China’s 72-hour spectacle of missiles, warships and fighter jets encircling Taiwan was designed to create a firewall — a blazing, televised warning against what Beijing sees as an increasingly stubborn resistance, backed by Washington, of its claims to the island.
“We maintain a high state of readiness, ready for combat at all times and able to fight at any time,” said Zu Guanghong, a Chinese naval captain in a statement. Video of the People’s Liberation Army about the exercises, which ended on Sunday. “We have the determination and the ability to launch a painful direct attack on any invader who would destroy the unification of the motherland and show no mercy.”
But even if China’s display of military personnel might discourage other Western politicians from imitating Nancy Pelosi, who infuriated Beijing by visiting Taiwan, it also diminishes hopes of winning the island through negotiations. Beijing’s shock and awe tactics may fuel skepticism in Taiwan that it can ever reach a peaceful and lasting settlement with the Chinese Communist Party, especially under Xi Jinping as leader.
“Nothing will change after the military exercises, there will be one like this and then another,” said Li Wen-te, a 63-year-old retired fisherman in Liuqiu, an island off the southwest coast of Taiwan, less than six miles away. of the exercises in China.
“They’re as bully as ever,” he said, adding a Chinese proverb, “dig deep in soft ground,” meaning “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”
Mr Xi has now shown that he is willing to put forward an intimidating military stick to try to retaliate what Beijing sees as a dangerous alliance of Taiwanese opposition and US support. Chinese military exercises in six zones around Taiwan, including joint air and sea exercises on Sunday to hone long-range air strike capabilities, allowed the military to practice blocking the island in the event of an invasion.
In the face of such pressures, the policy roots China has used to coax Taiwan into unification will carry even less weight. During earlier eras of better relations, China welcomed Taiwan’s investment, agricultural products and entertainers.
The result could be growing mutual mistrust, which some experts warn could, in the worst case, lead Beijing and Washington into a major conflict.
“It’s not about to explode tomorrow, but it raises the overall likelihood of a crisis, conflict or even war with the Americans over Taiwan,” said Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister who previously served as a diplomat in Beijing.
Understand the tensions between China and Taiwan
What does China mean to Taiwan? China claims Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy of 23 million people, as its territory and has long vowed to take it back, by force if necessary. The island, to which Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese troops withdrew after the communist revolution of 1949, has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan has never been ruled by the Communist Party, but Beijing maintains that it is part of Chinese territory historically and legally. The Chinese Nationalist forces who fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war also long claimed the island was part of a larger China they had ruled.
But since Taiwan emerged as a democracy in the 1990s, more and more people see themselves as vastly different in values and culture from the People’s Republic of China. That political skepticism of authoritarian China has persisted, and has deepened, as Taiwan’s economic ties to the mainland expanded.
“The attractiveness of the carrots in China’s Taiwanese policy – economic incentives – has now fallen to its lowest point since the end of the Cold War,” it said. Wu Jieh-mina political scientist at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research academy.
“The card it currently has is to step-by-step military threats against Taiwan and continue military preparations to use force,” he said, “until one day a large-scale military offensive on Taiwan yields a favorable outcome.” option.”
Since the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders have tried to persuade Taiwan to accept unification under a “one country, two systems” framework that promised autonomy in laws, religion, economic policies, and others. territories as long as the island accepted Chinese sovereignty.
But in an increasingly democratic Taiwan, few see themselves as proud future Chinese citizens. Support for Beijing’s proposals dwindled even further after 2020, when China imposed a crackdown on Hong Kong, eroding the freedoms promised to the former British colony under its own version of the framework.
Mr Xi has continued to promise Taiwan a “one country, two systems” deal, and he could return to offering Taiwan economic and political incentives if he can influence the island’s presidential elections in early 2024.
Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, is to step down after her second term ends that year. And a potential successor to its Democratic Progressive Party, which rejects the ‘one China’ principle and promotes independence, may be more combative towards Beijing.
In the years following those elections, Chinese leaders are likely to want to “show some substantial leaps forward on Taiwan, not necessarily unification, but some results there,” he said. Wang Hsin-hsien, a professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei who studies Chinese politics. “Xi Jinping is the kind of man who repays enmity with vengeance and repays kindness, but when he retaliates, it is repaid double.”
One conundrum hanging over Taiwan is whether Mr. Xi has a timetable in mind. He has presented his vision of China’s “rejuvenation” into a prosperous, powerful and complete world power that depends on unification with Taiwan. The rejuvenation, he said, will be achieved by the middle of the century, so some see that time as the extreme limit for his ambitions in Taiwan.
“We now have a 27-year fuse that can burn both slow and fast,” said Mr Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister who is now president of the Asia Society, referring to that mid-century date. “The time to worry is the early 2030s, because you are closer to the countdown to 2049, but you are also in Xi Jinping’s political life.”
In a calendar setting speech on Taiwan’s policy in 2019Mr Xi reiterated that China hoped to unite peacefully with Taiwan, but would not rule out armed violence.
He also called for ways to update what a “one country, two systems” arrangement for Taiwan would look like, and the Chinese government assigned scientists to the project. Such plans, Mr Xi said, “should take full account of Taiwan’s realities, as well as be conducive to lasting order and stability in Taiwan after unification.”
“I still believe that military capability is being calibrated first and foremost as a deterrent at this point,” he said Willian Klein, a former US diplomat stationed in Beijing and now working for FGS Global, a consulting firm, referring to the build-up of China. “Their strategy is to narrow the possible universe of outcomes to the point that their desired outcome becomes a reality.”
But the proposals Chinese scholars have made about Taiwan highlight the gap between what Beijing seems to have in mind and what most Taiwanese might accept.
The Chinese studies suggest sending Chinese officials to maintain control in Taiwan, especially if Beijing gains control by force; others say China should impose a national security law on Taiwan — such as the one it imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 — to punish opponents of Chinese rule.
“It must be recognized that governing Taiwan will be much more difficult than in Hong Kong, whether in terms of geographic size or political circumstances,” Zhou Yezhong, a prominent law professor at Wuhan University, wrote in a recent report.Overview for China’s unification‘, which he co-wrote with another academic.
Taiwanese society, they wrote, needs to be “re-sunken” to embrace official Chinese values and to “fundamentally transform the political environment long shaped by the ideas of ‘Taiwanese independence’.”
Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye said in a televised interview last week that the Taiwanese people had been brainwashed by pro-independence ideas.
“I am sure that as long as they are re-educated, the Taiwanese public will become patriots again,” he said in the interview. shared on the website of his embassy. “Not threatened, but through re-education.”
Polls among Taiwanese people show that few desire unification on China’s terms. In the latest National Chengchi University poll, 1.3 percent of respondents favored unification as soon as possible, 5.1 percent wanted independence as soon as possible. The rest mainly wanted a version of the ambiguous status quo.
“I cherish our freedom of expression and don’t want to be united by China,” said Huang Chiu-hong, 47, the owner of a shop that sells fried sticks of braided dough, a local snack, in Liuqiu, Taiwan’s island.
She said out of curiosity she tried to see the People’s Liberation Army in action, but saw nothing in a pavilion overlooking the sea.
“Looks like some people are concerned,” she said. “For me, it’s just a small episode in the ordinary life of Taiwanese.”