Taiwan Strait Standoff – What Next?

Munir Ahmed

The writer is the Director Devcom-Pakistan, an Islamabad-based policy advocacy and outreach think tank.

For decades, the world has suffered from the decisions taken or imposed by the US administration on its long-term partners, NATO and EU. Afghan Jihad, War on Terrorism, and Arab Spring had no fallout on the US or its partners but the Ukraine war. World’s one-fourth food basket has been destroyed, leaving its severe impact on the West too besides the African states.

The NATO nations and other parts of the West are facing historic highest inflation, food, and energy crisis for what they did to support the US intentions against Russia. Will the stern sanctions on Russia or grabbing its $330 billion help to undo the miseries of the US-West citizens? Unlikely. Russia’s seized funds and gold reserves, and the money of its people are likely to be eaten up by the rowdy US elite. They have many ways to do it. Will they be able to digest it? They may be. But, the citizens of the US-West would have to pay back. Voices have started coming out from different corners of the US-West.

Not only the US seems exhausted just in one year against Russia in Ukraine, the key NATO members are too reluctant to fund the Ukraine war anymore. The internal economic instability in the NATO countries has put a big question on their leadership’s engagement in the Ukraine war. Opposition leaders, strategic think tanks and civil society are raising questions on the beneficial output for their countries’ engagement.

The US citizens are much worried as their leadership is trying to take up the Taiwan Strait agenda that presently is on the back burner. After military support of about $32 billion to Ukraine just in a year, now the United States has approved the potential sale of $619 million in new weapons to Taiwan, including missiles for its F-16 fleet, as the island reported: “a second day of large-scale Chinese air force incursions nearby.” The deal was approved on March 2, 2023.

The Reuters news agency has reported that “the arms sales are likely to further sour already tense ties between Washington and Beijing, which has repeatedly demanded such deals stop, viewing them as unwarranted support for democratically governed Taiwan, an island China claims as its own territory.”

The Pentagon said on Wednesday the US State Department has approved the potential sale to Taiwan of arms and equipment that includes 200 anti-aircraft Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and 100 AGM-88B HARM missiles that can take out land-based radar stations.

Seems, the US is trying to dispel the impression that Taiwan could be left alone in a standoff with China as the US was concentrating on supporting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Although the Pentagon continues to declare plans to build up its Indo-Pacific troop strength in 2023 to deter China from invading Taiwan, the US lawmakers have concluded that the plan is virtually unrealistic in practice.

Beijing now has the number of warships it needs to “challenge the longstanding US naval dominance in the region”, the US publication Politico noted. China’s navy currently has 340 warships, while the US has 292. In addition, the transfer of US weapons to Taiwan, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Stinger MANPADS, has been delayed due to the disruption of logistics routes related to the pandemic and the sprawling conflict in Ukraine.

Earlier, the US newspaper The Wall Street Journal wrote about Washington’s concerns over possible disruption of the deadlines for supplies of necessary weapons to Taiwan due to a shift in focus on support for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In particular, the unrecognized island state has not yet received the promised 208 Javelin and 215 Stinger man-portable air defence systems, which were ordered back in December 2015.

According to Republican Congressman Don Bacon, current US moves are not enough to shift the balance of power in the Pacific in its favour. “Until you translate all this talk of arming Taiwan into reality, you will be in a precarious position,” Republican Mike Gallagher also said. He said it was highly likely that the scenario for a possible armed confrontation would be entirely dictated by Beijing, not Washington, whose resources are geared towards dragging out the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Meanwhile, last month’s leaked memo from a US four-star general saying his “gut feeling” told him the US would be at war with China in 2025 has prompted warnings about the danger of “undisciplined” predictions of a Taiwan strait conflict, reported the US newspaper The Guardian.

The memo, by the head of the US Air Mobility Command (AMC), Gen Mike Minihan, was the latest prediction of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan, which would have ranged from 2022 to 2049. It has triggered a debate about US readiness, accusations of warmongering, and concerns about desensitizing people to the real risk of invasion. On the other hand, it reflects the US designs for the Taiwan Strait.

The South China Morning Post reported on March 3, 2023: The US Indo-Pacific military strategy rolled out the past two years – identifying China as the ultimate American national security challenge, strengthening defence ties with the Philippines, Japan and other allies, and staying on course with robust “freedom of navigation” patrols – should be sufficient to deter Beijing from invading Taiwan within the next decade, but it will not be easy, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday.

In recent months, the US military has put in place a lattice of alliances and networks on China’s periphery to counter the People’s Liberation Army’s growing strength and assertiveness. Beijing has condemned the moves as hostile and aggressive, while Washington has justified them as necessary to counter China’s “dangerous” provocations. This comes as bilateral relations between the rivals deteriorate further, fueling concern of an inadvertent clash.

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