The geopolitics of the Fourth Taiwan Crisis

Contact Counsellor

The geopolitics of the Fourth Taiwan Crisis

  • China’s response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan reminds one of Mao’s story.
  • Its unprecedented military drills around the island and the repeated threats of using force for unification suggest that China’s views on the Taiwan issue and the U.S.’s role in it have not changed a bit over the years, even though it never managed to scare away the “ghost” and had to make several tactical retreats in the past.

US-Taiwan and China

  • In 1971 the US inaugurated ties with the PRC through the secret diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, national security adviser to President Richard Nixon.
  • The US has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan.
  • It maintains ties with Taipei, and sells weapons to it, but officially subscribes to the PRC’s “One China Policy” in which Taiwan does not exist as a separate entity.

First and Second Taiwan Crisis:

  • In 1954-55, and in 1958, the PRC bombed the Mazu, Jinmen,and Dachen islands under Taiwan’s control.
  • Formosa Resolution passed by the US authorizing President Dwight D Eisenhower to defend RoC territory.

Third Taiwan Crisis:

  • In 1995, President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui visited Cornell University in the U.S.and China conducted military drills and missile tests in the Taiwan Strait.
  • U.S. President Bill Clinton responded by sending U.S. aircraft carriers to the Strait, eventually forcing China to de-escalate.

Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis:

  • The US deepened ties with Taiwan under President Donald Trump by selling more than $18 billion worth of arms to Taiwan and unveiling a $250 million complex for its de facto embassy in Taipei.
  • The Biden administration has taken a similar approach, continuing arms sales and affirming the Trump administration’s decision to allow U.S. officials to meet more freely with Taiwanese officials.
  • China’s response to the above developments is manifesting into the fourth Taiwan Strait crisis.

Relevance of Taiwan to China

  • China and Taiwan’s economies are inseparably linked.
  • China is Taiwan’s biggest export partner.
  • Strategic importance:
  • Taiwan is much closer to mainland China than the other islands.
  • Taking control of Taiwan will raise its geopolitical stature as a great power in the western Pacific.

Challenges for China

  • Taiwan has been outside China’s control since 1949.
  • Given Taiwan’s topography and nationalist groups it will be difficult to keep the situation under control once China takes over the island.
  • There is no geographical contiguity from the mainland to Taiwan, which could continue to pose security challenges.
  • Any strategic miscalculation would prove counterproductive to China’s standing in the region.