Russian forces’ struggle in Ukraine has poured cold water on China’s plans of annexing Taiwan through a direct invasion. But it has not deterred Beijing from its intentions to take control of the island nation. It has continued with its regular practices of mounting pressure on Taiwan through military threats, psychological warfare, and economic coercion. In the recent few days, China carried out ballistic missile tests, and sent a large sortie of warplanes into the Taiwanese airspace, apparently in response to the US, rejecting China’s claims on the Taiwan Strait. Several other such actions by Beijing reflect its aggressive stand on the Taiwan issue. However, all this is drawing major military and economic powers into the Taiwan Strait conflict, many extending their active support to Taipei. Thus, it would not be easy for China to attack Taiwan on the lines of the Ukraine invasion.
Amid strong opposition from the US and its allies, China has been treading cautiously. It is testing waters to gauge how the west block would react in case it attacks Taiwan. It has been sending its warplanes inside Taiwan’s airspace to provoke Taiwan and to put the ageing Taiwanese air fleet under constant stress. In the third week of June, as many as 29 Chinese jets and bombers made an incursion into Taiwanese territory. Taiwan has shown a great restraint though the military harassment by China is unsettling Taiwanese people.
Beijing is well aware of the fallouts and collateral damages in case it takes direct military action against Taiwan. Thus, it has resorted to “cognitive warfare”, in which Taiwanese citizens are wooed using the same Chinese identity. Social media platforms and technological solutions are used to spread misinformation to cause social unrest and lower people’s morale. China’s cognitive warfare managed to generate fear and defeatism as well as disturbed trust and solidarity in Taiwan, said Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, a professor at Taipei-based Tamkang University. But Taiwanese agencies managed to thwart these threats effectively through a series of actions.
Taiwanese people are against the idea of reunification with mainland China as over 80 per cent rejected the “One China” principle. Although cognitive warfare has seen China pumping a huge amount of resources, it has failed to produce desired effects, and the intended reunification could not be done without military action. Now, China can hope to curb Taiwan’s growing pro-independence sentiments – a trend Beijing has found difficult to contain, said Tzeng Yi-suo, director of the cyber security division at the Taipei-based Institute of National Defense and Security Research (INDSR).
Now, China has declared that it would not hesitate to undertake armed forces operations to annex Taiwan. Moreover, Chinese President Xi Jinping has permitted military operations outside China’s borders in the backdrop of Beijing making claims over the Taiwan Strait. The US too is changing its strategy. Although the US maintains “strategic ambiguity” over the Taiwan issue, the American President Joe Biden has clarified that it would support Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack. Warning China over the frequent military threats to Taiwan, Biden said “They are already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the manoeuvres that they are undertaking.”
Biden administration is helping Taiwan to boost its self-defence capabilities. A new US legislation, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, sends a clear message to China not to treat Taiwan as same as Ukraine. It has rattled China since the active role of the US is a major obstacle to the Chinese dream of uniting Taiwan with the mainland. Government-run Chinese tabloid ‘Global’, called the policy “abusive” and “dangerous”. Other western powers such as France and the UK have warned China against any misadventure in the Taiwan Strait.
Japan too has expressed concerns over Taiwan and decided to acquire a pre-emptive strike capability as any conflict in Taiwan Strait would draw it in naturally. Moreover, China is starting an economic slowdown. Thus, undertaking military operations to annexe Taiwan would not be easy for China. Jinping has tried to legitimise possible Taiwan annexation by supporting the Ukraine invasion. However, a majority of the world has criticised the Ukraine war, which included Russia’s old-time friend India. All this has compelled China to adopt a cautious tone on the Taiwan attack. It may end up paying a heavy price- militarily, economically and diplomatically.