The Taiwan Strait crisis: A catch-22 for Pakistan

The Taiwan Strait crisis: A catch-22 for Pakistan

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Increasing tensions in the Taiwan Strait can gravely affect international peace and stability. Therefore, the sane Asia-Pacific States, including Pakistan, are apprehensive about the continuance and probability of the escalation of a crisis. Ironically however, they are the ones in a position to mediate and steward China and the US out of the crisis harmoniously. 

The truth is, Pakistan has struggled to maintain a balanced relationship with China and the US. Its foreign policy challenges are augmented in the face of a potential war over the island between China and the United States. Moreover, its politico-economic instability is making it more receptive to financial donors, especially the US, the biggest trade partner, and China, contributing immensely to the country’s infrastructure and energy sectors. Is Pakistan ready to risk incurring Washington’s wrath by supporting China or vice versa over Taiwan? 

Pakistan firmly endorsed the ‘One China Policy and has been struggling to complete China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects since 2015. However, CPEC is an essential segment of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, increasing China’s influence in regional and global geopolitics and is also an irritant in the Sino-US geo-economic competition. Therefore, losing the Americans’ favors and encountering multifaceted sanctions seem difficult to avoid in the evolving new Cold War between the US, China, and Russia. 

The unending Ukraine war in Europe and escalating tension in the Taiwan Strait squeeze the space for maintaining Pakistan’s neutral policy in the transforming geopolitics. Therefore, Islamabad seems concerned about the de-stabilizing developments in the Taiwan Strait last month. 

 The provoking US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taipei visit on August 2 resulted in China’s military drills surrounding Taiwan. Instead of alleviating the situation, the two bipartisan Congress delegations toured Taiwan in the following weeks. The American legislatures’ three visits in a single month were enough to reveal that Washington is censuring its over five decades’ ‘One China Policy’— that recognized Taiwan as a part of mainland China. 

The most problematic issue for Islamabad is the active role of India in QUAD and the Americans earmarking India as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

The sounds of cannons in the Taiwan Strait will resonate in South Asia as the writing on the wall. The Americans swapping Asia-Pacific with Indo-Pacific strategy and India’s announcement of this strategy reveals a collective military determination to contain China’s increasing influence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. 

Besides, the Biden administration’s strengthening the QUAD and investing in AUKUS multiplies Chinese insecurity in the South China Sea. Due to these alliances, at the very forefront of support for Taiwan, are Japan and Australia. For instance, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Australia, Japan, and the United States, issued a joint statement expressing their “concern about [China’s] recent actions that gravely affect international peace and stability” and urging Beijing to cease the military exercises in the Taiwan Strait immediately. 

Similarly, India criticized China’s current military exercise in the Taiwan Strait and demanded the “avoidance of unilateral actions to change the status quo.” Moreover, India still mummed over the “One China” principle that Beijing has sovereignty over Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. In 2014, the then-Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj stated that Beijing could not expect New Delhi to verbalize its support when China has ignored Indian sovereignty concerns in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. 

Biden and Xi are expected to meet at the G-20 summit in Indonesia in November. However, the chances of improving the working between them seem remote due to transforming global geopolitics and Americans’ determination to sustain their supremacy in the Asia-Pacific. Moreover, Americans believe China undermines the benevolent “international system from within by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order.” (2019 US Indo-Pacific Strategy Report). Conversely, Beijing is unwilling to budge over its One China Policy and alter its assertive behavior in the South China Sea. 

The most problematic issue for Islamabad is the active role of India in QUAD and the Americans earmarking India as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean. President Biden revolutionized QUAD by convening four summits since March 2021. In May 2020, QUAD members launched a new Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness “to monitor the waters near their shores to address illegal fishing and protect their maritime rights and their sovereignty.” Besides, the Biden administration’s raising the temperature in the Taiwan Strait to muster electors’ support in the mid-term congressional elections scheduled in November and contain China in the Asia-Pacific. 

Despite the adverse developments in the regional and global strategic environment, Islamabad seemingly is distancing itself from bloc politics. However, the Americans’ exit from Afghanistan and the announcement of the Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China with the partnership of India, spoil Islamabad’s efforts to diversify and crystalize its relations with Washington. 

Leveraging Pakistan’s insecurity toward India allows China to satisfy Pakistan’s security gap while furthering Islamabad’s economic and military ties in Eurasia. Moreover, the United States apathetic approach toward Pakistan cements its strategic partnership with India, and Islamabad automatically will become more reliant on China for financial assistance and arms imports. 

To conclude, maintaining cordial relations with China and the United States is imperative for Pakistan’s national security. However, the Sino-US spiraling systematic rivalry and competition shrink Islamabad’s space for maneuvering between them to cater to its economic and security needs without upsetting anyone. 

- Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. 

E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal

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