Will China use force against Taiwan?

Unification is the goal and force is an option, Xi Jinping says of Taiwan. Do you think that Beijing may really (under some circumstances) seriously consider the use of force against Taiwan or not, and why? Read few comments.


Malcolm CookSenior Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

Any Chinese use of significant military force or invasion of Yaiwan would cause a painful military response from Taiwan and would likely bring the US and Japan into the conflict. I think only a move by Taiwan to declare formal independence from China would trigger a significant Chinese military response. No major political party in Taiwan advocates for formal inference and there is very little public support for it either

Harsh V. Pant, Professor, Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London

Beijing remains very serious about Taiwan and it is using such a language to deter Taiwan from going in directions it doesn’t want. However, use of force on the Taiwan issue will depend on a multitude of factors and Beijing’s assessment of costs and benefits of such an action.It would also depend on how it reads the international community’s commitment to come to the aid of Taiwan if status quo is disturbed.

Bent Berger, Senior Fellow, Head of Asia Program, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik (DGAP)/German Council on Foreign Relations 

Xi Jinping’ speech does not devote from any former statements. The PRC’s sabre-rattling is intended to deter the current DPP government from any moves. A real use of force is unlikely for 3 reasons: 1) China applies a tactic of strategic patience. A range of trends have been working in mainland China’s favour. Taiwan dependence on its investments in the  Chinese mainland and trade can only be reversed with difficulty. The mainland is becoming an increasingly attractive Job market for skilled young Taiwanese. Taiwanese society is deeply divided along the two party camps, not least on the issue of how to deal with mainland. 2) A take over of Taiwan by force would a, according to the Chinese understanding, de jure a new civil war. this could have consequences in Chinese society on larger scale. 3) From a tactical perspective the Island can not easily be invaded and resistance from civil society would be highly likely. Yet, there are still risks of new strategic scenarios. In view of the strategic rivalry between the US and China and an increasing escalation beyond the trade dispute Taiwan could become a key hot spot of contestation again.

Drew Thompson, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

Xi Jinping’s speech was largely a re-packaging of previous statements and policy including the threat to use force against Taiwan, so there is nothing new in the speech that changes the status quo.  What has changed is China’s rapid military buildup, which makes the threat to use force increasingly credible.

Taiwan’s military is adapting to China’s military buildup by adopting an asymmetric strategy.  Taiwan’s military cannot prevent China from lashing out, put it can prevent China from achieving its political objectives of forcible reunification.

I think it is therefore unlikely that Xi Jinping would order the use of force against Taiwan at this point in time.  President Tsai Ing-wen is cautious and will not do anything to provoke an attack.  The chance of a military campaign against Taiwan failing is quite high, so Xi would be taking a tremendous risk if he were to actually order the use of force.  Xi could end up losing everything, including the Party’s control of China.

Jie ChenAssociate Professor, Political Science and International Relations, University of Western Australia

All contents are well-known clichés but I did notice that this time there is no emphasis on the use of military to force unification. The tone seems that the PRC would make best effort to pursue peaceful unification. This seems like speaking to Donald Trump, considering the US administration’s stronger position on Taiwan since last year. Also, the last thing Xi wants to do is to sound aggressive (as he did for many years now) when China’s economy is weakened and may have to compromise in the trade war with the US.

I suspect the use of force against Taiwan is the last thing in Xi’s mind at this moment. He has got far too many troubles at hand (domestic and international). I don’t think he likes to follow the path of General Galtieri, leader of the Argentine Junta who ended up losing his own power after a miscalculated military attacks on the British-occupied Falkland Islands. The general thought he could use external adventures to divert people’s attention from domestic crisis and make himself a national hero.

Eric Hundman, Assistant Professor of Political Science, NYU Shanghai

I think it is clear that the CCP would prefer to avoid using force against Taiwan, but it is also clear that it has long been seriously considering it — a Taiwan conflict scenario has long been a major influence on military planning in China, for instance, and the party leadership has been very consistent in warning that force is not off the table.

Taiwanese politicians and voters alike are very proud of their democracy, and there is little doubt this is a crucial reason Taiwanese overwhelmingly oppose unifying with China under the current CCP-led regime. In terms of advantages for Taiwan in its relationship with China, democracy is a mixed bag. It makes continued US and Western support more likely, but it also makes negotiations with China much more challenging. Because Taiwan is a democracy, in most cases Taipei simply cannot give China what it wants.

Moises de Souza, Vice Director, South China Sea Think Tank

No, I don’t think so. At least not in a foreseeable future and keeping the current conjuncture. Make no mistake, a war in the Strait of Taiwan is not in the best interest of any of the players (China, Taiwan, US, and eventually Japan).

Why?

– Economics

Taiwan plays a large role in China’s local economy principally in provinces as Jiangsu, Fujian, and Zhejiang. These provinces are largely benefited by Taiwan’s Taishang (Taiwan-originated entrepreneurs) investments. A disruption in Taiwan’s economy in consequence of conflict would have serious consequences on China’s electronic parts, computer, and optical supply chain. What in fact, would hit hard the world markets as well. Bottom line: everyone makes tons of money on both sides of the Strait and only a completely new fact would justify any military action.

– Integration

War can’t be more effective than integration. Do the math:
– More than 1 million Taiwanese people live in China. They are marrying there, having babies, and moving back to the island and vice-versa.
– There are no recent numbers available, but until 2016, according to official Taiwanese sources, there were 32,648 Chinese students. Fact: There are more universities than students in Taiwan due to the decline of the birth rate. All the educational sector is overly dependent on the inflow of Chinese students. Again, these students are coming and staying working, marrying, etc.

-Taiwanese society risk aversion

Taiwan will never provoke a war against China. Period. Why?
– There is no consensus about the unification or independence. The majority of the population prefers to stay in the middle: maintain the status-quo. That means do nothing and see what happens.
– Taiwan Relations Act, the document that guides Taiwan-US relations make clear that the military assistance would be provided only in case of unprovoked attack by China. Fact: There is no confidence in the island that the US would come in defense of Taiwan in any scenario. Although it changes time to time.

Based on that, the question is, why did Xi Jinping make these remarks?

– Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in power

The current president Tsai Ying-wen, a champion of the independence movement, must be kept in check. Although she will never make any bold moves towards independence, she also will never work in favor of unification. She did not recognize the so-called 1992 Consensus  (an informal agreement about the existence of One-China in both sides of the Strait but with different interpretations about what that means). Fact: The previous administration of the President Ma Ying-jeou (Kuomingtang) was sympathetic to the unification and work closely with Beijing to integrate both sides economically and by transportation links.

– Chinese Communist Party

The CCP must constantly remind that it is still the legitimate power in China. Together with the improvement of the living standards, comes the liberal ideas and foreign influences. Xi is engaged in the block all the flux of ideas that might undermine or questioning the CCP influence. He is doing this in three ways:

1) Keeping the economic growth at all costs. Millions of new workers arrive every year to the Chinese labor market. It is imperative to keep them busy and therefore happy

2) Fight again the local officials largely responsible for the corruption abuses and scandals around the country. Xi as “the father of the nation” protecting his children from “bullies” (a Confucian perspective).

3) From the CCP, Taiwan is the last and unfinished step to consolidate the revolution initiated by the Mao’s Great March in 1934. If not by the Korean War in 1950, the Taiwan issue would be history by now. Therefore, by reminding about Taiwan, is like Xi was reinforcing the role of the CCP as the guardians of the nation and its mission is not accomplished until the final unification.

Finally, a direct intervention would be bloody and probably a long war. It is hard to imagine that Japan and US would not intervene in some extent to prevent or at least postpone the Chinese total victory.

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