Taiwan: A Center of Tense Political Strife

The issue of Taiwan is complex and multifaceted, and it has been a longstanding source of tension between China and the United States for many years. China asserts Taiwan to be a part of its territory, plans to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland, and will use force if necessary. Conversely, the US recognizes Taiwan as an independent country and has provided military and economic aid to the island. China has stepped up its claims to Taiwan in recent years, while the US has strengthened its military presence in the area to counter China’s actions. This political tussle has contributed to escalating tensions between the two superpowers and has the potential to spark a larger conflict. Thus, the aim of this article is to provide a brief overview of the complex issue of Taiwan and the tension between the two superpowers over the island.

Taiwan holds significant strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region. Its location in the western Pacific Ocean allows China to project its naval power farther east to compete against the US. Taiwan’s proximity to China gives it the potential to act as a buffer or a forward operating base in case of a conflict. Control over Taiwan could enhance China’s military capabilities and expand its influence in the region. The United States has a long-standing policy of supporting the self-defense capabilities of Taiwan and has maintained close unofficial relations with the island. China sees the presence of the US on the island as a security threat and considers its independence a challenge to its territorial integrity, so the Chinese government wants to establish control over Taiwan to eliminate this security threat and protect its maritime borders.

The United States sees China’s growing influence in East Asia as a major threat to itself because it challenges America’s position as the world’s superpower. China’s economic and military growth will allow it to expand its influence across Asia and this has led to concerns that China could one day replace the US as the dominant global power. If Beijing dominates East Asia, it would be in a very strong position to dominate not only the world, but it will also have a controlling influence over roughly half of the global economy. With this power, it will undoubtedly ensure that it is the center, the prime beneficiary, and effectively the director of the global economy. According to some experts, the Taiwan issue is one of several flashpoints in the US-China relationship, and over the island, the two superpowers are drifting toward war.

The relations between Taiwan and China worsened quickly following a visit to the island by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, in August 2022. Beijing warned that Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has provocatively supported Taiwan’s sovereignty. Beijing deemed Ms. Pelosi’s visit “extremely dangerous” as it shows a temper against Taipei. Considering these circumstances China increased military activities in the region and is exerting diplomatic pressure on countries that maintain relations with Taiwan. To maintain this war, the United States has sold weapons and other military equipment to Taiwan and has maintained a military presence in the region. The US is concerned that if China keeps exerting its power in Taiwan, then there would come a time when its expansionism would extend to the western Pacific, posing a threat to US military installations as far away as Guam and Hawaii. However, China claims that its intentions are entirely peaceful.

Ultimately, Taiwan’s status is nothing but a scapegoat for America. If American interests are put aside, America will never come to help Taiwan because, first, the US has a history of running away in such situations. Second, China is a nuclear power that can retaliate against the US and its bases in the Asia-Pacific by effectively using the effective countermeasures China has more recently developed.  The US views its alliance with Taiwan as part of its broader strategy to maintain a balance of power in the region. China’s rapid economic growth and military modernization have raised concerns among the US policymakers about its intentions and the potential implications for regional stability. By supporting Taiwan, the US is seeking to counterbalance China’s growing influence and prevent any single power from dominating the region, which could have significant implications for the US interests because there is a possibility that China’s control of Taiwan could threaten the US security interests in the region and potentially destabilize the balance of power. On the other hand, if a war breaks out between the two superpowers on the island of Taiwan, then it might have disastrous effects on the global economy. It is important for both China and the US to find a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue to avoid the risk of military conflict.

Shahzadi Irrum
Shahzadi Irrum
Ms. Shahzadi Irrum Assistant Research Fellow (Balochistan Think Tank Network, Quetta)