Yearender 2021: How China created the 'perfect storm' in Taiwan

 | Updated: Dec 18, 2021, 01:30 PM IST

Amid escalating pressure with China, Taiwan last month deployed the first squadron of its most advanced F-16 fighters.

Chinese warplanes in Taiwan

It has been a year of bitter confrontation between China and Taiwan with the Xi regime openly sending warplanes to the island nation in a bid to force Taipei to surrender to its wishes.

Taiwan has however stood firm amid China's overwhelming diplomatic and military force. President Tsai's regime has quietly turned the tables while talking to other governments and pushed Western governments to keep an eye on China.

This week, Lithuania recalled its current chief diplomat in China while asserting that it would operate the embassy remotely as relations between the two countries suffer over Taiwan.

Last month, China had downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania and stopped issuing visas there in protest at Vilnius's decision to allow Taiwan to open a representative office under its own name.

Beijing baulks at any official use of the word Taiwan lest it lends a sense of international legitimacy to the island, which China considers part of its territory.


President Tsai Ing-wen confronts China

Amid escalating pressure with China, Taiwan last month deployed the first squadron of its most advanced F-16 fighter, a US-made jet that will strengthen the island's defences against threats by China.

President Tsai Ing-wen oversaw the ceremony at an airbase in the southern city of Chiayi alongside Sandra Oudkirk, Washington's de facto ambassador to Taiwan.

The F-16V is an upgraded and much more sophisticated version of Taiwan's other ageing F-16 fighters which date back to the 1990s.

The deployment of the first squadron comes at a time of soaring tensions between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan's fate.

The self-ruled democracy of 23 million is claimed by Beijing which has vowed to one day take the island, by force if needed.


Chinese warplanes in Taiwan

Chinese sabrerattling has reached new heights under President Xi Jinping with Beijing sending record numbers of warplanes routinely crossing into Taiwan's air defence zone and state media regularly publicising invasion drills.

In the last decade, China has built up its military to the point where Taiwanese and US military officials have publicly voiced fears it could soon pull off an invasion.

Washington diplomatically recognises Beijing over Taiwan according to the "One-China" policy. However, the US government opposes any attempt to change Taiwan's status by force and is bound by an act of Congress to help the island maintain its own defences.

China has lambasted military sales to Taiwan and imposed sanctions on US arms giants such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in response.


Chinese warplanes in Taiwan

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said she has "faith" that the United States will defend the island in the event China launches a military strike.

Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's air defence zone have spiked in recent weeks. Tsai had stressed that Taiwan would not bow to the pressure by Beijing, describing the island as "standing on democracy's first line of defence."

Despite the persistent threats and aggression from Beijing, Tsai said she is ready to meet President Xi in order to "reduce misunderstanding" and address the differences in their political systems.

Self-ruled Taiwan has lived under the threat of a Chinese invasion since the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.



China's greyzone warfare

China has been hounding Taiwan with what is now popularly known as "greyzone warfare". In October, the most number of air incursions took place as China marked its annual national day when a record 149 flights crossed into Taiwan's southwestern air defence zone in four days.

Greyzone is a term used by military analysts to describe aggressive actions by a state that stop short of open warfare -- what British defence secretary Ben Wallace has described as "the limbo land between peace and war".

Adding aggressiveness to the incursions, some of them even got personal. In one radio broadcast posted online by aviation fans, a Chinese pilot could be heard insulting the mother of a Taiwanese combat air traffic controller.

Four days in October saw a 28 percent increase on the total for September which was, until then, the month with the highest number of flights at 117.

There has also been a steady increase in sorties using the kind of planes that would be used to strike Taiwan were an invasion to take place, including the nuclear-capable H6 bomber.


Chinese warplanes in Taiwan

In September 2020, the month that year with the highest number of sorties, Taiwan recorded incursions by 32 fighters and three bombers.

In October alone there were 124 fighter jet incursions and 16 by bombers. Taiwan has seen a surge in these kinds of threats since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, whom China's leaders loathe because she views the island as sovereign and not part of Beijing's "one China".

The United States has long maintained a policy of "strategic ambiguity" towards Taiwan, selling it arms without explicitly promising to come to the island's help.

But President Joe Biden has now twice stated that US forces would defend Taiwan's people if China made a move on them.


Taiwan, China row the 'perfect storm'

China's increased forcefulness has prompted US and Taiwanese officials to publicly warn that Beijing could be ready to invade in just a few years.

Jia Qingguo, an international relations expert at Peking University who advises the Chinese government, published a stark paper earlier this summer in which he warned a "perfect storm" was brewing in the Taiwan Strait.

China also feels pressured to act now against the growing relationship between Taiwan and the United States, where defending Taipei has become a rare bipartisan issue.

Add to this US has been sent its warships to sail across the Taiwan Straits angering China.


Chinese warplanes in Taiwan

This year marked the turning point in relations between China and Taiwan as the Xi regime made its ambitions clear as it openly sent warplanes to Taiwan in broad daylight over days even as the US said it would come to Taiwan's if China attacked the island nation.

In November, Chinese warplanes made 159 incursions into Taiwan's air defence zone which is the  the second-highest month on record as Beijing continues to pile military pressure on the democratic island.

Over the past 12 months, the sabre-rattling has reached new peaks after Beijing began sending an increasing number of warplanes into Taiwan's air defence identification zone (ADIZ)

The escalatory moves have heightened fears among Western allies like the United States and Japan that China could order an invasion of Taiwan, even if they consider it unlikely for now.

However, a land invasion would open up a completely different scenario even as Chinese troops continue to train in islands next to Taiwan. It remains to be seen if China will take its belligerence into 2022 or whether cool heads will prevail in the Taiwan Straits.