By Col Alok Mathur, SM (Retd)
On April 12, 2021, an armada of eighteen J10/11 fighters, four H6K nuclear capable bombers, two Y8 antisubmarine and one airborne early warning aircraft of Red Air force intruded deep into air space of Taiwan in early hours and returned lazily once anti-aircraft missiles were activated and Taiwan Air force F16 jets scrambled and challenged them. There was again intrusion by five Chinese war planes on April 23, 2021. There have been more than 200 incursions since last year. Taiwanese Defence Ministry conveyed that these types of arrogant naval and air intrusions had been taking place often, over offshore islands of Taiwan in South China Sea, with an aim of instigating us, since taking over of Xi Jinping as the Premier of People Republic of China. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a press conference said that we were deeply concerned about Chinese aggressive actions against Taiwan and reiterated that USA had a legal commitment towards sovereignty of Taiwan and make sure that Taiwan has strong capability to defend itself and also warned that it would be a blunder if any one try to change status quo by force. Recently China banned imports of pineapples from Taiwan adversely affecting producers of Taiwan as China was largest importer of Taiwanese pineapples. Taipei termed it as another pressure tactics to subdue them. We will look for other markets said Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching Te. We have to go back in time to understand the reasons for divide in Taiwan (ROC) and People republic of China (PRC).
Taiwan was earlier known as “Formosa” meaning beautiful faraway island by Dutch sailors in 17th century and “Chung Hua Min Kuo” in mandarin by local Chinese inhabitants. It is located 180 kms off southeast coast of Communist China at Foujah. lt includes island of Taiwan and two offshore islands Quemoy and Matsu and Pescadores islets .The capital city is Taipei located on northern tip of country and Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung are other important cities . Ms Tsai lng Wen is the President of Republic of China. The total area is 36,000 sq kms and population is 25 million. Taiwan is a developed country with strong foreign exchange reserves amounting to 200 US billion $. It is one of the strongest economies of the world and among the ten largest capital exporters. Taiwan is one of the largest producers of electronic goods, textiles, chemicals, steel goods, plastics and processed foods and has a strong infrastructure network.
Originally, Taiwan and adjoining area were Chinese territory during Qing dynasty. After defeat in Sino Japanese war in 1895, Qing handed over Taiwan and nearby islands to Japan, who established a strong naval base in Tainan. Sun Yat Sen established Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China) in 1911 and organised Xinhai revolution to overthrow Qing dynasty. He become the first president of Nationalist government of Republic of China in 1912. He died in 1925 and Generalissimo Chiang Kai- shek took over from him, who after neutralising communists, unified China.
Taiwan from 1895 to 1945 remained Japanese colony but was developed by Japanese in big way. Chinese troops fought against Japan in World War ll with allied forces under US General Stillwell on eastern front. After Red revolution, Mao Dezong established Communist regime in China in on 1 Oct 1949 and Chiang Kai-shek along with his loyal troops fled to Myanmar and Taiwan and proclaimed a new nation Republic of China on December 8, 1949. Nationalist China (Taiwan) lost its membership in UN and Communist China was recognised as People’s Republic of China and was granted UN membership and permanent seat in Security Council. Taiwan still considers itself to be the legal government of United China.
Taiwan remained under martial law for next 38 years. Emergency was lifted in 1996. Lee Teng Hui was elected as first democratic President in direct presidential elections in 1996. The communist China offered the President to join with Mainland China. There are two lobbies in Taiwan. The first group wants to remain independent and not to join communists but the other group is in favour of One China Policy. Presently, the government in Taiwan led by Tsai Wen does not want to join mainland till democracy is restored which is a distant dream. China has threatened to invade Taiwan several times but USA has a legal treaty with Taiwan to protect it against any foreign aggression. China has, for the time being, retracted its stance and is following wait and watch policy.
Taiwan has formal relations with 14 small countries of world only and trade relations with 45 nations including USA and India. It is one of the seven non UN member countries of the world. China claims it to be part of mainland not a separate nation under One China Policy. On May 21, 2020, two Indian MPs Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan virtually attended the swearing in ceremony of Taiwan president Tsai lng Wen and even sent her congratulatory wishes. It was a departure from old national foreign policy on Republic of China since 1950. They were among the 92 dignitaries from 41 countries of the world. Sohang Sen, head of India Taipei Association also joined the ceremony at Taipei. China has shown its displeasure to all countries who attended the ceremony. India does not have official embassy in Taipei, but bilateral relations have continued to grow over past few decades. India has diplomatic presence since 1995 in Taiwan through an office of India Taipei Association and in turn, Taiwan external council had established four offices in four metro cities of India in 2018. The bilateral trade between two countries have reached to 9 billon US$ and Taiwanese investment has grown 12 times since 2000 to 400 million US$.
The comparison of People Liberation Army (PLA) and Taiwan Military Force reveals that numerically and equipment wise PLA is far superior. PLA has 23 lakhs standing Army with 8000 tanks, 6000 combat carriers, 12000 artillery guns, 3000 war planes and 780 naval crafts including one aircraft carrier and 74 submarines and is a nuclear power. Southern theatre command will be committed in case of invasion across Taiwan strait whereas Taiwan (ROC) possesses 3 lakhs Army with 1300 tanks, 2100 armoured personnel carriers, 2400 artillery pieces, 900 war planes and 67 naval crafts including 4 submarines. Although it is an uneven match but Israel and Vietnam have shown that a strong nation can be challenged if troops are motivated and fight is for survival and honour.
There have been three near wars fought between Red China and Blue China. First Sino-Taiwan crisis occurred in 1954/55 when two offshore island Yijiangshan and Dachen islands were occupied by PRC. US intervened and situation was defused. 519 Taiwanese troops and 390 PLA personnel were killed. Second Sino-Taiwan clash started on 23 Aug 1958. Quemoy and Matsu were heavily shelled and major naval battle took place at Dongding Island when ROC repelled amphibious landings. Several ships of Red Navy were sunk and 460 troops were killed/missing. Again, US seventh fleet intervened. Third Taiwan-China conflict lasted from July 1995 to March 1996, when PRC fired long range ballistic missiles over Taiwan into Pacific, basically to teach lesson to President Lee Teng Hui, who was drifting against One China policy towards independence and also to affect results of Presidential elections to be held in late 1996. USS Nimitz and USS lndependence moved in Taiwan strait to neutralise PLA Navy. China realised that it was very difficult to challenge US Navy and they withdrew again. Heavy military aid from USA followed to Taiwan including F104 star fighters, Patriot missile shield, frigates, submarines.
China sooner or later, will occupy Taiwan. Chinese intelligence agencies are funding pro- communist opposition parties to topple the democratic alliance through elections or even plan a military coup. China has emerged as new super power and an economic giant. Pandemic has changed the world order. The bio-war of 2020- 2021 has neutralised United States, Europe and India. Millions have lost lives, millions are still struggling in hospitals and are under constant fear with morale adversely affected. President Trump was a fire brand leader and was capable of taking ruthless decision on military intervention. The new US president Joe Biden has different anti-war approach. US troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq. Biden has ordered that by September 11, 2021 all US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Chinese Dragon is watching the developments and will like to breach the chain of Island defence connecting Japan, Taiwan and Philippines in North Pacific and check the response of United States, if it invades offshore islands of Taiwan in preliminary operations. Fourth round of Sino-Taiwan crisis can be seen on the eastern horizon.
-The writer is an Indian Army veteran and a defence analyst. He has keen interest in geo-strategic affairs and writes regularly on internal and external affairs issues related to India and neighbours. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda