While attention in India is riveted on the tense border with China in Ladakh, this is not the only theatre where the dragon is ratcheting up pressure as it seeks to extend its frontiers.
Over the weekend, the Chinese reportedly sent waves of aircraft menacingly close to Taiwan in an apparent bid to intimidate a territory it claims as its own. Taiwan has lived independently but in fear since 1949 because China has always claimed suzerainty over the island and has said more than once that it would be justified in even using force to reclaim it.
The weekend actions followed what Beijing perceives as increased American support to Taiwan, which has been visited twice in recent weeks by senior officials from Washington. In August, Health Secretary Alex Azar had visited Taipei ostensibly to learn how Taiwan had managed the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, Keith Krach, visited the island amid reports that the United States is planning arms sales to Taiwan.
With the convoluted logic that Beijing follows in all matters relating to Taiwan, it sees these actions as provocations, to be countered with the sort of belligerence it exhibited over the weekend. Such brinkmanship – as is involved in sending squadrons jets screaming towards Taiwan – is fraught with risk because the two countries do not have an official dialogue mechanism.
Taiwan of late has started to scramble its own aircraft to counter the Chinese actions, which means that one rash step could easily trigger a crisis. Any conflict between the two, while heavily loaded in favour of China, will severely impact Asia, and may force the United States, which has played a key role in raising temperatures, to intervene. It would be rash to predict how events will unfold thereafter, but clearly peace and tranquillity in the region will be disturbed. China’s increasing aggression may be backed, as it claims, by historical claims but seems to be guided entirely by contemporary geopolitics.
While all countries around the world struggle to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, which originated from China and has now been controlled there, the dragon has sought to play on the vulnerabilities of its neighbours with aggression. There was no logical reason for this summer’s incursions in Ladakh, nor for the exaggerated rhetoric on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Now the steady stepping up of tensions with Taiwan suggests Beijing sees an opportunity in the travails of its neighbours. It also realises that there is today no country capable of exercising effective moral or military counter pressure, nor indeed a global body that could intervene to knock sanity into the heads of China’s leaders, a severely emaciated United Nations having long abandoned its responsibility. In the circumstances, countries such as Taiwan and India, and others that are likely to be targeted next, must create a confluence of interests to safeguard themselves.