Monday, November 28th, 2022 00:13:19

SCO Meet and Action-Reaction Dynamics Related to Taiwan

By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
Updated: September 29, 2022 4:21 pm

The first-in- person SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) Summit in Uzbekistan since 2019 is significant for the possibility of bilateral ties among its member countries (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, India and Pakistan, besides Afghanistan, Belarus and Magnolia as observer States)with far- reaching consequences on the future of peace and tranquility in the region and world over. Beijing and Moscow see the SCO Summit as a counterweight to US alliances in East- Asia. It is said that the Chinese leader is on the mission of promoting a Global Security Initiative announced in April following the formation of the Quad by Washington, Japan, Australia and India in response to Beijing’s more assertive foreign policy.

The United States and China have found it challenging in recent years to interpret one another’s foreign policy signals vis-à-vis Taiwan. Misinterpretation of the signaling may contribute to a cycle of actions and reactions that can inadvertently elevate bilateral tensions to the point of crisis or even war in the Taiwan Strait. The QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), an informal strategic dialogue including the US, India, Japan and Australia has focused on military collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of a rising China. The degree to which India will involve itself in Taiwan Strait depends on three trajectories- economic relationship between India and Taiwan, Indo-US strategic relationship and growth of Indian military capacity, notably in the maritime sphere. On China’s insistence- as it does with all countries- India mentioned the ‘One China’ commitment in official statements but dropped it in 2008 after China started a policy of issuing ‘stapled visas’ to people from J & K and Arunachal Pradesh on grounds that they were temporary citizens of India. India has also not been shy in making official contacts with the Dalai Lama to travel in Ladakh where he stayed for the past one month before reaching Delhi. India has maintained the ‘One China’ commitment since the Communists took over in 1949 and only maintains trade and cultural relations with Taiwan.

China-Taiwan tensions are playing out in the Indo-Pacific region, where India strongly supports US policy that revolves round countering China. Even major Chinese military provocations falling short of an invasion would be a major blow to the policy which aims to keep the region peaceful. Current tensions are destabilizing the Indo-Pacific, and that does impact India’s security interests and its objectives in the Indo-Pacific.

The destabilizing effects of tensions in the Taiwan Strait could still present a problem for South Asia more broadly–by threatening some of its partners. Japan is one of the region’s biggest bilateral donors, and Bangladesh is the largest recipient of Japanese development aid. South Korea which has substantive ties with some South Asian States, would also be vulnerable during a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. South Asian States may have less skin in the game other than other countries in the Indo-Pacific or the United States, but its interests are also served by de-escalation in the Taiwan Strait.

Despite the careful talk for years, India has been ramping up its own ties with Taiwan both politically and economically. More important to Delhi is the economic component of its engagement with Taiwan. Last year, bilateral trade between India and Taiwan was estimated to be worth over $ 7 billion. Taiwanese firms have also invested over $2.3 billion in India. The two countries are even talking about a free trade deal and working out ways to create a semi-conductor manufacturing hub in India. Notwithstanding India’s cautious and non-committal policy, much of this economic cooperation is now at stake as Taiwan remains on a knife’s edge. China has conducted several military drills that effectively encircled Taiwan, restricted access to civilian ships and endangered its role in trade and the global supply chain. These moves seem like a prelude to a potential future pressure tactic from Beijing. Short of an outright invasion- which could pull the US into a war and bring serious costs to the mainland- Beijing may well seek to restrict and threaten Taiwan’s economic ties with the outside world, thereby weakening the island’s position.

Such a strategy would also significantly threaten India’s own long-term economic plans and partnership with Taiwan. As China’s President Xi centralizes power in Beijing and grapples with economic distress both at home and abroad, he may rely increasingly on militarism and warmongering. In doing so, Xi may take on bigger economic risks in pursuit of a military advantage over Taiwan. So far India has been unwilling to engage with these dynamics officially, choosing instead to walk on eggshells around Beijing’s sentiments while focusing on their troublesome bilateral border in the Himalayas. Wading into the Taiwan debate may elicit more Chinese aggression in the Himalayas. But if the Taiwan crisis boils over in the months ahead, India is unlikely to escape unscathed. The reiteration of ‘One China’ including Taiwan in SCO Summit offers little hope for the resolution of the problem. In SCO Summit China has succeeded in making all the countries believethat his claims for Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinyang are fair and just.

The need of the hour is also to maintain multiple lines of communication between China and the US. Secondly, Washington should consider specific figures and outlets for authoritative signaling and communicate this clearly to China. Thirdly, in-depth dialogue be initiated which is extremely important to maintain a stable and predictable relationship between the two great powers. Signaling be not misunderstood- if the US does not tell China what the former is doing and why they are doing it, then China will draw their own conclusions- and the US would do the same. It is extremely important to ensure that US signals on Taiwan policy are communicated in a clear and consistent manner to minimize the chances of misinterpretation by China and also to avoid triggering action-reaction dynamics. Once unleashed, such dynamics can spiral dangerously upward, escalating into crisis and even war. SCO Summit, thus has failed contributing towards the easing of tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

 


By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)

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