In 2021, the then-Chief of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Philip Davidson, said that China may try to attack Taiwan by 2027; and in 2022, the Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director, David Cohen, stated that Chinese President Xi Jinping wants the People’s Liberation Army to have the capability to take control of Taiwan by force by 2027. In light of these assessments, the United States (US) government is taking the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan very seriously. How to prevent that from becoming a reality is a matter of great concern. How does India fit into this situation? Indeed, India could play a very big role.
China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea shows that it has sought to expand its territories when the overall military balance has shifted.
Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine reveals one fact—if Vladimir Putin had expected that Russia could not defeat Ukraine easily, he would not have invaded. If the same logic applies to China, it will not invade Taiwan if victory is not assured. To prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, China must not expect to win easily. There are three things we can do to make sure of that.
Three critical elements needed to keep China in check
First, maintaining a military balance is critical. China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea shows that it has sought to expand its territories when the overall military balance has shifted. For example, in the 1950s, just after the French military forces withdrew from the Indochina peninsula, China took half of the Paracel Islands. In the 1970s, just after the US military forces withdrew from Vietnam, China took the other half of the Paracel Islands. In the 1980s, after the Soviet troops reduced their numbers in Vietnam, China took six features of the Spratly Islands; and in the 1990s, after the US troops withdrew from the Philippines, China took the Mischief Reefs. In all cases, a changing military balance provided the impetus for China to expand its territories. To prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, maintaining a military balance is key.
If Taiwan’s international status is high enough, it will be riskier for China to provoke its supporters. Thus, the rising international status of Taiwan could prevent a Chinese invasion.
Second, establishing supply chain independence is important. A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report indicated that China cannot win a conflict easily if the US, Japan, and other countries give enough support to Taiwan. However, if these countries rely on China’s market of supply chains too heavily, their economies will suffer when the latter imposes economic sanctions against them. This sort of economic dependence can also cast doubt on assurances of support for Taiwan. China may not believe that these countries will support Taiwan in a crisis if their economies are so reliant on China. This could cause China to miscalculate that they can win in a conflict. To prevent any such miscalculation, the US, Japan, and other likeminded countries should create alternative markets and supply chains.
Third, if Taiwan’s international status is high enough, it will be riskier for China to provoke its supporters. Thus, the rising international status of Taiwan could prevent a Chinese invasion. The recent visits of delegations from the US, Japan, and European countries show that high-level official visits raise the status of Taiwan; and the international community needs to inform China that its “One China Policy” does not reflect the fact that Taiwan is not under the control of the Chinese government.
India can provide an economic alternative if countries do not want to rely on China for their markets and supply chains. During the Obama administration, the US proposed a framework to counter China’s markets.
Therefore, maintaining military balance, creating an economy that is not overly dependent on China, and raising the international status of Taiwan could be useful methods to dissuade China from believing that it could win if it invaded Taiwan. In addition, India plays a very important role in this overall strategy.
India’s role in preventing a Chinese takeover of Taiwan
First, India’s role is very important in maintaining a military balance with China. China has increased its military expenditure at a very rapid pace. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China increased its military expenditure by 72 percent for the decade (2012-2021). By contrast, the US decreased its expenditure by 6.1 percent, Japan increased by 18 percent, and Taiwan increased by 7.9 percent. In 2022, Japan decided to increase its defence budget, but it will not be enough if China continues to increase its own military expenditure at the same rate as in the past. Therefore, along with bigger defence budgets, the US, Japan, and Taiwan need new methods to counter China. Cooperation with India could be the answer.
If the US, Japan, and Taiwan jointly cooperate with India, China will not be able to concentrate its military expenditure against Taiwan because it will need to respond to India. Cooperation with the three countries is beneficial for India too, in terms of its conflicts with China along the Himalayan border region. To raise the credibility of this idea, strike capability is key. Recently, not only India and the US, but Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and South Korea have all been improving their strike capabilities. China would be forced to spread out its defence capabilities and expenditures if it were surrounded by formidable strike capabilities. Cooperation between India and the US, Japan, Taiwan, and others could create a situation that will deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
India’s diplomatic activities have raised the international status of Taiwan.
Second, India can provide an economic alternative if countries do not want to rely on China for their markets and supply chains. During the Obama administration, the US proposed a framework to counter China’s markets. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was one of the ideas. President Obama, in his State of the Union address in 2015, said that the US had prevented China from writing the trade rules. However, the TPP lacked some conditions that allowed it to serve as a counter-China framework. Such a framework needs three conditions: Exclusion of China, US leadership, and inclusion of India as a market alternative. But the US later left the TPP and the agreement did not include India. Subsequently, the current Biden administration has introduced the Indo-Pacific Economic Partnership (IPEF) which will include India in its initial discussions. If the counter-China economic framework includes India’s input, it will affect the attitude of regional countries in the event that China invades Taiwan, because these regional countries will reduce their reliance on the Chinese market and supply chains.
Third, India’s diplomatic support could raise the international status of Taiwan. India re-established its relationship with Taiwan in 1995. Since 2009, India has not mentioned the “One China Policy” in its public documents, and the trend has only accelerated after Narendra Modi was sworn in as the prime minister. In 2014, the then-Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, clearly said, “When they raised with us the issue of Tibet and Taiwan, we want [that] they should understand and appreciate our sensitivities regarding Arunachal Pradesh.” In addition, when the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn into her second term, two Indian Members of Parliament with the actual Indian “ambassador” joined the ceremony online. This was a change because India did not join Tsai’s first-term swearing-in ceremony in 2016 after initial consideration. Therefore, India’s diplomatic activities have raised the international status of Taiwan. These efforts will create an international environment that lets China know that it will not be easy to invade Taiwan.
“Today’s era is not of war,” PM Modi said. India’s policy towards the security environment is evolving, and its role in preventing a Chinese invasion will be a vital part.