Written by Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd).
Image credit: QUAD-Leader’s-Meeting-Tokyo2022 by 首相官邸/ Wikimedia Commons, license: CC BY 4.0.
Abhijit Naskar’s quote, “Peace is a state of mind, but in a world where the state controls the mind, peace remains an inconvenience”, is apt for China’s aggression in its quest to take over Taiwan.
As the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the USA, Nancy Pelosi, in an exemplary show of guts and grit, visited Taiwan despite the Dragon spewing fire, thereby sending a stern and strong message to China that the USA stands in total solidarity and support to Taiwan and any misadventure and misdemeanour by China on Taiwan will be dealt with swiftly and surely.
Taiwan and China have had an uneasy and uncomfortable relationship for decades as China has nursed ambitions of annexing Taiwan. However, Xi Jinping said on January 02, 2019, that Taiwan’ must and will be reunited with China.’ And the use of the armed forces in achieving this stated aim is not ruled out.
The past six decades have seen three major conflagrations between China and Taiwan: the First, Second and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. While the First and the Second Taiwan Crisis resulted in fatal casualties to both the Chinese and the Taiwanese soldiers, the Third Taiwan Crisis did not have any loss of life. Ironically, all three Taiwan Strait Crisis ended after the intervention of the USA, including the US threatening to use nuclear weapons on China to protect Taiwan.
Also intriguing is that the USA, in pursuance of its “One China Policy,” recognises PRC and has no official diplomatic relations with ROC. Still, with the enacting of the Taiwan Travel Act on March 16 2018, by the US Congress, the ties between ROC and USA have reached a new zenith, even as USA and Taiwan have a long-standing business and military relationship.
2021 saw a record number of incursions in the Taiwanese airspace by the fighter jets of the Chinese Air Force. 2022 was no better as China carried out numerous military exercises in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan after it got rattled by the success of the Quad Summit on May 24, 2022, in Tokyo
China has caused troubles not only across the Taiwan Strait but also in South Asia. China has border disputes with all fourteen nations with which it shares its borders.
Though India has always maintained a neutral and non-aligned stand in case of two nations having a military standoff, as evident in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War, India understands that it can’t trust these two countries. Indeed, China and Pakistan have repeatedly back-stabbed India, leading to many Indian soldiers and common citizens being killed. No Indian has forgotten the 1947 attack by Pakistan on Kashmir, the 1965 and the 1971 Indo-Pak Wars, the Kargil War of 1999 or the support that Pakistan continuously gives to terrorism in the Indian states of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab. Similarly, China waged war with India in 1962, apart from the Doklam Crisis of 2017 and the Galwan Valley clash of 2020, in addition to supporting terrorist organisations in India’s northeastern part. The fact that the relations between India and Taiwan are becoming closer with each passing day, signals Taiwan’s importance in India’s foreign policy. In May 2020, two Members of the Indian Parliament virtually attended the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as the Covid-19 pandemic raged the world over, highlighting a tectonic Indian shift in recognising the importance of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region in specific and the world in general.
Two important developments have occurred in the last fifteen years to contain the Chinese control of the Indo-Pacific region.
One is the initiation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), colloquially called Quad, by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 with the support of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US Vice President Dick Cheney.
The other is the formulation of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy, also known as the FOIP strategy or simply as the Indo-Pacific strategy, in 2016 by Japan and the United States Department of State publishing it as a formalised concept on November 04, 2019.
After its inception in 2007, Quad was followed by a joint military exercise between the member nations on a grand scale called Exercise Malabar. Then, for a brief period, Australia withdrew from Quad when Kevin Rudd became the Prime Minister of Australia.
In 2010 after Julia Gillard took over as the Prime Minister of Australia, Australia renewed its military relationship with the USA, which led to the deployment of the US Marines in Darwin, Australia overlooking the Timor Sea and the Lombok Strait.
During the 2017 ASEAN Summit in Manila, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump agreed to revive Quad as it was imperative now to check China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
No sooner had the ripples of the Quad Summit 2022 settled in the Chinese waters and the China mainland came the announcement that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the USA, would embark on a multi-nation Asian tour from July 29, 2022. The itinerary initially included a visit to Taiwan. This led to the Chinese President making a two-hour-long telephonic call to the US President Joe Biden with a terse message to not play with fire. As a result, the revised itinerary of Nancy Pelosi to the Asian countries did not include a visit to Taiwan.
But in the late evening of August 02, 2022, Nancy Pelosi, escorted by Taiwanese Air Force fighter jets, landed in Taipei in a historic and legendary visit to Taiwan as the US warships patrolled the international waters near Taiwan.
Uncle Sam had given the Dragon a bloody nose.
This visit by Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the first such visit by a US Speaker in the last 25 years, sent two strong messages to the world. One, that USA is still a superpower, and the loss of face that the USA had suffered by not sending military boots to Ukraine in its war with Russia had been redeemed by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. And the other message this visit conveyed is that the USA stands firmly with Taiwan, whatever the consequences and costs. Had Nancy Pelosi cancelled her visit to Taiwan, an emboldened China would have definitely attacked Taiwan shortly. The USA again played a pivotal role in averting the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis as it has played a critical role in ending the three Taiwan Strait Crisis earlier. The desire of China to take over Taiwan will now forever remain a distant dream.
It is high time that the world acknowledges and adopts the “Two China Policy,” as China and Taiwan have different constitutions, currencies and cultures.
The quote well summarises Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan by Brené Brown: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
The writer, who retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army, is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. He is an M.Tech in Structures, has also done MBA and LLB and is a prolific writer and a public speaker. He has been featured in the India Book of Records and Tweets and Koos at @JassiSodhi24. The views expressed are personal.
This article was published as part of a special issue on “US-Taiwan-China: What’s next?”.