India's Strategic Considerations in the Event of a US-China Conflict Over Taiwan : Daily News Analysis

Date : 10/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 2- International Relations-Geopolitics of South China Sea

Keywords: Strait of Malacca, One China policy, South China Sea, Indo-Pacific


As tensions between the United States and China escalate over Taiwan, the question looms large: What role would India play in the Strait of Malacca or the Andaman Sea in the event of a conflict? Generally, Andaman and Nicobar is considered a strategic location to blockade the Strait of Malacca, How much is it feasible?

Historical Background of China and Taiwan:-

  • Following the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Japan assumed control of Taiwan. However, after World War II, Taiwan came under the rule of the Republic of China (ROC).
  • In the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War, the Kuomintang (KMT) or ROC, faced with undemocratic policies and wartime corruption, fled to Taiwan as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Mao Zedong emerged victorious.
  • The ROC, led by KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek, dominated Taiwan's politics for an extended period after the retreat in 1949.
  • This continued until the rise of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), born out of the Taiwanese democracy movement opposing the KMT dictatorship. The DPP champions a Taiwan-centric national identity.
  • During this time, contact with China remained severed for an extended period. Despite rejecting China's "one country, two systems" proposal in the 1980s, Taiwan did ease restrictions on visits and investments in China.
  • The One China policy recognizes the long-held position in Beijing that there is only one China, and Taiwan is its part.

The Infeasibility of Naval Blockade

Experts highlights the challenges of implementing a naval blockade against commercial shipping in the Strait of Malacca. While China's intimidation of Taiwan is evident, any speculative action by India would face significant hurdles. Commercial shipping and naval vessels enjoy the right to freedom of navigation on the high seas, making a naval blockade against commercial shipping unfeasible.

Constraints in the Strait of Malacca

  • International Law Challenges: "Distant blockades" away from a belligerent nation's geography can be legally challenged under international law, posing a constraint on India's options.
  • Shared Economic Lifeline: The trade passing through the Strait of Malacca is not solely China's economic and energy lifeline. Japan, South Korea, and India rely heavily on this route, complicating any unilateral action.
  • Sovereignty of Other States: The length of the Strait (nearly 500 miles) brings in the sovereignty of other states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, which would be adversely affected by a naval blockade.
  • Complexity of Commercial Shipping: Identifying commercial shipping involves complexities related to vessel sovereignty, flag, registration, insurance, and cargo ownership, often being multinational and subject to change.
  • Alternative Routes: The reality that even if the Strait of Malacca were blocked, shipping could detour through the Sunda or Lombok Straits adds another layer to the complexity.
  • China's Strategic Reserves: China's significant onshore and floating Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) could mitigate disruptions, especially with growing overland energy supplies from Russia and Central Asia.

Naval Blockade and Unilateral Action Risks

  • Chinoy emphasizes that a naval blockade or unilateral action against China's naval vessels would be considered a declaration of war, potentially leading to a broader conflict beyond the maritime sphere.
  • Regional countries affected by a disruption in the Strait of Malacca, including friendly nations, are unlikely to endorse such actions.

What is the strategic significance of Taiwan?

  • Taiwan's strategic significance lies in its pivotal location in the western Pacific, bordering China, Japan, and the Philippines. This geographic placement serves as a crucial gateway to Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, vital for global trade and security.
  • Moreover, Taiwan stands as a powerhouse in high-tech electronics, particularly semiconductors. It hosts some of the world's largest technology firms and produces over 60% of global semiconductors, including over 90% of the most advanced ones.
  • With a modern and capable military, Taiwan prioritizes defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, adding a layer of strategic importance. The island's military strength contributes to the broader geopolitical landscape, as it becomes a focal point in regional and global geopolitics. Taiwan has the potential to sway the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region and exert influence beyond its borders.

Historical Lessons: First and Second World Wars

  • Drawing lessons from history, Experts note that naval blockades and sanctions in both the First and Second World Wars led to conflagrations.
  • The British blockade of Germany in WWI and the U.S. embargo on Japan's energy supplies in WWII are cited as examples where interdiction of commercial shipping escalated tensions.

Lessons from the Strait of Hormuz

  • The ongoing tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the Strait of Hormuz are cited as a contemporary example.
  • Attempts by Iran to disrupt internationally flagged oil tankers have consistently escalated the situation, showcasing how interdiction of commercial shipping can easily lead to military confrontations.

Conflict Scenarios and Global Support

  • The critical question arises: Would India's strategic partners, especially the U.S., support the interdiction of Chinese vessels in a bilateral conflict between India and China?
  • Experts posit that even in a scenario where the U.S. is involved in a kinetic conflict with China, the support of other stakeholders, especially Southeast Asian nations, is uncertain.

India's Role in a US-China Conflict

  • In the event of a full-blown U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan, experts suggest that India's primary role may be limited to a proactive defense of its territorial interests and the security of its sea lines of communication in the eastern and western Indian Ocean.

Focus on Continental Borders

  • Traditionally facing China's military threats on its borders, India's primary focus is expected to remain on its continental borders with China.
  • The growing U.S.-India partnership in economic, high-tech, and military areas is seen as a potential contributor to stability in the region, with India playing a role as a regional ballast.

The Role of India in Multi-Polarity

  • The Experts envision a robust India with a strong economy, nuclear deterrence capability, and a credible military contributing to multi-polarity in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The evolving U.S.-India partnership is seen as crucial for regional stability, with India emerging as a significant player in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific.


As the complexities and challenges surrounding the Strait of Malacca become apparent, India's options in the event of a US-China conflict over Taiwan remain nuanced and multifaceted. The need for a proactive defense of territorial interests, consideration of historical lessons, and the delicate balance of regional dynamics shape India's approach to navigating these turbulent waters.
In addition, India can rethink the One China Policy and separate its relationship with mainland China from that with Taiwan just as China is expanding its involvement in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) through its ambitious project China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Probable Questions for UPSC Mains Exam-

  1. In the context of a potential US-China conflict over Taiwan, analyze the challenges and feasibility of India implementing a naval blockade in the Strait of Malacca. (10 Marks, 150 words)
  2. Discuss India's anticipated role in the event of a full-blown US-China conflict over Taiwan, focusing on its strategic considerations, primary areas of defense, and the potential impact on regional stability. Highlight the significance of the evolving U.S.-India partnership in the context of multi-polarity in the Indo-Pacific. (15 Marks, 250 words)

Source - The Hindu