By: Willy Wo-Lap Lam
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Tsai Ing-wen's astonishing victory in the presidential elections in Taiwan is a defeat for China which for years has nourished through numerous economic benefits a "fifth column" on the island, which preaches reunification and the return to the motherland. It is also a defeat for President Xi Jinping, who has always cultivated the idea of a military reunification of the island and who today is instead faced with an even closer alliance between the United States and Taiwan. The way Beijing is treating Hong Kong also had an influence on Tsai's victory. The analysis of journalist and political scientist Willy Lam. Courtesy of the Jamestown Foundation
How will Beijing react to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s resounding re-election victory on January 11, when she garnered a historic 8 million votes, or 57.13 percent of the electorate? So far, Beijing’s response to this triumph by the candidate of the theoretically pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been relatively non-belligerent. The spokesman of the cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office said a few hours after the polls that Beijing would “insist on the basic objective of ‘peaceful unification and one country, two systems’,” even though he also indicated that Beijing would not tolerate “any form of ‘Taiwan independence’.” Another post-election commentary by the official Xinhua News Agency said that “the mainland firmly holds the initiative in bilateral relations.” In an article in the usually hawkish Global Times, Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said Chinese society was “prepared for war with Taiwan independence,” but that it was not yet ready for “immediate warfare” (Xinhua, January 12; Phoenix TV News, January 12; Global Times, January 11; South China Morning Post, January 11).
Observers of Taiwan Strait dynamics have noted that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping, the highest-ranking decision-maker on Taiwan issues, was bitterly unhappy about the margin of Tsai’s victory; and that the commander-in-chief will likely order a series of measures to boost “war preparation,” squeeze Taiwan’s diplomatic space, suppress Taiwan’s economy, and nurture the so-called “fifth column” in Taiwan society (Chinatimes.com, January 12; HK01.com, January 11). The fifth column is a reference to Taiwanese politicians and businesspeople who, while professing to defend their island against Communist aggression, are proposing more communication and even “pro-unification talks” with Beijing as a result of their dependence (financial or otherwise) on the CCP.
Potential Forms of Military and Political Coercion Against Taiwan
The military strategy that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might use against Taiwan is relatively simple: the goal is to erect at least a temporary air force and naval blockade so that Taiwan will become isolated from the rest of the world. Coinciding with the election, naval forces of the PLA Eastern War Theatre engaged in a five-day war game involving two state-of-the-art Type 052D-class destroyers (Apple Daily.com, January 13). According to the results of hundreds of computerized simulations of an island invasion, the PLA Navy (PLAN) will need to build at least a few aircraft carrier battle groups in the coming decade or so. Aircraft carriers—together with platforms such as nuclear submarines—are crucial to a successful blockade of the island (Mil.sina.cn, July 29, 2019; Radio French International Chinese Edition, July 29, 2019). There was a tense confrontation last Christmas in the waters off Hainan Island and Taiwan between the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and the PLAN’s own carrier Shandong (Ming Pao, January 2). Xi’s advisers seem confident that as the differentials in military strength between both sides narrow, the U.S. Pentagon will think twice about taking on increasingly sophisticated Chinese naval vessels. [FULL STORY]