Soroor Ahmed presents a study of the ongoing conflict between the United States and China vis-à-vis Taiwan, and concludes that there is likelihood of disruption of Global Value Chain if the US really confronts China, as the economies of the US and China are greatly interlinked.
The visit of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives (Lower House), Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan on August 2-3 and subsequent developments provided an opportunity to trace the origin of the present crisis in Far East.
Though Pelosi tried to emphasise that her trip had more to do with democracy and human rights, rather than anything else, the truth is that Washington wanted to test the waters of 180-km wide Taiwan Strait. Apparently, the Joe Biden administration dissociated itself from her journey on the plea that it does not want to aggravate the situation in the region, yet the United States was not prepared to be cowed down by any bullying tactic of China.
The present tension in the region had much to do with the policies adopted by various big powers in the past. The curious aspect of the whole story is that Taiwan today is not even a member of the United Nations though from 1949, till October 25, 1971 it was one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Only 13 small countries, especially of Latin America, Pacific islands and Vatican City, recognise it. Thus, it is just a territory with over 2.3 crore population.
As per the definition in Political Science, a State must have four inherent features – sovereignty, territory, population and government. In the case of Taiwan its sovereignty is under question.
After 1971, Beijing stalled all efforts for Taiwan’s recognition on the plea that there is only one China.
To understand the present crisis in the region, one will have to go back to 1911 when a revolution took place in China under the leadership of Dr San Yat Sen. Thousands of years of monarchy was abolished and a republic was established. But this did not last long and China once again plunged into uncertainty.
It was an era of tumultuous upheavals. The World War-I started in 1914 and lasted till 1918. Russia witnessed Communist revolution and subsequent civil war. In China, Kuomintang Nationalist Party and Communist Party of China were inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution of Russia and in the initial days they used to cooperate against the warlords.
After the death of Dr Sun Yat-sen in 1925, Chiang Kai-shek became its leader. He emerged as the ruler of China between 1928 and 1949, when the Communist revolution took place. On the other hand, the Communist Party of China grew stronger in the rural part of the country in 1930s and 1940s under the leadership of Mao Zedong. So, Chiang and Mao, who in the initial years of their lives were considered ideologically close against the warlords, went on to become two deadliest enemies of each other.
When Japan occupied Manchuria in north China in 1931 and more territory during the World War-II,
Chiang, who was then its ruler, took little interest in resisting the aggression. He was actually more keen on suppressing the Communist insurgency in the rural hinterland of the country.
It was in 1937 that the Communists and Kuomintang joined hands against the Japanese aggressors. But it was noticed that Chiang was not keen on fighting the invaders and would withdraw his forces to avoid casualties. In contrast, the Communists went all out against the Japanese.
This was so notwithstanding the fact that the Allied Powers led by the US lent support to the Kuomintang regime. When Japan finally surrendered to the US army in August 1945, the war came to an end in China too. The blood-letting continued for four years and ended only after the Communist takeover.
Two months later Chiang, along with his supporters fled to Taiwan, which was actually under the Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945. The Communists could not occupy Taiwan as they lacked naval capability then.
There was always US military and naval presence in Japan, South Korea and Pacific Ocean. While the mainland China went on to become Communist under Chairman Mao, Chiang imposed Martial Law in Taiwan and continued to rule it as a dictator till his death in 1975.
In 2022 Nancy Pelosi may have been visiting Taiwan as a champion of democracy and human rights, but the established fact is that Taiwan remained under Martial Law till 1987. The islands continued to get full western support, even in those days of dictatorship. On the other hand, the US and its western allies continued to criticise the one-party Communist rule in the mainland China and it was not even recognised as a country by the UN till 1971.
For full 22 years Taiwan, as Republic of China, continued to be the permanent member of the UNSC while the Peoples Republic of China was not even made its member. But what prompted the UN to recognise the mainland China as the permanent member in 1971?
The US was a bit alarmed by the rise of the Soviet Union. The Communist Revolution in China further aggravated the concern of the West. But by late 1960s differences cropped up between the ruling Communist establishment of the then Soviet Union and China. There were border clashes between the forces of two countries.
The US wanted to exploit this situation and efforts started to befriend China. The then US Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing in July 1971. In February 1972 the then US President Richard Nixon paid a seven-day visit to China (21-28) though Washington had not yet given diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
True, the US did not immediately change its stand on Taiwan, but it had to undertake all these initiatives because it was locked in wars in Indo-China where the Communists of North Vietnam were getting full support of the Soviet Union.
However, three years after the death of Chairman Mao, the US finally recognised the Peoples Republic of China in 1979. It accepted the One China Policy and thus no more recognises Taiwan or the Republic of China.
Even though the United States and its allies now do not recognise Taiwan, they do not hesitate in giving full backing to it. The US has repeatedly asserted that it would militarily defend Taiwan if it is attacked by China.
The US has toughened its stand on Taiwan notwithstanding the fact that today the situation in the Far East has changed completely. Russia and China, unlike in the past, are very good friends and Beijing is supporting Moscow in its war against Ukraine.
But if the US really confronts China, there is likelihood of disruption of Global Value Chain. The economies of the US and China are greatly interlinked. In Taiwan there is no dearth of people who want to have good relationship with the mainland China and the United States.