Amidst sequential escalation of US-China 'heated cold war', Pentagon has released a new report on January 16, airing US concerns about China’s growing military capability. The report highlights a contingency about a possible attack on Taiwan.
This is an important development after the coercive speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the beginning of 2019.
This Pentagon report, however, needs to be read in the context of US-China conflict.
The interpretation of the report indicates the expeditionary design of Chinese military strategy with global ambition, exploiting its increased ‘comprehensive national power’ (CNP) with improved technology, economics, military hardware. 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”.
It puts a spotlight on the increasing number of bases which can be turned into military bases at short notice. The continuous increase in its defence budget has helped People's Liberation Army (PLA) to modernise, posing a serious challenge to regional neighbours.
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 the context of Taiwan as it is strategically important to them. In a joint communique with PRC (The People's Republic of China) in 1972, the US had adopted the line of declaration of independence by Taiwan.
The US, however, remains opposed to any unilateral changes in status quo by either side. The 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 the US have crossed the redline so far. The US security assurance in terms of Taiwan Relations Act, indirectly promises to make available "such defence equipment and services, as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defence capability."
Last year, the US defence budget was more than the next seven countries put together including China; I do not see China posing a military challenge or competition to the US in a global arena, however, in the near vicinity of its eastern seaboard, it may pose some challenge in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The recently signed Taiwan Travel Act, the sale of military hardware to Taiwan indicates that the US is in no mood to give a walkover when it comes to Taiwan.
PRC claims Taiwan as its integral part and is looking for its peaceful reunification, which continues to be a dream. PRC passed the Anti-Secession Law in 2005, authorising war - in case of island formally declaring statehood: hence any effort towards its independence will invite Chinese action to protect its sovereign territory. The speeches by Chinese president have brought the US and Taiwan much closer and much sooner than what Xi 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. First, adventurism by China in Taiwan at the time of trade war with the 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 $30 billion with China. China gains nothing but has a lot to lose if it attacks Taiwan. Second, its adventurism will amount to crossing the red line defined by the US, which treats Taiwan no less than an ally.
The threatening speech by Chinese president against Taiwan and all the countries helping them is to deter Taiwan from getting stronger to pursue the path of independence.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)