The last few days have certainly not been China’s best. Back-to-back diplomatic setbacks should have ideally sobered Beijing down, but it has chosen to react violently instead. Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit has exposed many chinks in China’s armour. Having spiralled into a complete squawker, desperately fighting an information war both back home and globally, Beijing has turned into a caricature of itself. India, meanwhile, is watching closely as Wang Yi flutters around the neighbourhood looking for affirmation for his country’s wounded One China principle.
Wang Yi, during his visit to Dhaka, praised Bangladesh’s commitment to “One China”. China has also been welcoming favourable statements from Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Sri Lanka. At the recent ASEAN ministerial meeting, however, China did not have such a healing experience. Wang Yi stormed out of the Gala Dinner organised for the ministers in Phnom Penh, reportedly at the sight of his American counterpart Antony Blinken. For Blinken and India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr S Jaishankar, it seemed like business as usual. ASEAN countries, meanwhile, made it a point to raise the situation in the South China Sea and upheld the need to follow the United Nations Convention for Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) in a clear swipe at China. It also said that the Taiwan situation could lead to “miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers.”
Australia and Japan also joined the United States in urging China to immediately cease its activities in the Taiwan Strait. Both nations have also in the past indicated that they would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion by the Chinese PLA.
China’s military exercises in the Taiwan strait, which came in response to Pelosi’s historic visit to the island are unlikely to turn into a full blown invasion. While simulating a blockade and invasion of Taiwan, Beijing gave away much of its plans for adversaries including Taiwan, the US and Japan to note.
Having launched a highly sophisticated military drill surrounding Taiwan, Chinese ships and jets infringed upon Taiwanese territorial waters and the island’s airspace. Ballistic missiles also landed around Taiwan with one flying directly over it. What’s noteworthy is that five among these allegedly fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone just north of Taiwan. In response to Japanese complaints, Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said, “Since China and Japan have not yet carried out maritime delimitation in relevant waters, China does not accept the notion of so-called Japanese EEZ.”
Global Times commentator Hu Xijin, earlier the chief editor of the CCP mouthpiece, called the US, Japan and Australia a paper tiger, a paper dog and a paper cat, “in that order”— keeping things civil as always. But this is no way near his earlier suggestion to shoot Pelosi’s plane down.
Clearly, emotions are running high for the Chinese regime— not only has China’s bluff been called by Taiwan and the US, but its vulnerabilities are also exposed even to the Chinese people who are looking for answers. In a way, China called this upon itself. Extremely aggressive rhetoric to deter Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, left China with no choice but to engage in intense sabre rattling. Whether this is enough to satiate the nationalists and distract the disgruntled from the economic disaster that Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy is, is a question for another day. Moreover, Xi Jinping is well on his way to extending his Presidency for life.
These circumstances can be spun to fit varying narratives by China and the US to suit themselves, but for countries like India or those contesting China’s claims in the South China Sea— the plain hypocrisy in Beijing’s reaction cannot fly under the radar. With China’s expansionism as active as ever, it’s a bit rich for Beijing to snivel about “territorial sovereignty” and “foreign interference in internal matters”. Having captured and tyrannised vast territories like Tibet and Xinjiang, China has little to show for playing the victim. Its occupation of the Indian territory of Aksai Chin, its massive military build-up at the Himalayan border with India, its support for Pakistan’s occupation of 30% of Jammu and Kashmir, and its own claims on the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, show just how little China cares about principles of territorial sovereignty and mutual respect for internal matters. Its claim on almost 80% of the South China Sea, again proves the same. Grousing about USA’s support for a democratic Taiwan, while occupying and militarising disputed islands in the South China Sea, looks like nothing but a clownish overreaction.
Therefore, it’s ironic that Wang Yi would so soberly and with a straight face state that the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state is the “golden rule of handling state-to-state relations,” according to Chinese state media.
Taipei, meanwhile, is reinventing itself under the leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen— with the world’s 21st largest economy and the world’s sixth largest forex reserves, the ROC (Republic of China) has leveraged relations with the West to defend itself from the everlasting threat of a PLA invasion all while being a semiconductor powerhouse that the world today cannot do without. Moreover, the Taiwanese mainland is a fortress, and an all-out invasion would prove to be an expensive misadventure for China in every sense of the word.
China’s One China principle is flailing. There is a reason why India has not ‘reaffirmed’ its commitment to the One China principle in over a decade, and why its Quad partners Japan and Australia have already started to voice their support for the democratic regime of Taiwan. Just as amid all the ruckus, there is no change in the one-China policy of the USA, Japan and Australia, there is room for India too to play similar manoeuvres, in a time of its own choosing, to keep the leaders in Beijing on edge, especially amid unfruitful border talks. Expanding trade and investment ties with Taiwan and sticking to its guns for a Taiwan-India trade deal, negotiations for which started in 2021, are all steps in the right direction.