Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hard line on Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland articulated at the ongoing 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Washington’s pushback that Beijing is provocatively and unilaterally ramping up its timeline to take Taiwan, as it were, has once again raised the spectre of a cross-Strait conflict. Set against the backdrop of intensified geostrategic competition between the USA and China, however, this is an eventuality all countries and not just the dramatis personae must factor into their strategic calculus going ahead. Risk management is now clearly the name of the game.
As far as the Americans are concerned, Brookings strategic and foreign policy experts Michael E. O’Hanlon, Melanie W. Sisson, and Caitlin Talmadge write in a recent article, they will need to implement a strategy to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan that is consistent with US interests and capabilities, and that provides clarity around the existentially important matter of preventing nuclear escalation in the event a conflict does occur. To this end, the inclusion in the 2022 US National Defence Strategy of the concept of “integrated deterrence” is touted as a “sensible approach” to doing so.
This approach can be enhanced, suggest the authors, by a reaffirmation of Washington’s One-China policy, investment in conventional capabilities suited to the geography of the Western Pacific and resilient to China’s military concept of systems warfare, clear signalling about the economic and political consequences of aggression against Taiwan, and reducing US domestic vulnerabilities to Chinese embargoes and cyberattacks. But no region is immune to the tug-of-war between China’s growing global strategic footprint and the USA’s opposition to it. For India, the situation is particularly fraught. That New Delhi has to act on the presumption that it will have to deal with any fallout of escalating Sino-US tensions essentially on its own is a no-brainer.
An essay by a well-respected Indian commentator on strategic-economic affairs argues that the Joe Biden administration has demolished the rulesbased world order by weaponising finance, imposing arbitrary sanctions against countries that fail to toe its line, supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainians to fight Russia, and bringing economic woes to the world by allowing inflation to soar. As for China, it is clearly baring its fangs and is now an immediate threat to not just Taiwan, but also India and other countries claiming rights in the South China Sea. India, asserts the commentator, needs to brace for a dramatic economic slowdown.
Focussing on adequate production of wage-goods, especially food, so the impact on the poor can be mitigated, pushing India as a manufacturing destination, speeding up the indigenisation of defence output (and imports of critical equipment from allies), conserving forex reserves, and aligning domestic economic policy between the Centre and states are his recommended policy prescriptions. As risk management techniques go, provided they are implemented in conjunction with a well-crafted diplomatic outreach to any nation willing to partner with India for mutual benefit, these suggestions make sense.