Taiwan build-up: Delimiting determinants

China’s rise marked the beginning of the ‘century of Asia’ and symbolized the coming of an all-powerful yet compassionate alternative world power for the Global South. While its integration into the global supply chains was marked by the rapid yet quiet modernization beginning in the 1980s but its forays into the global governance architecture in the 2000s have been gradual yet at times loud. China of the day is not only empowered with its economic might and global linkages but also with its ruthless wolf warrior brand of diplomacy which fits right into the advancing realm of info-wars.

Taiwan has always been an integral part of the domestic posting of the party and its leadership, but the rekindled aggressiveness with respect to an immediate and proportional answer of the mainland to Taiwan’s purported charming of the West underscores a different tenor this time.

To understand it, we have to de-hyphenate the Communist Party of China and President Xi while hyphenating the Chinese Dream with neo-imperialism.

Is the Chinese Dream a variant of neo-imperialism? The commitment to the legacy and traditions of the ancient kingdom of China has always been a central feature of the party and it has indeed provided the leadership, a moral authority to rule and negate the voices of dissent for the initiation of democratization throughout its history.

Geremie Barmé in his book The Forbidden City underscores that it is often negated that the leadership chose to locate their Communist government in the imperial enclaves of their nemesis Qing dynasty in the Lake Palaces at Beijing, to reinforce the significance of Beijing as a capital of both the ancient and modern China while using the continuity with Imperial metaphors to command the masses. President Xi like his predecessors eulogies Imperial China and grounds his policies on this to create a Sino-centric world order. His pet project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) not only symbolizes this Renaissance but also creates tangible dual-use logistic overseas bases.

But the progress of BRI has been marred with the debt-trap diplomacy, further strengthened by China’s high-handedness in restructuring debt in wake of the Covid-induced slowdown. While the President’s personal attention to the revocation of Silk Road diplomacy gave the centre-stage to BRI, BRI with its structural fallacies and corresponding opacity in terms of projects and their funding also caused disquiet in many countries. Therefore, the present dispensation’s need to needle Taiwan also stems from its necessity to eclipse the not-so-successful campaign of BRI for the domestic audience, especially in the backdrop of the crisis which unfolded in Sri Lanka.

With President Xi at the helm, China appeared to have found its ‘chosen one’ to fulfill the “China Dream”. He heralded his era with the grand BRI in 2013, accompanied by his grand vision for China’s rise through Made in China-2025. The 19th National Congress of the CCP, 2017 deflected from its tradition of appointing a “successor-in-training” to Xi and abolished the two-term limit for the presidency. The Congress also enshrined Xi’s political into the party’s constitution on par with Mao and Deng.

So naturally, as with the laurels, the non-successes are also associated with Xi. Despite him being all powerful and with non-existent competition from the party, one cannot forget the fact that for the ‘party-State’ everyone is indispensable. As in the case of Deng Xiaoping who took the fall for the Tianmen Square massacre of 1989 and not the party, it is evident that the party reigns supreme.

Is People’s Liberation Army (PLA) all in for a military solution? On the other hand, the PLA is the axis of the CCP. Though originally the Red Army was formed to quell opposing voices in struggle against the monarchy but with time, it has been institutionalized to protect and harbor the party. The US Defense Intelligence Agency report of 2019 titled ‘China military power report’ says that, “the PLA is not a national institution but rather the military arm of the Chinese Communist Party”.

In modernising the PLA, China is not only strengthening its border policing but also preparing for overseas security. Beginning with the dual-use logistics base at Djibouti, China has marked its entry into overseas military bases. Now, the PLA has become an important instrument of China’s foreign policy.

So, a military-party State having settled the issue of Hong Kong unilaterally without much repercussion cannot let go of an appropriate time like this, when the Eurocentric world order crumbles under the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the global South in want of economic relief can be easily bought in this desperate times.

To be fair, the very existence of Taiwan questions the supremacy of the idea of ​​a CCP-driven Communist China but unlike in the past, China is using it to amass support at home for an eventual solution.

Today, the very definition of ‘rule of law’ has been exposed and global governance has been found kneeling to the great powers. It is India that has finally overcome its diffidence and is able to finally assert itself. India’s diplomacy has been a reasonable voice and has been able to command the discussion on realism and not charades of liberal morality.

The Chinese gentry is well aware that the rise of the West was not built on peace and capitalism but on centuries of colonialism and imperialism that they inherited, so the Chinese super-State’s actions are well justified. But it is the prospect of the rise of India which threatens this social contract by providing a democratic post-colonial rise of a civilisational state just as China promised. It is in this actualisation of the diplomacy of India to shift the conversation to the Pacific in the Indo-Pacific and threaten China’s supremacy in the region through Quad that China wants to finally cash in the ‘strategic opportunity’ by consolidating its backyard before it is too late.

Therefore, the not-so-veiled threats carry the weight of desperation this time and Asia collectively has to embrace for the possibility of a Chinese misadventure before it is too late.

The Gospel truth of the day is that just like the prodigal Icarus, China appears to presumptuously play with the rules of the world order and if not corrected immediately, it might be headed towards the same fate but not without destabilizing the development story of Asia.

The article has been authored by Samanvay Pandey, researcher, Chennai Center for China Studies.

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