An imminent Sino-US war over Taiwan makes for sensational analysis, but is unrealistic and, military-wise, unsound assessment of likely hostilities. A spate of ill-informed media commentaries and the like have been published, many of them by Mandarin-speaking former diplomats who ought to know better. A former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, for instance, in an op-ed (https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-taiwan-flashpoint-in-the-indo-pacific/article36933319.ece) propagated the questionable thesis about China initiating an offensive on the grounds of a growing power imbalance — of Beijing acting sooner to forcfully reunify Taiwan with the mainland because doing so later would mean having to contend with a more powerful enemy lineup with a nuclear submarine equipped-Australia firming up the forward maritime stance of the new military alliance on the block — AUKUS (Australia-UK-US).
Further, his contention of bilateral Taiwanese capital stock worth some $188.5 billion in 1991-2020 or 15% of Taiwan’s GDP invested in China versus China’s $2.4 billion investment in the island-nation trade far from adding up as evidence actually suggests a contrary conclusion — a disincentive for Beijing going to war in the context of other sources of FDI slowly drying up, and China getting slowly economically isolated.
The massive flyovers staged in recent days by the PLA Air Force over Taiwan are, moreover, no more precursors of war than the US Navy periodically despatching its warships on freedom of navigation patrols (FONOPs) through the Taiwan Strait, or US troops regularly visiting Taiwan to jointly train with the Taiwanese armed services. As actions go, these are more show of force and symbolic than provocative. Had the Chinese planes dropped bombs or the Taiwanese air defence systems brought down an intruding aircraft or two is when the fat would be on fire. This last won’t happen because the Democratic Progressive Party government in Taipei, convinced America would offer no more than expressions of solidarity in defence of Taiwan, has no reason to challenge Beijing. And because all the talk out of China, including by Xi Jinping, about reunification — peaceful or otherwise notwithstanding, PLA simply does not have the capacity for a sustained military invasion and capture of the offshore island, especially one that, intelligence and cyber-wise, long ago penetrated the mainland defences and would have almost instantaneous knowledge of any decision to invade made by the CMC (Central Military Commission), which would void the surprise element. The PLA generals know all too well that an invasion would trigger an all-out Taiwanese response.
More than half of any Chinese invasion fleet is expected to be sunk by concentrations of shore-based Harpoon cruise missiles supported by a host of Taiwanese air and sea launched land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles — the 120 km range Hsiung Feng II, the 150km Hsiung Feng III, and for strategic deterrence the 600 km range Hsiung Feng IIE, and the 120km short range Wan Chien ballistic missile. Taipei is also developing on a war footing masses of the 2,000km range Yun Feng cruise missile to reach Beijing. And any attempts at aerial bombing is negatived by a dense and effective Taiwanese air defence. But even without the Yun Feng, Taiwan’s missile forces can, at a minimum, devastate the entire manufacturing base around Shanghai and its hinterland and up the Fujian province coast opposite Taiwan, and fully wreck the flourishing Chinese economy. Taipei knows this, and so does Beijing.
Sure, the 2049 dateline looms by which Xi Jinping would ideally like to see a reunified China with Taiwan accommodated in some version of a “One China, two systems” compromise. But while Xi may be an ideological blowhard, he is not a military idiot, however much he is urged by certain higher sections of the PLA command to once and for all and early sort out the Taiwan problem. So, where’s the question of war?
Indeed, just to clarify the Taiwan situation for an Indian audience, the possibility of forcible reunification of Taiwan with China is less of a flashpoint than Kashmir is — and this when the prospects of the Pakistan army attempting to wrench Jammu & Kashmir from India’s grasp is less than zero — whatever posturing Indian generals and militarymen eager to justify a wonky Pakistan-fixated Indian force structure and the ocassional brain-addled Pakistani politicians, may say.
From an Indian perspective, nothing would better serve India’s national interest than for China’s economy to get it in the neck and for Beijing to get diplomatically sidestreamed with a PLA misadventure against Taiwan, and one would very much hope that Xi is somehow persuaded by his military chieftains to start a real hard affray that Taipei is compelled to react violently to. But because this is unlikely, what’s next best India can do, proactively?
It has been Taipei’s policy before the DPP regime under President Tsai Ing-wen hove into view of Taiwan prudently disinvesting from China and moving its monies to more politically receptive climes. It was the context for the Taiwanese trade representative in Delhi — ambassador by another name, complaining to me some 20 years ago that the Indian government was doing nothing much, if anything, to attract Taiwanese investment capital in order to kickstart India’s development as a manufacturing hub for the world — something Indian governments Vajpayee’s onwards have been yacking about but doing little substantively to realize, and to otherwise assisting Taiwanese capitalists and manufacturers to do for India what they did for China in the Eighties and after.
The BJP government of Narendra Modi, on its part, seems entirely unmindful of the need to intensely cultivate Asian investors and companies, especially Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean, to shift their production bases to India with attractive tax holidays, automatic “one window” clearances, and extensive language training and cultural acclimatization to speedily create a class of Mandarin-speaking Indian youth, say, to act as intermediaries, whose absence the Taiwan ambassador in Delhi long ago asserted was the single biggest obstacle — the other being the oppressive bureaucratism of all state authorities, state and central, to the flow of Taiwanese capital and production wherewithal into India. It is a problem the Indian government has failed to address.
While Modi’s ardour for Chinese infrastructure investment may have dropped down to realistic levels owing to happenings in eastern Ladakh and elsewhere along the extended Line of Actual Control, it is replaced by a hope of convincing American companies for FDI increases and manufacturing investment. Except, the Biden Administration’s priority is not India’s economic betterment, but welcoming investors from everywhere just so that the so far “jobless growth” produces more employment in the US.
Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are the biggest investment and technology sources India can productively tap, which the Indian government has done little to court and incentivize. It is time the DRDO, IISc, Bengaluru, and the IITs begin collaborating, for example, with the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology in Taipei that is designing and helping local companies produce world class weapons, platforms amd sensors to arm its own military. This is so because the Modi dispensation, unfortunately, is hung up on the US and the West as the locus geneses of these things, enabling Washington to play New Delhi like a fiddle with S. Jaishankar, the most destructively pro-American diplomat in history as first Foreign Secretary and now foreign minister advancing Modi’s harmfully overt policy tilt. Just what such policies have fetched India and how much real weight Modi packs in Washington, in the US, the West and in the world generally, as a result was evidenced from not a single major American newspaper covering the recent Modi-Biden meet in the White House, the so-called Quad summit in Washington Sept 24 — what little exposure this last event got related to the nuclear submarines to Australia-angle, and from the fact that Modi addressed a near empty hall in the UN General Assembly, September 25.
The sooner Modi appreciates that India’s future is tied to the future of Asian states whose interests too clash with those of China, the lesser will be the delay for the present counterproductive US-dependent Indian strategic security policy to correct itself and get back on track to genuine “strategic autonomy”.
Other than the necessary economic initiatives to attract Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean investment capital and manufacturing, and technology, the Modi government can signal India’s strategic intent by ordering regular and frequent sailings of Indian warships and flotillas, through the disputed waters of the South China Sea, of course, but more meaningfully also through the Taiwan Strait with Indian naval vessels carrying out, to begin with, simple jackstay-kind of exercises with the Taiwan Navy and docking pointedly at major naval bases on the island-state’s east coast, such as Su’ao, headquarters of one of its leading units — the 124th Fleet.
Isn’t it time India responded in kind to Chinese naval sailings in India’s Indian Ocean domain and Chinese surface combatants and submarines docking at Karachi or in Humbantota at will?