition and some symbolic economic boycott of Taiwan, thus creating  heightened tension around Taiwan as a face saving exercise to amuse its domestic constituency. China is attempting to turn it as an opportunity to stoke national sentiments in favour of Xi Jinping on ‘Anti America’ theme highlighting Chinese mutilated version of his heroics to ensure that he doesn’t lose out on his third term in the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) later this year.

The US side has likewise been under similar pressures. Following the announcement of Pelosi’s visit and the contentious debate between President Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, the US found itself in a difficult situation. The USA was unable to cancel the trip in response to Xi’s warning because doing so would have indicated that Joe Biden was caving in to Chinese pressure. This would have been catastrophic for the Biden Administration, which is already struggling to recover from the disaster in Afghanistan and the difficulties brought on by the Russia-Ukraine War. Although the visit was a risky move, it is still unclear whether the US will follow it up by replacing strategic ambiguity with strategic clarity to support Taiwan in any prospective Chinese attack or not.

Can it Lead to War?

With unprecedented military posturing by China, live missile fire  East of Taiwan close to its coastline, and US aircraft carrier and maritime forces located not too far, the situation is tense and prone to accidental trigger causing escalation. It does not make any strategic sense for China to invade Taiwan, as it has all the negatives except false bravado, with bright chances of loss of face globally and domestically, in case the operations fail; hence, likely to contend with activities short of war.

Chinese strategist Qiao Liang, a retired PLA Air Force Major General, has warned that taking Taiwan by force is ‘Too Costly’. Chinese redline of “Taiwan going nuclear/declaring independence” has not been crossed as yet, giving no justification for China to cross US red line of ‘Changing status Quo by Force’. Xi Jinping may find it too costly to take such a risk before sealing his third term. The military drills near Taiwan have been conducted by Taiwan and US also in past and  the much publicised blockade of Taiwan through military drills, if prolonged may invite similar military drills by US and other democracies in Malacca Strait too, to block Chinese Sea Lines of Communication, beyond the realm of optics of the current Chinese aggressive posture, and it is well aware of this vulnerability.    

Taiwanese President Tsai has bravely given bold statements during visit of Speaker Pelosi and earlier to take on Chinese aggression. Taiwan with its national spirit, modern arsenal from US, determined armed forces and US backing is unlikely to give a walkover, although the first onslaught of potential offensive will have to be borne by it, till global response gets activated. Comparisons are being made with Hong Kong, but the major differences is that leadership, hierarchy in Hong Kong and police was manipulated by CCP, whereas  the leadership in Taiwan is strong and resolute refusing to give in to Chinese coercion. The need for amphibious assault due to terrain friction makes Chinese misadventure in Taiwan more difficult than Hong Kong.

Chinese amphibious capabilities to capture Taiwan are suspect, more so if US warships like the USS Ronald Reagan are around. China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such a massive destruction of Han Chinese (95 percent of Taiwanese population is Han), who have relations, investments and inseparable linkages with their relatives in mainland and vice versa will not go well with domestic population of mainland. Over two million Taiwanese live in China, mostly in Coastal areas, and over 20 per cent have married there.

This will also destroy Chinese and Taiwanese economy, which does not suit Chinese leadership struggling to revive its economy marred by trade war, failing BRI and COVID effect. China is top destination for Taiwanese export accounting for approximately 40% of total exports, with Taiwan having  overall trade surplus of US$104.7 billion in 2021 with China.

A public opinion poll in Taiwan in 2020 indicated 73 percent people identified themselves as Taiwanese, who were against China, and 77 percent  supported democratic movement in Hongkong and this figure has increased in last two years. Getting Taiwanese under its wings will also bring a fresh democratic wave in China, which CCP may not be used to handle. Taiwanese people do not want to sacrifice their democratic freedom and prosperity, which is the main reason for success of President Tsai. The conflict if imposed by China will be deadly and Chinese, who want to win without fighting are not known for their appetite to accept body bags of Han Chinese, for a cause which doesn’t give them economic benefit but takes it away its dream of national rejuvenation, as indicated by General Qiao. 

Why Taiwan is a US-China Issue?

PRC may keep claiming Taiwan to be its domestic issue, but it has much greater external dimensions. Diplomatically US may claim to follow ‘One China Policy’ but it treats Taiwan no less than an ally. The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019, effective from March 26, 2020 is an indication. The Taiwan Relation Act,1973, Taiwan Travel Act signed 2019, and National Defence Authorisation Act signed earlier this year to facilitate sale of state of the art weaponry and joint exercises justify the statement. US will always like to trade and strategically partner with democratic Taiwan outside Beijing’s influence, and not Taiwan under CCP.

In any potential invasion of Taiwan, the spill over of the battle space to Japan is obvious due to geographic proximity, an ally which US is obligated to protect. Chinese initial offensive can be on Taiwan, but US could join forces with its allies in the region to use their sea and air advantages to cut off Beijing’s maritime lifeline in and outside South China Sea. Chinese supply lines outside Nine dash line are still vulnerable to choking, and it will draw out PLA to get into war outside its comfort Zone. Taking Taiwan by force, therefore involves mobilisation of all its combat resources, expecting an escalation from limited war to an all-out war, as the operation amounts to crossing US redline of “No Change in Status Quo of Taiwan”. Economically Chinese heavy reliance on the US dollar is far from over, and such a war over Taiwan would be a massive economic blow to China, that would see capital flooding out, and companies moving of the country, much sooner than it thought.

Way Ahead

If Chinese aggressive posturing, air incursions and military drills announced for four days end as scheduled without escalation, may be that situation may still remain under control, as US and Taiwan have also done military drills in that region earlier. If it escalates into an attempt to unite Taiwan by force, it will certainly up the ante with US, prove China as irresponsible bully, may lead to loss of life of Han Chinese both ways, lead to economic destruction of its one of the largest investors and jeopardise China’s goal of national rejuvenation. Internationally, China may have miscalculated US resolve and Taiwan’s resistance and all may not go their way. If Chinese ambitions grow beyond global tolerance, it has bright chances to bring rest of the world against China. While the visit of Nancy Pelosi may have given a strong message to China, but the US resolve is still under test, because Taiwan can’t be expected to handle Chinese aggression alone, more so if it has been hyped by super power contestation. US therefore must consider starting similar military exercise in Malacca Strait with other navies to remind China of its vulnerable SLOC before it starts blocking Taiwanese shipping.

The aggressive posturing in Taiwan Strait, South and East China Sea will continue, even if the current crisis slows down. PRC’s aim is to pressurise President Tsai Not to declare independence, keep pressure on, hope DPP loses next election and work out favourable arrangements with opposition likely to be favourable to China. Neither China nor US want war, but none wants to give walkover as well, hence this strategic gaming and posturing is on and will continue.

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