Last week, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar along with foreign ministers from across Europe and the Indo-Pacific region assembled in the Swedish capital to discuss growing tension around Indian Ocean, South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan, but China was not invited to the meeting, signalling clearly how Beijing is becoming outlier in the international community when it comes to plan a move around issues of global concern.
China will not be either in the room when the G7 holds a crucial annual meet in Nagasaki in Japan on May 21. More than a US $18 trillion economy with geopolitical and geoeconomic influence in every region of the world, China has increasingly become a factor of global concern. Instead of emerging as a force of stability and peace, its aggressive military positioning especially around the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait finds its ripple effect in the power corridors of every democratic country which lies across the Indo-Pacific region.
There is a lingering fear that China will mount an attack on Taiwan by unilaterally changing the status quo by force. And China has been consistently sending this signal in the recent past. Beijing launched a military exercise around Taiwan from April 8 to 10, after the self-ruling island’s President Tsai Ing wen met with US House of Representative Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California on April 5.
In the past nine months, it was the second war game by China against Taiwan, which is considered as a renegade state by Beijing. In August 2022, Chinese military launched four days of drills, showcasing Beijing’s military prowess and determination to challenge any attempt to save Taiwan from unification with mainland after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-ruled island in the first week of August last year. In the Indian Ocean region, no less than 73 research, surveillance and strategic missile tracking ships were spotted from 2018 to May 2023.
These China-led military activities figured prominently during the gathering of sixty foreign ministers from Europe and the countries of the Indo-Pacific region at the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum in Stockholm.
Significantly, at the meet Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa highlighted how China and Russia are “strengthening their military collaboration, including joint flights of their bombers and joint naval exercises in the vicinity of Japan.” But China has not only been accused of undertaking joint military exercises with Russia in the Pacific, it has also been accused of selling equipment that could be used in weapons that support Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The European Union, as per the Financial Times, has identified seven Chinese companies: two from mainland China and five from Hong Kong for their supply of equipment that could be used in weapons Russia uses in its war against Ukraine. These companies are 3HC Semiconductors and King-Pai Technology (from mainland China), Sinno Electronics, Sigma Technology, Asia Pacific Links, Tordan Industry and Alpha Trading Investments (from Hong Kong).
According to the British daily business newspaper, the European Union has proposed sanctions on these Chinese companies. Reuters said the US has placed Chinese company King-Pai Technology under sanctions as it was allegedly found to be supplying materials to multiple entities in Russia’s military-industrial complex.
Though such alleged China-Russia nexus in the defence area did not figure in the statements of foreign ministers of Europe and Indo-Pacific region at their Stockholm meet, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell was unsparing on China’s Ukraine stand. Addressing a press conference after the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum Meeting in the Swedish capital on May 13, he warned China that if it did not use its influence to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, “you cannot expect to be good friends. It is as simple as that.”
In fact, the 15-month long war between Ukraine and Russia has torn asunder Europe with almost all countries of the continent struggling with energy and food security, while economic growth has slowed down. The EU is expected to see 0.8% increase in its economic growth in 2023 and 1.6% in 2024. Germany, the largest economy of the 27 countries’ bloc is projected to witness 0.2% growth in 2023, one of the weaker performances in the EU. France, the EU’s second-largest economy will see 0.6% growth, much below the EU average.
“What is happening in Ukraine is an existential threat for us,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell said. It could happen to the countries of the Indo-Pacific region if China attacks Taiwan. Former US Chief of Indo-Pacific Command, Philip Davidson in 2021 said China may attack Taiwan by 2027. This argument was supported by CIA Deputy Director David Cohen in 2022 when he said Chinese President Xi Jinping wants the People’s Liberation Army to have the capability to take control of Taiwan by force by 2027. The international community is taking such warnings seriously. As international trade, which passes through the South China Sea, will get disrupted.
Located at the confluence of East China Sea, South China Sea, and Philippines Sea, the Taiwan Strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the Indo-Pacific region with nearly 90% of international trade passing through the Strait, a water body that lies between the island and China. According to Bloomberg, half of the global container fleet and 88% of the world’s largest ships by tonnage passed through the Taiwan Strait in 2022. In fact, the Strait serves as a major trading route for technology powerhouses like Taiwan, South Korea, transporting manufactured goods from these countries to different corners of the world.
On its own, Taiwan, a significant link in global technology supply chains, accounts for 90% of the world’s cutting-edge semiconductor chips. “Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) accounts for 90 per cent of the world’s cutting-edge chip capacity, while downstream electronic contract manufacturers such as Apple supplier Foxconn produce components and assemble products from smartphones to servers for some of the world’s biggest companies,” Financial Times said. TSMC, which is a more than US$100 billion worth company, makes chips for consumers and military customers across the world.
In this background, arguments offered by experts are that if Taiwan is left unprotected and China is given a free hand to attack the island, it would damage the global supply chain for the tech industry. Some experts argue that this disruption in the global chain for tech industry will be so massive that it would take years for even technologically advanced countries to make up for the losses they would suffer in the wake of Taiwan’s forced annexation by China.
It is said that Beijing’s takeover of Taiwan would give the country a major control over one of the world’s most important industries in the US, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and others. However, for China, it is easier said than done to annex Taiwan by force. It will have a much worse situation than sanctions-riddled Russia, argue some experts. For now, tension continues to rise in the region with Chinese PLA claiming that they are prepared to resolutely smash any form of Taiwan’s independence.
–The writer is a senior journalist with wide experience in covering international affairs. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda