China’s 72-hour spectacle of missiles, warships and jet fighters sweeping across Taiwan is designed to create a firewall — a stark, made-for-television warning against what Beijing sees as an increasingly stubborn, Washington-backed challenge to its claims to the island.
Zu Guanghong, captain of the Chinese Navy in People’s Liberation Army video About rehearsals that ended on Sunday. “We have the determination and ability to launch a painful direct attack against any invaders that will destroy the unification of the motherland, and no mercy will be shown.”
But even if China’s military show may dissuade other Western politicians from imitating Nancy Pelosi, who angered Beijing by visiting Taiwan, it also lowers hopes of winning the island through negotiations. Beijing’s shock and awe tactics may deepen suspicions in Taiwan about the possibility of a peaceful and lasting settlement with the Chinese Communist Party, particularly under the leadership of Xi Jinping.
“Nothing will change after the military exercises, there will be one like this and then another,” said Li Wen-ti, a 63-year-old retired fisherman on Liuqiu, an island off the southwest coast of Taiwan. From six miles of China drills.
“They bully as always,” he said, adding a Chinese proverb, “They dig deep in soft soil,” which means “Give them an inch and they will take a mile.”
Mr. Xi has now shown a willingness to pull out a fearsome military baton to try to overcome what Beijing sees as a dangerous alliance of Taiwanese opposition and American support. China’s military exercises across six regions around Taiwan, which on Sunday included joint air and naval exercises to hone its long-range air strike capabilities, allowed the military to practice a blockade of the island in the event of an invasion.
In the face of such pressures, the political carrot that China used to persuade Taiwan toward unification may have less weight. During earlier eras that saw better relations, China welcomed Taiwanese investment, agricultural commodities, and entertainment artists.
The result could be a deepening of mutual distrust that some experts warn could, in the extreme, lead to Beijing and Washington entering into all-out conflict.
“It’s not going to be about to be an explosion tomorrow, but it does raise the overall potential for a crisis, conflict or even war with the Americans over Taiwan,” said Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who previously served as a diplomat in Beijing.
Understanding the tensions between China and Taiwan
What does China mean to Taiwan? China claims Taiwan, a democratic, autonomous island 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 forces retreated after the Communist Revolution of 1949, was not part of the People’s Republic of China.
The Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, but Beijing maintains that it is a historical and legal part of Chinese territory. The Chinese nationalist forces who fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war for a long time also confirmed that the island was part of the Greater China they ruled.
But since Taiwan’s emergence as a democracy in the 1990s, an increasing number of its people see themselves as significantly different in values and culture from the People’s Republic of China. This political suspicion toward authoritarian China continued, and even deepened, as Taiwan’s economic relations with the mainland expanded.
“The attractiveness of the carrot in China’s policy toward Taiwan – economic stimulus – has now fallen to its lowest level since the end of the Cold War,” he said. Woo Ji Mina political scientist at the Academia Sinica, the top research academy in Taiwan.
“Your card at present is to raise military threats against Taiwan step by step, and continue military preparations for the use of force,” he said, “so that one day a large-scale military attack on Taiwan becomes an appropriate option.”
Since the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders have tried to persuade Taiwan to accept unification under the “one country, two systems” framework that promises autonomy in laws, religion, economic policy and other areas as long as the island has accepted Chinese sovereignty. .
But in increasingly democratic Taiwan, few see themselves as proud, future Chinese citizens. Support for Beijing’s proposals declined even after 2020, when China clamped down on Hong Kong, eroding the freedoms the former British colony had promised under its own version of the framework.
Mr. Xi has continued to promise Taiwan a “one country, two systems” deal, and may return to providing economic and political incentives to Taiwan, if he can influence the island’s presidential election in early 2024.
Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, must step down after her second term ends that year. A potential heir from her Democratic Progressive Party, which rejects the “one China” principle and supports independence, may be more controversial toward Beijing.
In the years since that election, China’s leaders will likely “want to show some substantive leaps forward in Taiwan, not necessarily unification, but some results there,” he said. Wang Hsin HsinHe is a professor at National Chengqi 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 he is repaid twice.”
One of the mysteries hanging over Taiwan is whether Mr. Xi has a timeline in mind. He has suggested that his vision of “rejuvenating” China into a prosperous, strong, and complete world power rests on unity with Taiwan. He said the renewal will be achieved by mid-century, so some see this time as the outer limit of his Taiwan ambitions.
“We now have a 27-year fuse that can be either slow or fast burning,” said Mr Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who is now president of the Asia Society, citing mid-century history. “It’s time to worry in the early thirties, because you’re closer in the countdown to 2049, but you’re also in Xi Jinping’s political life.”
In setting the agenda Speech on Taiwan policy in 2019Mr. Xi reiterated that China hopes to unite with Taiwan peacefully, but will not rule out armed force.
He also called for exploring ways to modernize what Taiwan’s “one country, two systems” arrangement would look like, and the Chinese government has appointed scientists for the project. Such plans “should fully take into account the realities of Taiwan, and also help achieve lasting order and stability in Taiwan after unification,” Mr. Xi said.
He said, “I still believe that military capability is calibrated first and foremost as a deterrent.” Willian Klein, a former US diplomat who worked in Beijing and now works for FGS Global, a consulting firm, referring to the strengthening of China. “Their strategy is to narrow down the potential world of outcomes so that their preferred outcome becomes a reality.”
But proposals by Chinese scholars regarding Taiwan highlight the chasm between what Beijing seems to be thinking about, and what most Taiwanese can accept.
Chinese studies suggest sending Chinese officials to maintain control in Taiwan, especially if Beijing wins control by force; Others say China should impose a national security law on Taiwan — like 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 Hong Kong, both in terms of geographical scope and political circumstances,” Zhou Yezhong, a prominent law professor at Wuhan University, wrote in a recent report.A blueprint for the unification of Chinawhich he co-wrote with another academic.
They wrote that Taiwanese society should be “reconfigured” to adopt official Chinese values and “fundamentally change the political environment shaped long ago by ideas of ‘Taiwanese independence’.”
China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shai, said in a TV interview last week that the people of Taiwan had been brainwashed by pro-independence ideas.
“I am sure that as long as they are re-educated, the Taiwanese public will become patriotic again,” he said in the interview. Share it on his embassy’s website. “Not under threat, but through re-education.”
Opinion polls of Taiwanese show that very few are willing to unite on China’s terms. In the latest poll from National Chengqi University, 1.3 percent of respondents favored consolidation as soon as possible, while 5.1 percent wanted independence as soon as possible. The rest mostly wanted a version of the ambiguous status quo.
“I cherish freedom of speech and do not want China to unite,” said Huang Qiuhong, 47, a shop owner who sells fried sticks of braided dough, a local snack, in Liuqiu, Taiwan. .
She said she tried to see the People’s Liberation Army in action out of curiosity, but she didn’t glimpse anything in a suite overlooking the sea.
“Some people seem worried,” she said. “For me, it’s just a small episode in the ordinary life of Taiwanese.”