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    China and Taiwan: The strategic red line that could lead to a military conflict

    The deterioration of the relationship between China and Taiwan, which is going through its most tense moment in the last 40 years, is already attracting all eyes: with the Indo-Pacific region as the new global geopolitical chessboard, the situation represents a clear red line which, if crossed, could trigger a Chinese military intervention on the island and, presumably, a US response in the area.

    The Asian giant, which has various interests in the region, continues to face impediments, such as the dispute over sovereignty of the waters of the South China Sea or the difficulty of successfully implementing its Belt and Road Initiative, a project that would allow the country to establish rail and maritime links across several continents.

    Although Beijing has issued several threats against the island -the last of them by assuring that its army is prepared to invade the territory, which it considers another province under its sovereignty- many experts consider that there is a high cost and minimal incentives to pursue this resolution.

    This is the case of Oriol Farrés, coordinator of the CIDOB International Yearbook, who, in declarations to Europa Press, pointed out that “despite the catastrophist positions” it seems that the scenario of an open war between the parties “is off the table in the short term”.

    “Although the trajectory of the actors involved is divergent, it is still not possible to rule out a peaceful solution to the conflict, nor is there a formal declaration of secession by Taiwan,” he said in relation to an issue that seems to become fundamental for China to take decisive steps in military and interventionist matters.

    However, although Taiwan has witnessed a rise in Taiwanese independence support and identity sentiment since the 1990s, Farrés noted that many analysts also believe that China does not yet have the powder keg to guarantee a successful military intervention.

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    However, “it seems to be getting closer and closer to achieving this”, he said, before pointing out that “China has recently tested hypersonic missiles that could change the balance of power and the whole strategic framework”.

    Taiwan is currently governed by President Tsai Ing Wen’s Democratic Progressive Party, which supports the island’s independence from mainland China and clashes on numerous occasions with the rhetoric and policy emanating from Beijing. The central government’s decisions on other issues, such as Hong Kong’s national security law, have drawn criticism and given a boost to Taiwanese secessionist sentiments.

    In this regard, the international community is treading carefully. Few countries maintain official bilateral relations with Taiwan or act without strategic ambiguity in addressing the situation as part of their foreign policy. The case of the United States is the most illustrative: over the last few years the country has increased its relationship with the island indirectly, something that has fueled tensions with China. In 2020 and under the administration of former President Donald Trump, the government received the largest delegation from the United States since the 1980s.

    However, Washington has not yet clarified exactly what its response will be in the event of an escalation in the area, although, as Farrés himself has stated, it has “hinted at its unequivocal support for Taiwan”. This Friday, President Joe Biden has assured that the country will respond in the event of an attack, statements to which China has asked to act “with caution” given that reunification will be achieved “by force if necessary”.

    “The balance is increasingly precarious, but it has not yet been broken,” he explained before recalling that Taiwan is undoubtedly currently one of the “most sensitive” issues for China.

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    MILITARY DEPLOYMENT AND THE AUKUS
    Militarization in the area has been increasing, especially by China, which has begun to conduct incursions into the island’s air defense zone as a deterrent. According to Farrés, China is modernizing its army with the aim of “bringing it up to the level it considers it deserves as an international power”.

    This measure is in line with the Taiwanese government’s own idea, which is studying the possibility of increasing its defense budget by some 8.6 billion dollars (some 7.7 billion euros) for the next five years. “Militarization will be in line with the militarization being experienced in the Indo-Pacific,” the expert stressed.

    Sources of the European Executive have highlighted in declarations to Europa Press that “the present and future of the Indo-Pacific is crucial for the future of Europe”. “We are the largest investor, as well as one of the main trade allies: about 40 percent of the EU’s foreign trade passes through the South China Sea,” said a spokesman.

    The worsening of the situation has come at a time when countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States are pushing ahead with a defense agreement – known as AUKUS – which has set off alarm bells in France and is clearly a natural response to Chinese moves in the region.

    For the United States, says Farrés, “the priority is to guarantee U.S. interests in the region, for which it requires the participation of its traditional allies — Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, India, Australia — which at some point have felt pressured by China’s growing assertiveness.”

    Australia is, in this regard, “perhaps most significant as a member of QUADS (the trilateral alliance) and a staunch ally of Washington.” Both countries have also suffered a deterioration in relations during the pandemic, especially after Canberra supported the opening of an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

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    “Almost everyone has their eyes on the Indo-Pacific region, not so much in preparation for the inevitable conflict but in its prevention or as an element of stability,” he has pointed out. “This is the approach of the EU, which stands firmly on the side of the democracies in the region — the like-minded countries — but also looks for alternatives to the collision of China and the United States,” he has detailed.

    The European Commission has indicated that the relationship between China and the EU is “one of the most important but also one of the most complicated for the bloc” given that the country is considered a “strategic partner” for the EU at the same time as it is a “competitor in economic matters and a systemic rival”.

    “The EU has an interest in maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and develops its relations and cooperation with Taiwan within the framework of Europe’s One China policy. Brussels recognizes the Chinese government as the only one for the territory, but at the same time has an interest in developing its economic relationship with Taiwan,” stressed a Commission spokesperson, who admitted that there has been an increase in tension in the strait.

    The situation between China and Taiwan establishes a new paradigm in the region, where the international community is challenged to unite positions and face the threat of China while maintaining the trade relationship with the country, while demanding progress on human rights and a shift towards a more confrontational stance towards Beijing.

    Alex Dawit
    Alex Dawit
    Alex Dawit is Journalist of the Awutar. He had completed his graduation in Journalism and Communication, Pakistan. He is passionate about News, Blogging & Research Writing. You can contact him via: [email protected]

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