China threat spurs Taiwan’s space ambitions

China threat spurs Taiwan’s space ambitions
China threat spurs Taiwan’s space ambitions
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Chinese strategist Sun Tzu argued that war must be waged through deception. In his calculations, it was important for states to bait and irritate the enemy, and create differences in opposition unity with an aim to weaken the rival.[i] As the inauguration of President elect Lai Ching-te nears, which is scheduled to take place on May 20, Sun Tzu’s successors are drawing lessons from the stratagems of the past.

China’s Ministry of State Security has published an article stating that it was important to firmly oppose secessionism and defeat forces in Taiwan pushing for its independence. The intelligence agency further argued that Taiwan’s unification should be pursued with new vigour, for which it was important to bolster forces that were keen on unifying Taiwan with the mainland. The article pitched for rallying public opinion on the island, which China considers as a breakaway province, in favor of unification. It also pushed the notion of building a covert front on the island that could pursue the mission of unification.

The intelligence agency further argued that Taiwan’s unification should be pursued with new vigour, for which it was important to bolster forces that were keen on unifying Taiwan with the mainland.

During this year’s “two sessions”—a political event in China during which members of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, meet the Communist Party’s top leadership—saw President Xi Jinping telling the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) top brass to prepare for maritime conflicts by improving capabilities in the fields of space, Internet, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

One must see these pronouncements in conjunction with the dynamics between political parties in Taiwan and the mainland, and the PLA’s gray zone activities over Taiwanese airspace. In an address ahead of the 2024 Taiwan presidential election, Xi Jinping said that, “The people residing on both sides of the Strait are members of one family”, and that he expected that compatriots in Taiwan would work together with a unity of purpose for the Chinese nation. This seemed like an attempt to reach out to entities sympathetic to the Communist Party of China and its unification goal. This signaling to Taipei was followed by the high-profile visit of former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to Beijing to meet Xi and the CPC’s senior leadership in April this year. During this summit, Xi reinforced the message that people residing on both sides of the straits were Chinese, and that compatriots should oppose Taiwanese independence. It is noteworthy that the meeting came around the 45th anniversary of the formulation of the Taiwan Relations Act, which underpins the island’s relations between the United States, and underwrites its security.

In keeping with Sun Tzu’s counsel of sowing discord in the opposition, Beijing seems to be building links with elements in Taiwan’s establishment as seen from the unearthing of a spy ring operating in the defense services that saw senior military officers being court-martialled. Furthermore, this spy ring had been actively co-opting personnel, both active and retired, in passing on classified information to China. In the last few years, attacks aimed at Taiwan’s cyberspace and against physical cyber infrastructure have increased. Last year, underwater cables that connected Taiwan’s Matsu Island to the internet were ruptured, affecting its internet connectivity, and some believe this may be Beijing preparing ground for severing Taiwan’s access to the internet in the eventuality of an invasion. This is a key vulnerability for Taiwan since underwater internet cables link the island to the world. The internet has become a part of our life, and Taiwanese think-tank Institute for National Defense and Security Research, has warned that the PLA could attempt to rupture underwater cables to spread chaos on the island.

While national security is the primary consideration in Taiwan’s pursuit of its ambitions in space, there is also a desire to leverage its technological foundation, especially its capabilities in producing semiconductors.

Taking cognizance of the threat by China to deal a blow to Taiwan’s communications capabilities, the island’s leadership has evinced interest in building an indigenous satellite system that can help users access the internet. Thus, communication resilience has become an important feature of Taiwan’s defense preparedness against the Chinese threat. While national security is the primary consideration in Taiwan’s pursuit of its ambitions in space, there is also a desire to leverage its technological foundation, especially its capabilities in producing semiconductors. The outgoing Tsai Ing-wen administration has increased financial support to the space programme, pledging an investment of nearly a NT$25.1 billion (approximately US$ 790 million).

One of the pioneering initiatives of the Tsai Ing-wen administration was to leverage Taiwan’s technological knowhow to boost regional integration, which led to the institution of the ‘New Southbound Policy’. India too recalibrated its own approach to East Asia with the ‘Act East Policy’. Recent successes in the space program have buoyed India’s confidence in its space-technology capabilities. In 2017, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched 104 satellites using its PSLV rocket, of which 101 were of foreign origin. Due to this stellar record, India has launched 432 foreign satellites using its launch vehicles since 1999. During the 2023 G20 summit in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for pooling resources in developing a satellite for the Global South. In this regard, there is a convergence of interests, and possibilities of collaboration between India and Taiwan. Taiwan is keen to develop a rocket system that can launch satellites, and has partnered with the US and European Union in this regard in the past. Taiwan has evinced interest in diversifying its technology partners, and India is seen as a cost-effective option, and also suitable from the national security lens.

Taiwan is keen to develop a rocket system that can launch satellites, and has partnered with the US and European Union in this regard in the past.

In recent years, collaboration in this field has increased with synergies between government and private firms on both sides. In 2018, Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO) sought cooperation from ISRO in tracking extreme weather events like typhoons. In October 2022, Taiwan Space Industry Development Association (TSIDA) and India’s SatCom Industry Association (SIA-India) signed an MoU at the India Space Congress to promote knowledge exchanges and explore commercial opportunities in the space sector. In this pursuit, an International SpaceTech Startup Support Program (ISSSP) was jointly organized in March 2023 where India’s space start-ups showcased their capabilities and explored commercial opportunities for collaboration. At the second iteration of the ISSSP in September 2023, out of a total of 16 space-tech startups which were selected for research and development, eight were from India.

Besides cooperating in space-tech knowledge exchange, both Taiwan and India can further their space collaboration where India can offer Taiwan low-cost satellite launching facilities and Taiwan can help India in developing critical components and precision machinery. Thus, with the new administration coming into office in Taiwan on May 20, India should aspire to take space cooperation with Taiwan to the next level.


Kalpit A Mankikar is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme.

Satyam Singh is a research intern with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme.


[i] Sun Tzu, Art of War (Penguin, 1910), pp 3.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyzes now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.

The article is in Norwegian

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