Commodore Kazi Emdadul Haq, BSP, ndu, psc (Retd)
People tend to agree with the sayings of great leaders. However, China has posed to nullify Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s theory that “whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia”. Recent controversial military exercises around Taiwan have displayed China’s resentment against the United States. No Western warnings could deter China from stopping military activities within the EEZ of Japan and the Philippines. China’s act draws the world’s attention, which suggests that the epicenter of great power competition has moved to the Western Pacific, making Taiwan a flashpoint.
Great leaders make great decisions to start wars without a good exit strategy and thus bring dire consequences for themselves and other countries. The great thinkers kept pondering about breaking the code of war until another war started.
Both the World Wars were started by the Germans, resulting in deplorable consequences for human beings that they still carry. Subsequently, the Korean war, Vietnam war, Afghanistan and Iraq wars were fought where the United States was the lead actor. All the wars brought great disaster to humanity. It brings forward the discourse among the thinkers, but the perpetrators are escaped unscathed. President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, and it appears he does not have an exit strategy. The United States or the West could not predict Russia would invade Ukraine. Yet that happened, which caused the biggest exodus of refugees after the Second World War.
Former US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that Indo-Pacific has become an epicenter of great power competition with China, and he did not say with Russia. We all believed in this speculative theory without thinking about how an Indo-Pacific region equal to half of the world, excluding the polar region, would become the epicenter of competition. Although the Indian Ocean plays a vital role in the shipping routes, but China aims for domination in the Western Pacific. It has dragged the great power competition in the Western Pacific that threatened humankind to great uncertainty. In addition, the newly updated Russian Naval Doctrine would add more fuel to it.
China’s Naval Exercise Led by carrier Liaoning. Courtesy:
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Politicians’ Unsolicited Decisions Invite Concerns
Unlike Quad, the AUKUS(Australia, the UK, and the USA) declaration was a blitzkrieg for the world as any think-tanks did not conceptualize it before announced. The Quad idea took place in 2007, and almost after 15 years, its necessity was felt by the United States, although for a brief period. The declaration of AUKUS put Quad’s success into question amidst mistrust among Quad leaders. Now the AUKUS leaders are being criticized for nuclear proliferation. What unfortunate blame falls onto Australia is that where Australia was the leading advocate of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); whereas China and Indonesia have raised concerns in the “UN Review” (held on 1-26 August 2022) of the AUKUS deal for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.
Generally, a submarine needs about half a ton of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). So, Australia’s proposed eight submarines require roughly 4 tons of HEU. With this much HEU, one can make 160 nuclear bombs, and most known nuclear nine countries don’t have such stockpiles. It is a genuine concern about nuclear proliferation in the neighbouring countries of Australia. Obviously, China would add fuel to it because the relationship between China and Australia is now all-time low.
The United States does not support Taiwan’s independence but maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan. The United States advocates that cross-strait differences be resolved peacefully. It does not say how to resolve the issue if the peaceful means are exhausted. But China says if peaceful means are exhausted, it allows the state to employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Under the banner of democratic and socialist values, both countries doubled down on the lives of 23 million Taiwanese, of course, along with fallout effects on the people of the whole world. The glaring example is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, resulting in more than 14000 killed, 6.4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country, and a third of the population displaced. The end result is that the people become victims of realpolitik.
China’s Redline on Taiwan Issue
Taiwan issue is China’s declared redline for which it has been continuing a strategic hotspot in the Pacific. China’s position on Taiwan is clear as it will not tolerate Taiwan’s Independence. The independence of Taiwan will also put China in severe constrain navigating its PLAN(People’s Liberation Army Navy) to the Pacific Ocean through Bashi Channel. The question is, does the United States want Taiwan’s independence? The United States is parrying directly, but its acts are dubious.
One China policy was accepted through UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 in October 1971 that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations” and expelled the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the list of UN. Following this development, the United States made three joint communique with China in 1972, 1979, and 1982. In all three communique, the United States agreed “….one China and Taiwan is part of China”.
But the problem started before making the third communique over the issue of Arms Sales to Taiwan. Taiwan pressed the United States to assure US-Taiwan relations on six-point principles, known as “Six Assurances” to Taiwan. Accordingly, in the third communique (1st point), China agreed the US would maintain “unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan”. In effect, the United States established the American Institute in Taiwan through the “Taiwan Relations Act” in 1979, a de facto Embassy of the United States of America in Taiwan. The United States still agreed on a “….peaceful resolution of Taiwan….”.
The most controversial point added in the “Six Assurances,” which was the deviation on the part of the United States from all three previous communique, was that “The United States would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan”. All the elements were present in that communique to escalate the cross-strait flashpoint, seemingly to maintain the interests of the United States.
By enacting the law of using force China also deviated from the peaceful resolution of Taiwan. Former Chairman Mao Tsetung and Premier Chou En-lai stated in the first communique (6th point) that “China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind”. Now, the robust economy appears to push China toward becoming a superpower. And the general characteristics of a superpower are hegemonic, as seen before. For that matter, the West also labeled rising China as no exception, especially for drawing the 9-dash line claiming almost all of the South China Sea (SCS). Both sides deviated from the communique and escalated the situation to the present flashpoint.
The Recent Development Across Taiwan Strait
The question is why a third highest ranking person in the United States, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan on 2 August 2022 despite Xi’s warning to Joe Biden in a video call – “those who play with fire will eventually get burned”. What the United States has achieved from her brief stopover in Taiwan has remained an enigma to anyone’s guess. Who won and what has been achieved from this visit have generated huge discourse among interlocutors that will continue until another great leader makes another history.
China’s Missiles land within EEZ of Japan and the
Philippines. Courtesy: Duan Dang, Aug 3 2022 Twitter
China retaliated with more sanctions against Taiwan and escalated the tension by savaging live missile fire exercises all around Taiwan that fall within Japan and the Philippines’ EEZ, violating UNCLOS-III (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). The immediate impact is that the foreign firms in Taiwan are seriously pondering evacuating their staff and would not wait for the shooting to start in case of heightened tension across the Taiwan Strait. China also stopped cooperation on climate change with the United States.
The visit also displays weakness in US leadership cooperation. President Joe Biden put the ball on his military advisers; Secretary of States Antony Blinken said Congress was independent to take a decision; as such, Pelosi, all by herself, decided to visit and created history, inviting CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) anger. China’s reaction appears disproportionate. China possesses mighty military power, which would surpass the US by 2049. One mistake may ignite war in Taiwan Strait. Can humanity afford another war in the West Pacific, especially when the burden of war falls on the people of poor and developing countries?
Taiwan’s economy (per capita) is five times higher than China which advocates Taiwan’s democratic values better than CCP’s socialism. It should be annoying for Xi Jinping when he supports “socialism is better than Capitalism”. The democratic people have seen how China has measurably failed to keep its promise of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and Macau and the brutality of the CCP in suppressing human rights there. Most of the dissident people were tortured, jailed, or killed.
Leaving aside all other jargon of wisdom by the United States, the nuance benefits the United States ensured its interests through Arms sell in Taiwan. In the same way, the United States compelled the EU countries to increase their arms budget and thus increased arms sales to NATO countries resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The apparent gainer appears to be the United States from all crises. Sell of US arms grew by 14% and the global share increased to 39% from 32% despite the recession of Covid-19.
Rise of Russia in the Pacific
8 July 2022 was hot parlance in the maritime field. The Sevmash Shipyard delivered Russian Navy the world’s largest nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine, K-329 Belgorod, 600 feet long and 60 feet across, with a submerged speed of 33 knots, underwater displacement: 23,860 tons, larger than the US Ohio-Class ballistic and guided missile submarine. Besides nuclear threat, the visible purpose of Belgorod is to serve as a mother vessel for deep diving nuclear-powered midget submarine to carry out underwater intelligence gathering and scientific research missions, carry six strategic giant Posidon torpedos, and most importantly, pose a credible deterrence to the coastal areas of the USA. The crucial concern is that the midget could carry out the undersea internet cables connecting Western countries, allowing Russia to cripple the whole information system.
World’s largest nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine,
The Posidon’s range is 10,000km at a depth of 1000m, carrying nuclear heads with devastating destruction capabilities. A warhead of up to 100 megatons could produce a tsunami up to 500m (1,650ft) high, wiping out all living things 1,500km (930 miles) deep inside US territory. However, it may take another five years to arm the submarine fully.
Russian-Navy-Submarine-Belgorod. Courtesy: Navalnews
(Infographic: H I Sutton)
Putin exudes his anger with great acrimony “No one has listened to us; you listen to us now”. Putin unveiled his genius weapons to the world, but the United States did not consider it a significant threat. Still the United States and the UK believe China is a growing long-term threat, according to a joint statement of MI5 and FBI, despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine. People are flabbergasted: what and who to believe.
On 31 July 2022, President Putin approved an updated Naval Doctrine on the Russian Navy Day in St. Petersburg. Putin said during the signing ceremony that Okhotsk and Bering Seas, including Kuril Strait “are our waters…..”. We will ensure their protection firmly and by all means,” Putin said. The Navy is tasked with responding “with lightning speed to anyone who decides to encroach on our sovereignty and freedom.” Possibly Russian Navy would be the first country to install anti-ship hypersonic cruise missiles (3M22 Zircon, speed of Mach 8) on their naval ships. Of course, the US Navy is also ready to install its hypersonic missiles on the Zumwalt-class Destroyer.
Although the Belgorod can perform missions from any location, its likely deployment would be in the Pacific. It would make lots of wake in the Pacific and Arctic region, which should be a significant concern for the United States and Japan. Both Russia and Japan claim the Kuril Islands. The “no limit” friendship between China and Russia will offer China an added advantage. The United States would also face difficulties in carrying out FONOP(Freedom of Navigation Operations) in the SCS.
The deployment of powerful Belgorod in the Pacific could alter the US Pacific strategy. Like Xi Jinping, Putin has also challenged the United States in the Pacific. The Belgorod would significantly threaten the United States in the hotspots of the Western Pacific.
World’s largest nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine,
Great leaders will continue making histories, but their aims will remain a riddle to the world. Think tanks will thereafter keep pondering breaking the code until another history is created. Not to blame East or West, they are from both blocks, but, one thing is common, they lie to their people to maintain their unchallenged authority.
The great lesson they all forget is that once the war breaks out, it does not obey any rules and thus escalates beyond control. Under the banner of political ideology, they aim to dominate the people, so leaders’ interests are upheld.
The West is yet to accept a nonwhite, non-English, nonwestern country becoming number one in the world. Yet, with all the given parameters and the development trend, China posed to surpass the United States within a few decades. The age-old cliché, enemy’s enemy is friend, will likely enhance China and Russia’s alliance of interest to win over the West.
Given the fact that the prediction of the future always remains uncertain, the proclivity of competition will push the United States to face either China or the Russia-China entente in and around the hotspots of the Western Pacific. Great leaders from the East and West will continue doubling down on people’s lives to win over each other; think tanks will keep pondering to find the cause and origin of wars. Unfortunately, the East vs West enmity is bound to put the world into catastrophic consequences, as seen before. However, the great thinkers should continue to unearth the ways and means to decrease people’s suffering from this unfair competition.
Commodore Kazi Emdadul Haq, BSP, ndu, psc (Retd). Founding Member, BIMRAD.