Geopolitics

India and the US-China Great Game
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Issue Vol 25.4 Oct-Dec 2010 | Date : 20 Dec , 2010

Security of Taiwan

It may be mentioned that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 stipulates that the US will “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including boycotts or embargos, a threat to peace and security of the Western Pacific and of grave concern to the US”. The Taiwan Relations Act does not explicitly suggest intervention by the US in case of military attack by the PRC on Taiwan, nevertheless the US has deliberately pursued a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ on the issue to deter China from any such misadventure. The US has ensured that all its options are open as a player in the Western Pacific region. Taiwan is overwhelmingly dependent on the US for its security and defence needs, even though the US has no permanent physical military presence in Taiwan.

Also read: Taiwan’s courtship with India

Over the years the military balance, qualitatively and quantitatively, has shifted in favour of China vis-à-vis Taiwan. A dense array of missiles and rockets are deployed on China’s eastern coast to intimidate Taiwan and to prevent it from declaring independent status. With more than 1800 tanks, 1800 AFVs, 1400 artillery guns, 421 combat aircraft, 4 submarines, 7 destroyers and 22 frigates — Taiwan still remains very capable of blunting Chinese invasion for a period to allow the lead time for military assistance from the US. Beijing’s objective of unifying Taiwan with the mainland remains a sacred commitment. All US dispensations have been acutely sensitive to the fact that a Chinese aggression on Taiwan has to be met with an armed response by the US, and it is believed that the US Pacific Command has contingency plans for the scenario.

With more than 1800 tanks, 1800 AFVs, 1400 artillery guns, 421 combat aircraft, 4 submarines, 7 destroyers and 22 frigates “” Taiwan still remains very capable of blunting Chinese invasion for a period to allow the lead time for military assistance from the US.

China froze its defence relations with the US in January 2010 (since restored) after the latter approved US$ 6 billion arms sales to Taiwan. The package includes Black Hawk helicopters, communication equipment, 114 patriot missiles and 12 harpoon missiles. Significantly it does not include F-16 fighter aircraft, which Taiwan has been pressing for.

To add depth to its defence, Taiwan is also seeking to acquire some military facilities in the island of Guam (unincorporated US territory) by participating in the US military base relocation project. Guam is located in the Western Pacific Ocean and is 48 km long and 6 to 19 km wide. 29 percent of the area of the island is covered by US military bases and installations. The proposed relocation project is to be carried out under the aegis of Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). The GPA has 28 signatory nations, who are legible to bid for goods and services offered by any of the members. It is understood that the US is going to offer facilities in Guam worth US $ 15 billion to GPA members for bidding. Taiwan with its financial muscle has fair chance of winning substantial amount of these contracts.

The main moderating or restraining factor with regard to US-China belligerence over Taiwan is the economic interdependence between China and Taiwan. China holds US$ 739.6 billion worth US Treasury Securities constituting 24 percent of US national debt. On the other hand, the American market is critical for China.

Economics and to an extent sociology are also determining the evolution of China-Taiwan relations. 40 percent of Taiwan’s trade is with China. Taiwan has a population of approximately 23 million, of which two million are employed in China. Of these two million, many are reservists in the Taiwan Armed Forces. The opening of the tourism between the two countries has witnessed one million Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan this year. Psychologically, because of the totalitarian communist regime in China and the high prosperity in Taiwan, the Taiwanese find the idea of unification repulsive. It may be mentioned that the per capita income of Taiwan (nearly $ 17,000) is five times of that of China (nearly $ 3700).

Vietnam, A US Ally?

Such is the importance being accorded by the US to the assertiveness of China in the Asia Pacific Region as well as in the Indian Ocean that it is now reaching out to Vietnam with which it fought one of the most bitter and prolonged war in the history of mankind, and a war in which it lost 58,000 soldiers. In principle, the US has agreed to share nuclear fuel and civilian nuclear technology with Vietnam.

To China, a US-Vietnam strategic partnership will be a formidable factor to contend with in the South China Sea as well as in its increasing reach in the Indian Ocean.

Vietnam has announced its intention to build 13 nuclear reactors in the next two decades to cater to its energy consumption, which is growing at a phenomenal rate. These reactors are likely to produce an estimated 16,000 mega watts of electricity. Companies from Russia, Japan, France, US and China as well, are showing keen interest in the nuclear energy market in Vietnam.

The proposal by the US to enter into a nuclear deal with Vietnam, similar to Indo-US nuclear deal should be seen a counterpoise to China in the regional context. This proposal significantly comes after Vietnam has accused China of violating its sovereignty by conducting seismic exploration in South China Sea. The proposed US-Vietnam nuclear deal is bound to cast its shadow on the Chinese move to supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan. To China, a US-Vietnam strategic partnership will be a formidable factor to contend with in the South China Sea as well as in its increasing reach in the Indian Ocean.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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