Xi Jinping exerts political and military pressure to accelerate Taiwan’s integration
Chinese leader Xi Jinping used his biggest agenda speech in half a decade to warn the US against further support for Taiwan, chastising ‘external forces’ for rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and suggesting that they would be to blame if Beijing felt compelled to attack the country.
“In the face of severe provocations by Taiwan independence forces and interference from outside forces, we have resolutely waged a major struggle against separatism and interference,” Xi said in a Sunday opening speech for the 20th Party Congress. Chinese communist.
Reiterating Beijing’s priority to pursue unification peacefully but refusing to renounce the use of force, Xi, who did not specifically name the United States, said: outside forces and a small minority of Taiwan independence forces, but absolutely not. the majority of Taiwan compatriots.
The remarks reflected Beijing’s growing sense of urgency over what it perceived to be US attempts to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait – including arms sales, visits by US politicians and repeated statements by President Joe Biden that Washington was committed to defending Taiwan should China attack.
“While the United States and China are involved in [a] competition from the big powers, Beijing is now increasingly trying to fend off what it sees as outside intervention in the Taiwanese case,” said Chang Wu-yueh, a professor at Tamkang University in Taipei.
A Chinese government white paper released in August said outside forces were trying to exploit Taiwan to contain China, prevent the Chinese nation from achieving full unification and halt the process of national rejuvenation.
Xi linked his legacy to unification, describing it as part of his plan to achieve a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049 – a century after the party set its sights on Taiwan.
As the congress prepares to make Xi the first party leader since Mao Zedong to stay at the helm beyond two terms, policy experts believe Beijing could try to accelerate progress towards that goal.
China “firmly clings to the role of leadership and initiative in cross-strait relations,” Xi told congress delegates.
“Beijing won’t wait for Taiwan,” said Chao Chun-shan, one of Taiwan’s most experienced Chinese experts who has advised the past four presidents on cross-Strait policy. “Xi said the Taiwan issue cannot be dragged out unresolved, so they take the things they can handle themselves and do them first.”
There is already plenty of evidence of this effort. Over the past three years, Beijing has unleashed a flurry of initiatives that resemble Taiwan’s post-unification planning and suggest to the public that this era is imminent.
These include a rail link between the coastal city of Fuzhou and Taipei in a plan for national transportation network projects to be completed by 2035. Advice is also being distributed on social media to Chinese citizens regarding the buying property in Taiwan after unification, while internal conferences informed online opinion leaders that the country was heading towards unification.
The driving force is Xi’s suggestion – first put forward in January 2019 – that “the Chinese on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait” begin to examine in more concrete terms the “one country, two systems” framework originally developed for Taiwan but first applied to Hong Kong. He proposed that they “explore a two-system formula for Taiwan and enrich the practice of peaceful unification.”
The Chinese leader’s concept for this process is what he calls “integrated development.” According to research papers by Chinese scholars specializing in Taiwanese politics, the approach envisions bringing the island closer to China through a web of personal and business interests, and gradually winning the Taiwanese people over to Beijing’s vision. of a great unified nation through educational exchanges and propaganda.
However, in Taiwan, this push is going nowhere. Since the start of 2020, travel and visa restrictions imposed by Beijing and Taipei have severely hampered the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to woo students, businesspeople, religious communities, local officials and even heads of Taiwanese gangs.
Even if cross-strait travel reopens, the outlook is bleak. The Taiwanese government opposes deeper integration with China and leading opposition politicians refuse to discuss unification because the vast majority of the population wants to retain the country’s de facto independence.
Xi is shifting from the more patient approach of his predecessor Hu Jintao to a policy emphasizing steps towards unification. “During Xi Jinping’s first term, our Chinese counterparts remained focused on preventing moves toward formal Taiwan independence,” said Wen-Ti Sung, senior lecturer in the Taiwan Studies program at the University. Australian National. “But now their research and propaganda efforts have taken the next step of promoting unification.”
Beijing’s association of political efforts with increasingly threatening military maneuvers has fueled suspicions that Xi intends to seize the country by force.
Following a visit by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to Taipei in August, the People’s Liberation Army conducted unprecedented drills around Taiwan. Since then, Beijing has been sending fighter jets, drones and warships to the island daily.
But analysts say warnings from US military and intelligence officials about an impending invasion are overblown. “Beijing still has strategic patience and this is a chance for Washington,” Colonel Zhou Bo, a former Chinese Defense Ministry official and senior researcher at Tsinghua University, wrote in an article in the South China Morning Post. last month.
Other experts have argued that Beijing prefers to use military force for intimidation, deterrence and coercion rather than war. “There are very few scenarios in which Xi would seek unification at any cost,” Taiwan’s senior China adviser Chao said.
“Although for him, unification must be achieved together with the great rejuvenation of China, it is a dialectical relationship. It will not give up the use of force to achieve unification, but the achievement of unification should not harm rejuvenation, the ultimate goal.