In Tiananmen Square at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of China Communist Party’s founding, Xi Jinping called for a forced reunification with self-ruled Taiwan in a quest for a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” He warned that anyone who bullies China “will have their heads bashed and bloody against the Great Wall of Steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
In preparation for defending its territorial claims, China has been fortifying its coastline and militarizing man-made islands in the South China Sea, and slowly taking over more territory in the Spratly Islands using what’s referred to as the “Cabbage Strategy.” Now, China is turning its focus northward and has Taiwan squarely in its sights as it sends a record number of sorties into Taiwan’s “air defense identification zone.” With every incursion, China’s air force gains precious information as it probes Taiwan’s air defense systems, writes Alessio Patalano of The Spectator. He continues (abridged):
This week, the central committee of the Chinese Communist party will issue a ‘resolution on history’. It will enshrine the official historical narrative of the Xi Jinping era. Only two CCP leaders have issued a resolution of this kind before: Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Mao’s resolution set out his role as China’s sole leader; Deng’s, the conditions for the country’s economic focus. And Xi’s? Details are yet to be revealed, but it is expected to reinforce the idea of China’s historical destiny, what Xi calls the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. For Xi, the project of national rejuvenation is inherently linked to the reunification with Taiwan, the only part of the old republic that did not become communist in 1949. Xi has called reunification the ‘unswerving historical task’ of the party, and he takes it very seriously. The resolution’s aim is not to celebrate the CCP’s past. It is to stress the inevitability of the future.
While westerners may find it difficult to imagine an actual invasion of Taiwan, a pressing question remains: short of open war, what levels of coercive actions are the United States and its allies willing to accept? Last month, the Chinese air force, or PLAAF, was busier than ever. Under normal circumstances, it would be customary for the Chinese military to hold national day parades to commemorate the Chinese Communist party’s victory over the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist party, on 1 October 1949. This year was different. For five days, the PLAAF flew 150 aircraft around Taiwan. The increase in air operations in the last month suggests that Beijing has already succeeded in setting a higher threshold for international tolerance of military coercion. Exercises around Taiwanese airspace now take place on an almost daily basis. Last week, 20 Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defence zone within 24 hours.
There is growing pressure on Washington to redefine what an adequate response to Xi’s unprecedented military signalling would look like. Three weeks ago, President Joe Biden said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked. This seemed to be a departure from America’s long-standing foreign-policy position of ‘strategic ambiguity’. The White House spokesman quickly clarified that the President was ‘not announcing any change in our policy’. It is still unclear what line will need to be crossed for the US and its allies to respond.
What would an attack on Taiwan look like? Short of an amphibious assault on the island, there are a variety of options open to China. It might try to weaken the Taiwanese economy, isolate Taiwan militarily, or break its citizens’ will to resist. Other possible scenarios include missile exercises that would prevent shipping from reaching Taiwan, the implementation of a Cuban-style quarantine, or the taking-over of Pratas and Taiping islands in the South China Sea. These would all have costs for China, but it might feel that they were acceptable. Crucially, China’s increased military activities around Taiwan are being used for tactical purposes. With every incursion, China’s air force probes Taiwan’s defence systems and gathers precious information.
In March this year, Admiral Phil Davidson, the then-head of United States Indo-Pacific Command, said it is likely there will be military action within this decade.
Read the full article here.
Alessio Patalano is Professor of War and Strategy in East Asia at King’s College London.