Dangers of brinksmanship: On India and the Taiwan Strait crisis  

India will need to assess the security implications of another Taiwan Strait crisis 

September 05, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 12:48 pm IST

The shooting down of a Chinese drone by Taiwan’s military on September 1 has marked a new phase in the already simmering tensions across the Taiwan Strait, highlighting the growing risks of escalation, even if unintended. Over recent weeks, China’s military has carried out unprecedented military drills surrounding Taiwan, following the visit last month of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Some manoeuvres crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait and were declared by China’s military to have also taken place in territorial waters claimed by Taiwan. Taiwan soberly chose not to engage the PLA vessels. In the wake of the drills, the Chinese military has subsequently sought to continue asserting Beijing’s territorial claims by sending drones into Taiwan’s airspace. Photographs taken up close of Taiwan military personnel were subsequently shared on social media, apparently to demonstrate Beijing’s capabilities, but in the process raising pressure on Taipei to show a response. Taiwan’s military said it took the decision to shoot down what it called an unidentified civilian drone over its airspace in Shiyu Island after delivering several warnings. Shooting down a military drone may have elicited a different response from China, which has so far played down the incident. While the Chinese military reportedly has been deploying both military and civilian-use drones, so have ordinary residents in Fujian right across the strait, raising the risks of miscalculation triggering a serious incident.

The deployment of drones has added a further layer of unpredictability to an already tense situation. The past month’s developments have certainly served a reminder to the region of the fragility of the current status quo, and particularly of China’s willingness to change it. While most observers expect that a Chinese invasion remains too risky a prospect for the Communist Party leadership in the immediate future, an unintended escalation no longer remains a remote possibility. Most countries, including India, have preferred to stay out of the Taiwan issue, considering the One China Policy and the needs of the complicated relations with China. But sooner rather than later, they will need to assess the implications to their own security interests of a serious crisis. Taiwan’s status as a lynchpin in the global semiconductor industry is a case in point. While India’s recent reference to the “militarisation” of the strait is not a reflection of a major change in its approach, New Delhi has appeared to show greater willingness to do more with Taiwan particularly in the economic realm, such as setting up an alternative base for semi-conductor manufacturing in India. These are, even if long overdue, steps in the right direction.

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