March 23, 2023

The 72-hour spectacle of Chinese missiles, warships and jet fighters swarming Taiwan was aimed at building a firewall — a fiery response to what Beijing sees as increasingly stubborn opposition to its sovereignty over the island, backed by Washington TV warning.

“We are on high alert, always ready to fight, ready to fight,” said Zu Guanghong, a Chinese navy captain. PLA video About the practice that ends on Sunday. “We have the determination and ability to carry out a painful direct attack on any aggressor who undermines the unity of the motherland, and will not show mercy.”

But even if China’s display of military prowess has made other Western politicians reluctant to emulate Nancy Pelosi, whose visit to Taiwan has angered Beijing, it has also dampened hopes of a negotiated win over Taiwan. Beijing’s tactics of shock and awe could deepen Taiwan’s doubts about whether it can reach a peaceful and lasting solution with the Chinese Communist Party, especially under Xi Jinping.

“Nothing will change after the military exercise, one such and one,” said Li Wende, a 63-year-old retired fisherman from Liuqiu, an island off the southwest coast of Taiwan. The Chinese exercise is less than six miles away.

“They bully people as always,” he said, adding a Chinese proverb, “dig deep into the soft soil”, which means “give them an inch and they’ll walk a mile”.

Xi Jinping has now shown that he is willing to pull out an intimidating stick in an attempt to repel what Beijing sees as a dangerous alliance between Taiwan’s opposition and the United States. China conducted military exercises in six regions around Taiwan, including joint air and sea exercises on Sunday, to hone long-range airstrike capabilities that would allow the military to block Taiwan in the event of an invasion.

Faced with such pressure, China’s policy carrots to persuade Taiwan to reunify may be even less weighty. In the previous period of better relations, China welcomed Taiwanese investment, agricultural products and entertainers.

The result could deepen mutual mistrust, which some experts have warned could, in extreme cases, plunge Beijing and Washington into full-scale conflict.

“There won’t be an explosion tomorrow, but it raises the overall likelihood of a crisis, conflict or even war with the Americans over Taiwan,” said former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat in Beijing.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Communist Party, but Beijing insists it is historically and legally part of Chinese territory. Chinese Kuomintang troops, which fled to Taiwan in 1949 after a failed civil war, have also long claimed the island as part of the Greater China region they rule.

But since Taiwan became a democracy in the 1990s, more and more Taiwanese see themselves as values ​​and culturally different from the People’s Republic of China. Political skepticism of authoritarian China has persisted, and even deepened, as Taiwan’s economic ties to the mainland expand.

“The attraction of carrots in China’s policy toward Taiwan — the economic incentive — has now fallen to its lowest point since the end of the Cold War,” said Wu JieminPolitical scientist at the Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute.

“The card it holds now is to gradually raise the military threat to Taiwan and continue to make military preparations for the use of force,” he said, “until the day when a full-scale military attack on Taiwan becomes a favorable option. .”

Since the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders have been trying to induce Taiwan to accept reunification under the “one country, two systems” framework, promising autonomy in law, religion, economic policy and other areas as long as the island accepts Chinese sovereignty.

But in increasingly democratic Taiwan, few see themselves as proud future Chinese citizens. Support for Beijing’s proposals has fallen further as China cracks down on Hong Kong in 2020, eroding the freedoms the former British colony promised under its own version of the framework.

Xi has continued to promise Taiwan a “one country, two systems” agreement, and if he can influence Taiwan’s presidential election in early 2024, he may re-provide economic and political incentives to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, must step down after her second term ends that year. And a potential successor to the independent Democratic Progressive Party, which opposes the “one China” principle, could be more bellicose with Beijing.

In the years following that election, Chinese leaders may “want to show some substantial leaps on Taiwan, not necessarily reunification, but some results there,” said Wang Xinxian, Professor of National Chengchi University, Taipei, who studies Chinese politics. “Xi Jinping is the kind of person who will take revenge and avenge his kindness. Revenge is double the revenge.”

One conundrum hanging over Taiwan is whether Xi has a timetable. He said his vision for China’s “rejuvenation” as a prosperous, strong and complete global power hinged on reunification with Taiwan. He has said that the revival will take place by the middle of the century, so some see that time as the outer limit of his Taiwanese ambitions.

“We now have a 27-year fuse and it can be slow-burning or fast-burning,” Mr Rudd, former prime minister of Australia and now president of the Asia Society, said, citing a mid-century date. “The time to worry is the early 2030s because you’re closer to the countdown zone to 2049, but you’re also in Xi Jinping’s political career.”

in agenda setting 2019 Policy Speech on TaiwanXi Jinping reiterated that China hopes to peacefully reunify Taiwan, but does not rule out force.

He also called for exploring ways to update Taiwan’s “one country, two systems” arrangement, to which the Chinese government has assigned scholars. Such a plan, Xi said, “must fully consider the reality of Taiwan, and it is also conducive to the long-term stability of Taiwan after reunification.”

“I still think that the current military capability is calibrated first and foremost as a deterrent,” said William KleinThe former U.S. diplomat who worked in Beijing and now works for consulting firm FGS Global, was referring to China’s construction. “Their strategy is to narrow the range of possible outcomes to the point where their preferred outcome becomes a reality.”

But suggestions by Chinese academics on Taiwan underscore the gulf between what Beijing thinks and what most Taiwanese can accept.

China study recommends sending Chinese officials to maintain control of Taiwan, especially if Beijing gains control by force; others say China must impose a national security law on Taiwan — as it did with Hong Kong in 2020 – to punish those who oppose Chinese rule.

Zhou Yezhong, a prominent law professor at Wuhan University, wrote in a recent article: “It must be admitted that governing Taiwan will be much more difficult than governing Hong Kong, both in terms of geographic scope and political conditions.”Outline of China’s Unification,” he co-authored with another scholar.

They wrote that Taiwanese society must “re-sinicize” to embrace official Chinese values ​​and “fundamentally change the political environment long shaped by ‘Taiwan independence’ ideology”.

Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye said in a TV interview last week that the people of Taiwan have been brainwashed by the idea of ​​”Taiwan independence”.

“I’m sure that as long as they get re-educated, the Taiwanese public will become patriots again,” he said in an interview. Share on his embassy website. “Not by threats, but by re-education.”

Public opinion polls in Taiwan show that few are willing to unify on China’s terms. According to the latest poll by National Chengchi University, 1.3% of respondents support reunification as soon as possible, and 5.1% of respondents want independence as soon as possible. The rest mostly want some ambiguous status quo.

“I cherish our freedom of speech and don’t want to be unified by China,” said Huang Qiuhong, 47, the owner of a shop selling fried dough sticks, a local snack, on Taiwan’s Liuqiu Island. .

Out of curiosity, she said, she wanted to see the People’s Liberation Army in action, but saw nothing in a pavilion overlooking the sea.

“It seems that some people are concerned,” she said. “For me, it’s just a small episode in the daily life of Taiwanese.”

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