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Taiwan as the epicentre of an Asia-Pacific war

Taiwan as the epicentre of an Asia-Pacific war

As this thesis is predicated on the evidence-base of there (eventually) being an A-P war, it is important to come to terms with numerous broad-based issues to draw out a more nuanced and developed argument. The following are significant elements and though they only comprise a snapshot of issues within the current state-of-affairs, they nonetheless offer pivotal points which are able to lead to deeper analysis and are labelled ‘points of relevance.’

Taiwan: points of relevance
  • Taiwan is, and remains in permanent politico and military defence mode;
  • Taiwan can only defend and repel, it cannot gain and maintain a strategic foothold on the Chinese mainland;
  • The defence of Taiwan is a dynamic and dependent upon many issues within and extramural to its territorial and regional boundaries;
  • Taiwan has inherent freedoms and constraints within its political system;
  • Taiwan has a fluidity within its (domestic) foreign policy toward China;
  • Taiwan has no legal recognition in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and more importantly, the UNSC;
  • Taiwan is an import-dependent country;
  • China has a focused and unambiguous foreign policy towards Taiwan;
  • China is currently in the nascent phase of its elevation as a politico, military, regional and global hegemon;
  • China is a legal sovereign nation-state and is a member of the UNGA and is a UNSCP5 member;
  • Hong Kong and Macau have been peacefully retroceded to China; and
  • China is an ongoing, determined and forthright military actor in the region and will ultimately act violently on its irredentist policies of historical ownership and retrocession of Taiwan.

In the post-WWII era and due in part to the process of globalisation—and its codicils of sciences and technologies—and the implementation of UN policies through which the international order and Realpolitik[1]operates, the rapidity of change in terms of politico and military intensity has been ongoing and shows no signs of retardation. Whilst it is true that territorial ambition has always existed—long before the Treaty brought about ‘international order’—it is safe to argue, that the twentieth century introduced a rapidity in outcomes. However, to venture into other historical avenues and whether those territorial gains are warranted remains beyond the remit as what is of interest here is the quick evolvement of a direct kinetic phase of action—colloquially known as a ‘shooting war.’ What is important from a regional and international perspective is what and how other actors will respond and how other UN members will react and what will unfold as the regional tensions are incrementally; and exponentially elevated through the trajectory of an the announcement of war.

Throughout 2018 the political and military actions of both actors[2] have persisted in their pro-active regional- and international-suasions. There has been a litany of politico and military responses to numerous situations in the public arena and whilst it is difficult to estimate how many incidences will happen in the future at some point, and because of the increasing tenseness an exchange will take place. The intensity of the situation is ongoing and the following, have been listed from the pages of the Taipei Times (an English broadsheet masthead daily newspaper) and represent information that is in the public sphere. In date order only, they comprise

  • Threats from China are intensifying;
  • Taiwan confronts its darkest hour;
  • A role for Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific;
  • Trade War looming over Taiwan;
  • [President] Tsai lauds military after joint exercise;
  • Chance of Chinese Invasion slim: poll;
  • Taiwan happy with US response to PRC;
  • Taiwan boosting domestic defence industry abilities;
  • First Taiwan-US defence forum held;
  • US recognition of Taiwan possible.
  • Toward a new UK-PRC ‘golden age;
  • More uncertainties for US, China;
  • CCP striving to lure Taiwanese;
  • China blocking Taiwan from the WHO: ministry;
  • PLAAF conducting drills skirting Taiwan’s space;
  • China lures Dominican Republic; and
  • Asia sees China and US as threats to rules-based order.[3]

Overt actions such as these whilst they do not reflect the certainty of a kinetic exchange do reveal a germane and consistent state-of-affairs and shows China is in a determined mode of consistently pressuring—Taiwan politically in the first instance, and militarily in the second.

Scrutiny of cross-Strait machinations during and pre-2018, and especially since the timeline of 1995, as has been alluded to, is to observe that China has consistently built up its military presence; and continued its ‘ownership’ rhetoric. Whether China has a legal right to claim Taiwan is an arid argument and will not be entered into further, as the current state-of-affairs consists of China claiming Taiwan. Whilst this situation remains robust and Taiwan maintains its independence stance and its non-China suzerainty must elicit a reaction. Indubitably, and due to the evidence-base of history the only outcome of this standoff is war. Notwithstanding this state-of-affairs and in order to argue for balance the munificence of what Taiwan and China as benevolent neighbours show to each other in their cross-Strait relations does at times react against the possibility of a war. Areas such as tourism, search and rescue, quasi-residency, education opportunities and numerous other relevant civil actions do exist they will however, not stop a hostile exchange. Acknowledging that some cooperation exists is all that is needed here. With this in mind the happening of a war can now be explored.

Having established that Taiwan’s relationship with China is fraught with tensions on many levels and moreover, that there are domestic issues within the government of Taiwan about the ways in which to best approach China, it is also necessary to state forthwith, that there is no disagreement regarding said retrocession of Taiwan within the CCP. The CCP has made continuous and straightforward statements that the retrocession of Taiwan is a priority;[4] and will remain on its politico- and military-agenda until this has been achieved. The Taiwanese government has adopted a continuous politico-campaign to maintain a robust diplomatic-status; and altered its defence posture from ‘defeating’ an invasion by Chinese military forces to that of ‘effective deterrence, [and] resolute defence.‘[5] The change in tactical and strategic approach effectively means that the fighting will be at such a great cost to China that if it succeeds it will comprise a ‘pyrrhic victory.’[6] With the aforementioned in mind it is pertinent to now examine what a war comprises ‘of’ in terms of action; what ‘type’ of war can take place specifically between the belligerents; and the politico and military complexities.

After its successes in the Pacific phase of WWII the US went on to dominate the A-P. England was finally exhausted from WWI and WWII, Europe was essentially in ruins, and it was the US and the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) became the hegemons. The US was robust in its claims in the A-P whereas it is safe to argue the Soviets remained without a significant geo-strategic presence in the A-P; although they did, through the auspices of the UNSC, maintain a political interest in the region. The question that the circumstances throws up is to what extent the political cum geo-strategic value of Taiwan changed, due to the rise China? To assess this spectrum, a brief historical analysis is needed.

Taiwan did not need to be ‘grabbed’ by the US[7] as part of its hegemonic acquirements as it was a robust independent country—progressing toward a liberal-democracy—with a sympathetic view of the West and the values therein. Including within its immediate post-Chinese mainland history of having a staunch anti-communist stance. Therefore, Taiwan posed no threat to the West per se and moreover, although it was a dictatorship it was capitalist and ‘Westernised’ and along with Japan and South Korea a bastion of the West in a geographic area fraught with Cold War tensions. During the mid to late-twentieth century it also retained strong political ties to other nation-states and had many political allies—until 1998 Taiwan had 27 political allies.[8] From this political stance and even though the UN rejected Taiwan’s independence from mainland China in 1971—which excluded the ROC from sitting on UN intergovernmental agencies—the sheer number of countries that tolerated Taiwan’s presence as has been alluded to, offered it a quasi-sovereign nation-state status. There were many reasons Taiwan was tolerated throughout the mid to latter-twentieth century. Notwithstanding this factor, it was the threats the Cold War posed to the West and Taiwan’s geographic location positioned it as beneficial to any geo-strategic machinations the West may need should a kinetic exchange with the Soviet Union take place; the geo-strategic placement of the ROC (which had proved worthwhile for the US in the Vietnam War); and the economic benefits it provided to the West, especially in the military matériel realm garnered support either directly, or in a by-proxy manner.

Placing a perspective on the immediate history of Taiwan-US relations is nevertheless, to state categorically that the US remains Taiwan’s closest ally in 2018. There is near-daily commentary in the popular press, which has been alluded to in the aforementioned paragraphs with regard to the current situation of Taiwan-China frictions; and more broadly Taiwan-US-Japan-China relations. Whilst the government of Taiwan remains deeply concerned about China’s plans to place its geo-strategic footprint on the region it still maintains viable and productive economic, military, societal and governance-components. The South China Sea and the East China Sea as geographic locales also demand considerable debate in the popular press and it is through this prism too, that it must categorically acknowledged, the US remains Taiwan’s closest ally. The level of evincing, focused and forthright dictum toward it however, compared to that of 2001—a matter which will be discussed later in the thesis—is no longer as focused. To wit, Taiwan has been and is dealt with in a much more broad-spectrum way by the US. The question is what has contributed to the state-of-affairs?

The considerable amount of reasons this situation has arisen is far too vast for this thesis, suffice to state that the US Congress—encouraged by the ‘America First’ stance of the Trump administration—is showing signs of returning to the Congress of the 1930s which was ‘isolationist’[9] and if it continues it must have an impact on Taiwan; and the A-P region in general. The Trump administration is reflecting a core belief within the American people. Simply put, the US has ‘done enough’ in the global arena, and it is strategically unaccompanied in its attempts to bring order to an increasingly fractious world; and moreover, the US has ‘shouldered’ an unfair burden and responsibility for too long; and is unappreciated for its efforts. Some of the ongoing and therefore, increasingly problematic issues that are worth mentioning in order to highlight the point are, the US’ and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) inconclusiveness in Afghanistan; ongoing recalcitrance in Iraq; an inability to stymie Pakistan’s tolerance of the Taliban; disagreements with NATO’s forces in Europe; the continuing obduracy of China as an aggregate economic, politico and military power; the Russian Federation’s unilateral actions in the Middle East, and its ongoing presence in the A-P; and the EU developing its politico-input into the A-P region. All instances have had considerable impacts on the way in which the Trump administration views the world. The globalisation of geo-strategic world events and the multi-polarity that has been introduced, due to powerful actors re-configuring their international and regional spheres-of-influence in the twenty-first century, has been so vast in momentum that it has caused a backlash in previously dominant Western societies[10]—and the US is no different.

As a result of globalisation and in particular its impacts on China has meant the A-P region in 2018 has become increasingly fractious and one of the main reasons for this state-of-affairs hinges on the US attempting to hold onto its A-P hegemonic history, and of China as a nascent hegemon attempting to dislodge American primacy.[11] The complex dichotomy of the US attempting to maintain military supremacy and its subsequent withdrawal from its responsibilities as a global actor aside, and whilst it must be noted that other Western countries have gone down this path, the situation remains it does have a presence in the A-P region. Albeit this analysis has only dealt with some of the major issues and as the thesis is predicated on a ‘shooting war’ taking place it is timely to introduce how it will ‘happen’ and deliver a quantifiable evidence-based approach to the ascribed state-of-affairs. The evidence-base will be viewed through the prisms of history, politico-actions and kinetic actions from which, and upon this premise and the transformations therein, will also incorporate probabilities in the first instance and possibilities in the second. From these precepts, a forecast will be made in the ‘conclusion’ chapter.

Continued tomorrow … A forthcoming war

Previous instalment … The Asia-Pacific


[1]Realpolitik’ is posited in the notion of power and the desire and to a certain extent the ability to use it in a forum of sophisticated peers and recognised institutions. Realpolitik is summed up as ‘traditional power politics … Realpolitik is a ‘jungle’, so to speak, where dangerous beasts roam and the strong and cunning rule, whereas under the League of Nations [now the UN] the beasts are put into cages reinforced by the restraints of international organisation … .’ See: Robert Jackson and Georg Sorensen. Introduction to International Relations. Theories and approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, 38.

[2] Military kinetic actions it must be stated, in the instances and at the time of writing have not involved the use of live munitions specifically directed at each other, on the part of either actor, and have not consisted of deliberate flights by the Republic of China Air Force (RCAF) through the Strait and similar flights by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Both sides are robust in their activities although it is safe to argue, the RCAF Force does not indulge in provocation exercises and the role of the RCAF is restricted to responses to PLAAF actions.

[3] Military kinetic actions it must be stated, in the instances and at the time of writing have not involved the use of live munitions specifically directed at each other, on the part of either actor, and have not consisted of deliberate flights by the Republic of China Air Force (RCAF) through the Strait and similar flights by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Both sides are robust in their activities although it is safe to argue, the RCAF Force does not indulge in provocation exercises and the role of the RCAF is restricted to responses to PLAAF actions.

[3] In ascending order the authors’ where relevant are, Chang Yan-Ting, 31 Mar, 8; Tu Ho-Ting, 7 Feb, 8, 2 April, 2018 Abraham Denmark, 2 Apr, 1; Parris Chang 16 Mar, 8; Staff Writer,14 Apr, 1; Staff Writer, 24 April,1, 7 May, 2018, Nadia Tsao and Sherry Hsiao, 7 May,1; Ralph Jennings, 11 May, 7,1; Jonathan Chin, 4Jul,1. Staff Writer 4 Jul, 8. 3; Andrew Hammond, 31 Jan, 8; Joseph Lee,10 Apr, 8; Masao Sun, 11 Apr, 8; Staff Writer, 27 Apr, 3; Jonathan Chin; 20 Apr, 3; Stacy Hsu, 2 May, 1; Mark Champion, 9 Jun, 9. See: Taipei Times, 2018.

[4] A relevant argument to the current state-of-affairs is that China’s success within the politico-realm of retrocession and therefore, is not disinclined to threaten force. An example of the belief in hard power is the discussions between Britain and China with regard to Hong Kong. It has been stipulated that Deng suggested to (then) Prime Minister Thatcher that China could ‘seize Hong Kong later today.’ See: Danny Gittings. ‘Thatcher reveals Deng’s threat to seize Hong Kong in a day.’ South China Morning Post. 17 Oct, 1993.

[5] See: Ministry of Defense. R.O.C

[6] The term ‘pyrrhic victory’ derives from King Phyrrus the ruler of Epirus who led several (Greek) campaigns against the Romans—finally defeating them in 279 B.C.E. In doing so, he sustained such heavy casualties his power was severely compromised, the ‘victory [was] achieved at great or excessive cost; a ruinous victory.’ See: Random House Dictionary. Dictionary.comUnabridged. 1998.

[7] The US, as with many Western European countries, employed subjugation and colonisation as a modus operandi to enhance regional and international ambitions. Nevertheless, what is of importance here is the US had become the post-WWII A-P regional hegemon and it had a long history of taking control of other nation-states. To wit, the US ‘grabbed’ ‘the Hawaiian islands, Guam and part of Samoa, and it took over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines after defeating Spain.’ See: Stanley Karnow. Vietnam A History. The First Complete Account of Vietnam at War. New York: Penguin Books, 1983, 12.

[8] ‘Taiwan braces for prospect of zero diplomatic allies.’ The Mainichi. 24 Aug, 2018.

[9] ‘American Isolationism in the 1930s.’ Department of State. Office of the Historian.

[10] The changes that are inferred by the statement include, Brexit, immigration reforms, the rise of far right groups, physical infrastructure to keep immigrants from boarders and waves of immigrants from countries that have not been encountered since the end of WWII.

[11] For a complete and thorough account of this happenstance and its possible consequences see: Hugh White. The China Choice: Why America should share power, Black Inc, 2012.

Strobe Driver completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Strobe is a recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2018, MOFA, Taiwan, ROC, and is an adjunct researcher at Federation University.


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  1. David Bruce

    It is in US interests to have a strong Taiwan as much as it needs a strong Japan.

    If Taiwan falls to the PRC, how long before Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and others in the area follow?

  2. Hotspringer

    The Hong Kong style Anschluss may not appeal to Taiwan.

  3. andy56

    Having had a girlfriend in taiwan, i can tell you, they dont like the country across their ditch.

    Japan, Korea, Vietnam,Thailand wont fall to the PRC. They are fiercely nationalistic warrior races too. PRC would have to have an army ten times its current size to contain the dissent. Aint gonna happen. You cant get away with things in 2019 that they did 2000yrs ago. The biggest threat is still america.

  4. Phil Atkinson

    “If Taiwan falls to the PRC, how long before Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and others in the area follow?”

    China’s already had a war with neighbouring Vietnam (1979) and China lost, or at least, it didn’t really win. “Chinese forces entered northern Vietnam and captured several cities near the border. On March 6, 1979, China declared that the gate to Hanoi was open and that their punitive mission had been achieved. Chinese troops then withdrew from Vietnam. Both China and Vietnam claimed victory in the last of the Indochina Wars.” (Wiki)

    The Chinese military is primarily directed to defence of the homeland, the perceived threat coming primarily from the USA and its allies, particularly following Obama’s “pivot to Asia”. That was the primary reason for the Chinese “re-making” reefs and islets in the South China Sea – they became a forward line of defence, rather than a primary launchpad for any offensive action. Realistically, the US or anyone with precision guidance missiles could take out those island defences in minutes.

    Part of any large scale military projection is the use of aircraft carriers. Currently, the Chinese have two in service, with a third under construction. In comparison, the USA has eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers currently in service, each with its own battle fleet.

    The USA is far more likely to start a hot war than is China, that latter country seeking to dominate via trade.

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