Amidst sequential escalation of US-China ‘Heated cold war’, Pentagon has released a new report on 16 January 2019, airing US concerns about China’s growing military capability highlighting a contingency about a possible attack against Taiwan. This is sequel to the coercive/threatening speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the beginning of 2019 and earlier in 19th CPC.
This Pentagon report however needs to be read in context of US-China heated cold war, including information war. The interpretation of the report indicates expeditionary design of Chinese military strategy with global ambition, exploiting its increased ‘Comprehensive National Power’ (CNP) with improved technology, economics, military hardware and other elements of CNP.
Chinese rapid advancement in hypersonic weaponry, cyber warfare, sea and air power have allowed it to look beyond its “Active Defence Strategy” and slow moving “Incremental Encroachment Strategy” to expeditionary ambition beyond second island chain. It highlights its design of increasing number of bases, which can be turned into military bases at short notice. The Chinese interest of keeping a buffer zone in the form of North Korea to avoid having direct land border with US ally is also indicated in the report.
The continuous increase in its defence budget has helped PLA to modernize and pose serious challenge to regional neighbours like India
The US Position
As per the information in open domain, the Report does not cover US position in response to Chinese growing military capability in context of Taiwan, apparently being classified, as Taiwan is strategically important to them. In a joint Communication with PRC in 1972, US had adopted the line of No declaration of independence by Taiwan, No UN seat and no representation in an international organisation, which requires only one membership for a country, in respect of Taiwan. US, however, remains opposed to any unilateral changes in status quo by either side. US will therefore like to have a democratic, independently governed Taiwan as an ally, where they have adequate strategic and economic leverage, instead of it forming part of Communist PRC.
Neither Taiwan nor China, nor US have crossed redlines of each other so far. The US security assurance in terms of Taiwan Relations Act, indirectly promising to make available “such defense equipment and services, as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” has been one of the deterrence to PRC in acting against Taiwan. Last year US Defence Budget was more than next seven countries put together including China; I do not see China posing a military challenge or competition to US in global arena, however in near vicinity of its eastern seaboard, it may pose some challenge in South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The recently signed Taiwan Travel Act, sale of military hardware to Taiwan indicates that US is in no mood to give a walkover regarding Taiwan.
Chinese Position in context of Taiwan
PRC claims Taiwan as its integral part and is looking for its peaceful reunification continues to be a dream. PRC passed the Anti-Secession Law in 2005, authorising war if island formally declares statehood: hence any effort towards its independence/aiding its independence will invite Chinese action to protect its sovereign territory. The threatening speeches of Xi have brought US and Taiwan much closer and much sooner than what Xi Jinping would have expected. Taiwan seems to have got bolder today and is talking of self defence indicating that Chinese coercion has not worked so far. Will China Use Force Against Taiwan
President Xi Jinping has ordered the Southern Theatre Command responsible for monitoring the South China Sea and Taiwan to get ready for war, but in my opinion China will not use force against Taiwan due to many reasons. Firstly Adventurism by China in Taiwan at the time of Trade War with US does not make any economic sense as bulks of Taiwan’s investments are already in China with Taiwan having a trade surplus of approximately US $ 30 billion with China . China gains nothing, but has a lot to lose if it attacks Taiwan.
Secondly, its adventurism will amount to crossing red line of US, which treats Taiwan no less than an ally. It had earlier indicated that any unilateral change of ‘status Quo’ in Taiwan as a red line and most desired option of common Taiwanese. China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such destruction of Han Chinese, who have relations and investments in mainland will not go well with domestic population of mainland, besides destroying its own economic powerhouse .The threatening speech by China for Taiwan and countries helping them is to deter Taiwan getting stronger to pursue the path of independence.
What does this Report means for India
With construction of CPEC connectivity, and China’s need to increase domestic support by generating spirit of nationalism amidst slowing down of economy, the urge to do something different cannot be ruled out. This could be an encroachment into un-demarcated borders. The clouds of ‘Two Front War’ continue to hang over India. To avoid a ‘Two Front War’ for India, the best way is to convince the potential adversaries that India is capable of fighting it. This convincing cannot be by announcements or statements by leaders, but by developing capability to do so. The defence capabilities take long time to build up, more-so if India does not have strong manufacturing base. ‘Make in India’ and self reliance is essential, but time consuming; hence must continue simultaneously with procurements. The defence budget allocation will have to substantially increase in 2019 and beyond to narrow down asymmetry in CNP with China, in the interest of national security.