The next Taiwan crisis after Hong Kong?

The next Taiwan crisis after Hong Kong?

With the new national security law, the CPC made it clear that it now wants to abolish the contractually agreed principle of 1 country, 2 systems for Hong Kong and that the crown colony will be incorporated entirely before the promised 47 years. The last British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten is now calling to put Hong Kong on the agenda of the upcoming G7 meeting.

At the same time, the tone between China and Taiwan is getting worse. Re-elected President Tsai Yingwen said that 1 country, 2 systems are out of the question for Taiwan and that they want to continue to exist in peaceful coexistence with China. Beijing, on the other hand, said that reunification with Taiwan was essential and that all efforts to achieve independence would also be combated by military means. The United States has now decided to deliver Taiwanese submarine torpedoes, triggering anticipated protests in Beijing.

When the Covid death toll skyrocketed in the United States, China sent an aircraft carrier group through the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea, whereupon the United States also dispatched warships. This is probably a clear warning. It is quite possible that after Hong Kong there will be a new Taiwan crisis like that of Clinton in the 1990s, but this time with a much stronger Chinese military and increased tensions, which could also lead to a Sino-American war. It remains unclear whether Trump would drop Taiwan or defend it.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday directed China’s armed forces to strengthen training of troops and to be ready for war amid coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic’s visible impact on the world’s most populous country’s national security.

State media reports quoted the Chinese premier as saying that it was important to „comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war“, „resolutely safeguard national sovereignty“ and „safeguard the overall strategic stability of the country“.

Xi’s speech comes amid rising tension with the US, frequent references by local politicians and diplomats of reunifying Taiwan, if necessary by force, and the likely implementation of a new – and controversial – security law meant to crack down on pro-democracy dissidents in the special administrative region of Hong Kong.

Two days back, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, heavily criticised the efforts of some US politicians to fabricate rumours and stigmatise China to blame it for the pandemic.

The US, Wang said, is pushing relations with China to „the brink of a new Cold War“. Chinese state councillor and foreign minister also rejected US „lies“ over the coronavirus.

Tension is also escalating with India with troops from the two countries clashing along different areas along the 3,488 kilometre-long disputed border especially, in Ladakh, in May.

Both armies are said to have deployed additional troops in sensitive areas along the boundary with experts predicting a lengthy standoff.

However, there are also other Chinese strategists warning to make Taiwan the battleground. Qiao Liang, author of the study „Unlimited Warfare“ suggests that China should not concentrate on Taiwan, but on the USA itself, to bring it down in some sort of „arm wrestling“ and to make Hongkong the battlefield for it. Once Washington faces a defeat its allies will be silent too:

China needs to pick its battles wisely and concentrate on its main opponent the United States, according to a prominent Chinese military strategist, widely credited with shaping the Trump administration’s hawkish views against Beijing.

Retired air force major general Qiao Liang said Washington’s open contest with Beijing to contain China’s rise had attracted other parties – including advocates for independence in Taiwan– to join the attack, but he advised the Chinese leadership to avoid being distracted and focus on the main adversary.

“When you are facing off a gang in a fight, you must first bring down the biggest guy and other opponents will be intimidated,” Qiao wrote, in one of two articles published within days of each other on Chinese social media platform WeChat.

Qiao said that, as long as Taipei made no real move to declare independence, there were more pressing issues facing Beijing. “We need to prioritise in the face of this formidable opponent … we should not distract ourselves by tackling weaker opponents for self-consolation.”

Qiao also listed US support for separatists in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet as part of the groundwork being laid by Washington in readiness for the predicted confrontation.

Beijing should seize the limited time window available to prepare itself by focusing on reducing reliance on raw material imports and boosting the domestic market for Chinese-made goods, in a bid to neutralise the US effort, he said.

While the disparate groups advocating for Taiwan independence should be a lower priority for Beijing, Qiao said Hong Kong had become a key battlefield between the US and China, following the Trump administration’s decision to inform Congress on Wednesday that it no longer considered the city autonomous from the mainland.

The White House move was prompted by Beijing’s decision to bypass the city’s legislature and impose a national security law – described as “inevitable and necessary” by Qiao in a phone interview with the South China Morning Post.

“It’s not just a local issue of Hong Kong but is also tied to the contest between China and the US. Hong Kong is now the frontier of the contest … and a key battlefield for China to fend off US suppression,” he said.

“[Washington’s decision] will have a serious impact on Hong Kong for a considerable time. But the city’s future is also affected by China’s power, attitude and ability to handle Hong Kong issues. If China can withstand the US’ comprehensive suppressions, Hong Kong will withstand them too. After all, it is all about the China-US contest.”

In their contribution“China has two paths to global domination“ in „Foreign Policy“ by Hal Brands and Jake Sullivan May 22, 2020 the authors outline China´s strategic options:

„If true superpower status is China’s desired destination, there are two roads it might take to try to get there. The first is the one American strategists have until now emphasized (to the extent they acknowledged China’s global ambitions). This road runs through China’s home region, specifically the Western Pacific. It focuses on building regional primacy as a springboard to global power, and it looks quite familiar to the road the United States itself once traveled. The second road is very different because it seems to defy the historical laws of strategy and geopolitics. This approach focuses less on building a position of unassailable strength in the Western Pacific than on outflanking the U.S. alliance system and force presence in that region by developing China’s economic, diplomatic, and political influence on a global scale.

The question of which of these roads China should take is a pressing one for Beijing’s strategists, who will face tough decisions about what to invest in—and what fights to avoid—in the coming years. And the question of what road China will take has profound implications for American strategists—and, ultimately, the rest of the world.

The emerging conventional wisdom holds that China will try to establish global influence by first establishing regional hegemony. This does not mean physically occupying neighboring countries (with the potential exception of Taiwan), as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. But it does mean that Beijing must make itself the dominant player in the Western Pacific, out to the first island chain (which runs from Japan to Taiwan to the Philippines) and beyond; it must gain an effective veto over the security and economic choices of its neighbors; it must rupture America’s alliances in the region and push U.S. military forces farther and farther away from China’s shores. If China cannot do this, it will never have a secure regional base from which to project power globally. It will be confronted by persistent security challenges along its vulnerable maritime periphery; it will have to focus its energies and military assets on defense rather than offense. And so long as Washington retains a strong military position along the first island chain, regional powers—from Vietnam to Taiwan to Japan—will try to resist China’s rise rather than accommodate it. Put simply, China cannot be a true global power if it remains surrounded by U.S. allies and security partners, military bases, and other outposts of a hostile superpower. (…)

This second road would lead China more to its west than to its east, in service of building a new Chinese-led security and economic order across the Eurasian land mass and Indian Ocean, while establishing Chinese centrality in global institutions. In this approach, China would grudgingly accept that it could not displace the United States from Asia or push the U.S. Navy beyond the Western Pacific’s first island chain, at least for the foreseeable future. It would instead put increasing emphasis on shaping the world’s economic rules, technology standards, and political institutions to its advantage and in its image.

The central premises of this alternative approach would be that economic and technological power is fundamentally more important than traditional military power in establishing global leadership, and that a physical sphere of influence in East Asia is not a necessary precondition for sustaining such leadership. By this logic, China could simply keep managing a military balance in the Western Pacific—attending to its immediate periphery and especially its territorial claims through its anti-access/area -denial doctrine, and slowly shifting the correlation of forces in its favor—while pursuing global dominance through these other forms of power.

Here, Beijing would consider a different variation of the U.S. analogy. U.S. leadership of the international order that emerged after World War II and was consolidated after the end of the Cold War rested on at least three critical factors. First, the ability to convert economic might into political influence. Second, the maintenance of an innovation advantage over the rest of the world. And third, the capacity to shape the key international institutions and set the key rules of global conduct. In traveling this second road, China would seek to replicate these factors.

This would start with the widening ambition of the Belt Road Initiative across Eurasia and Africa. Building and financing physical infrastructure puts China at the center of a web of trade and economic links spanning multiple continents. And the digital component of the effort, the Digital Silk Road, advances China’s stated goal from the 2017 Party Congress of becoming a “cyber-superpower,” by deploying Chinese foundational technologies, driving standard-setting in international bodies, and securing long-term commercial advantages for Chinese firms. (There are indications that China is even using its head-start in recovering from the coronavirus to advance this agenda by claiming additional market share in key industries where competitors are temporarily laid low.) Combining an aggressive foreign economic policy with massive state-directed domestic investments in innovation, China could emerge as the leading player in foundational technologies from artificial intelligence to quantum computing to biotechnology.

As China builds economic power through these efforts, it will sharpen its capacity to convert that power into geopolitical influence. Any “two roads” analysis has to confront the obvious question: What if it’s both—or neither? In practice, China’s strategy currently appears to combine elements of both approaches. So far, Beijing has been amassing the means and seeking the geopolitical influence to confront the United States in the Western Pacific as well as positioning itself for a broader global challenge. It is also entirely possible that Beijing won’t ultimately travel either path successfully, if its economy or political system falters or its competitors respond effectively.“

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