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Taiwan Confrontation - Introduction

President Xi Jinping explained to President Trump in 2017, the Taiwan question "is the most important, most sensitive core issue in China-US relations, and concerns the political basis of the China-US relationship." Taiwan has always been the most important issue in Sino-American relations - a point made clear to Henry Kissinger when the two sides first met in Beijing in 1972.

By the year 2027, which marks the centennial of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China will build a fully modern military, a goal that is in alignment with the national strength and will fulfill the future national defense need, Chinese analysts said 21 October 2020, after the Communiqué of the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) set the development goal of the PLA in following years. According to the Communiqué of the fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, the country’s national defense capabilities and economic strength should be strengthened at the same time and reach the centennial goal of building a modern military by 2027.

According to the Communiqué, with the aim of building a modern military as the centennial goal by 2027, China’s military will accelerate its integrated development in “mechanization,” “informatization” and “intelligentization,” comprehensively strengthen military training and preparation. By then, the strategic ability to defend national sovereignty, security, and development interests will be largely improved, the Communiqué says.

The plenary session proposed a new "centennial goal." The plenum proposed to speed up the modernization of national defense and the armed forces, and realize the unity of a prosperous country and a strong military. Carry out Xi Jinping’s thought on strengthening the army, implement the military strategy of the new era, adhere to the party’s absolute leadership over the people’s army, insist on building the army through politics, reform and strengthening the army, strengthening the army with science and technology, strengthening the army with talents, governing the army according to law, and accelerating the integration of mechanization, informationization and intelligence Develop, comprehensively strengthen military training and preparations, improve the strategic ability to defend national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and ensure that the goal of the century-old military is achieved in 2027.

China's military probing has been going on for years — an unending stress test for the democratic island it claims as its territory. But in 2020, the threat took on a new intensity. Over and over again, Taiwan scrambled fighters to intercept Chinese warplanes flying towards or even into Taiwan's airspace. With China cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong, accused of sweeping repression against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, expanding in the South China Sea, and clashing with India in the Himalayas, Taiwan was next.

President Xi Jinping framed the matter in a high-profile speech in 2019: "We do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures." The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) held joint maritime and aerial exercises and combat-readiness patrols in the Taiwan Straits starting 18 September 2020. The mainland military spokespersons used three different expressions in describing the operations, namely real combat-oriented exercises, combat-readiness patrols and joint aerial and maritime drills, which showed the exercises this time are multidimensional. The real combat-oriented, joint aerial and maritime drills mean that the PLA is practicing in key areas of a real battle, while the combat-readiness patrols are operations aimed at preparing for combat anytime if anomalies occur on the island.

According to computer simulations run and published by the Chinese mainland's Naval and Merchant Ships magazine in May, as well as many other military analysts, the PLA could launch intensive waves of missile and rocket attacks that would neutralize most of Taiwan's air defense capabilities and airfields within five minutes after the operation starts, and PLA warplanes would then seize air superiority and sweep enemies, with PLA warships, including two aircraft carriers, also engaging in naval battles. General air and sea superiorities are expected to be gained in about two hours, with most stationary ground military facilities destroyed. Two PLA aircraft carriers would then group up to the east of the island and prepare to counter foreign intervention, and after 24 hours of continuous suppressive attacks, amphibious landing forces would start the landing operation that would eventually see the entire island under control, according to the simulations.

Main battle forces of the PLA are always ready to join combat, and Chinese observers noted that the September 2020 drills showed the US forces will not have time to come to Taiwan's aid, and the military on the island would not be able to stand up to the PLA's lightning quick, thundering powerful attacks, if a reunification-by-force operation is to occur.

Three possible scenarios include: gradually chipping away at Taiwan's stability via military and hybrid means; a sudden, Crimea-style annexation of outlying islands; and finally a full-scale invasion. An invasion would involve enormous risks not just to Taiwan, but to the whole world. The US would face the dilemma of whether to intervene — potentially sparking a war between two superpowers.

Some military observers said that by normalizing large-scale exercises, the PLA can assemble troops near Taiwan and launch a sudden attack during the exercises. But others said that while the PLA had that capability, it will likely not use this method, but rather give an ultimatum to the Taiwan secessionists before doing it. If the secessionists insist on their obduracy, then the PLA could turn the exercises into real actions and reunify the island. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned 19 September 2020 that China was ramping up its military pressure and that the threat of a military intervention against Taiwan had "intensified". Wu said that after China's crackdown in Hong Kong, "Taiwan might be next". Wu pointed to recent military drills by China as evidence that Beijing was eager to fulfill the commitment of President Xi Jinping to "reunify" China by taking control of Taiwan. He said Taiwan was beefing up its military in order to respond to the threat and welcomed US moves to warn China against using military force. He also said that the potential for an accidental war with China was escalating. Wu hailed the recent visit by United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to Taiwan – the highest-level visit on the island by a US official since 1979 – as a watershed moment.

Foreign Minister Wu hoped that the world will pay attention to the profound threat emanating from China. "The threat is very real and therefore Taiwan's preparation is also very serious... We are trying to deal with the military threat, day in and day out" he said 19 September 2020 "They are trying to export the authoritarian international order while democracies are following the rule-based international order," he said. "If China succeeds in taking Taiwan over — I think the rest of the world, especially for democracies, is going to feel the heat. China is expanding outward. Taiwan happens to be on the front line."

Michael Morell, former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and retired Admiral James Winnefeld warned in August 2020 that Chinese leader Xi Jinping will "bring Taiwan back into China" in mid-January 2021. In the article published by the private, non-profit U.S. Naval Institute Morell and Winnefeld paint a worst-case scenario for an operation that would unfold quickly, "beginning on the evening of 18 January," prior to the U.S. presidential inauguration. China would carry out cyberattacks to cripple the country by disabling the national power grid and other important utilities. This will be followed by a swift sea and air blockade, with several People's Liberation Army (PLA) submarines joining in the action. The the blockade will pave the way for the landing of PLA amphibious forces.

Meanwhile, China would send stern warnings not to intervene to the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, and other Taiwanese allies. On the second day, global stock markets will crash due to the turmoil. World leaders wouldd make statements condemning the attack, but bogged down by multiple issues, Washington will be unable to react. On the third day after the attack, Morell and Winnefeld believe it will be too late for Washington to reverse the damage. Xi would then whitewash the invasion by telling the world that the "Chinese Dream" has been fulfilled and "welcome the people of Taiwan home."

Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on 10 August 2020 said the U.S. will not come to Taiwan's aid in the case of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Ma stated that China’s strategy of striking Taiwan is to "let the first battle be the last," suggesting that the communist nation aims to launch a quick war so that Taiwan does not have time to wait for American military support. The president should prevent war from happening, Ma remarked, referring to President Tsai Ing-wen’s comment to foreign media that if Taiwan is attacked by China, Beijing will "pay a great price." She also said that after the nation endures the first wave of attacks, she hopes countries around the world will come to assist it. Ma said he was worried because the nation’s military is aware of China’s strategy. Once war has begun, it will be over in a very short period of time, he predicted, giving Taiwan no chance to wait for the U.S. military. The former two-term president added that in fact, there is no way the U.S. would even come to the rescue in such a situation. Ma stated: "Whoever is president should not tell our compatriots how many days [the nation] can last in a war but rather tell our compatriots that he or she can prevent war from happening."

Taiwan's quest for identity and international status continues to vex Beijing-Taipei and Beijing-US relations. The United States does not support Taiwanese independence, but it maintains strong trade ties with the island and is Taipei's biggest weapons supplier. Although it abides by a one-China policy, Washington has pledged to defend Taiwan against aggression from the mainland.

In 1982, during negotiations for the Third United States - China Joint Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan, the Taiwan government presented the United States with six points that it proposed the United States use as guidelines in conducting United States - Taiwan relations. According to former Ambassador John Holdridge, the United States agreed to these points, conveyed this assent to Taiwan, and, in late July 1982, informed the Congress of the agreement. The "Six Assurances" to Taiwan are:

    1. The United States would not set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan.
    2. The United States would not alter the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act.
    3. The United States would not consult with China in advance before making decisions about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
    4. The United States would not mediate between Taiwan and China.
    5. The United States would not alter its position about the sovereignty of Taiwan which was, that the question was one to be decided peacefully by the Chinese themselves, and would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with China.
    6. The United States would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

The 1992 consensus, in which Beijing and Taipei agreed to their own interpretations of the "one China" principle, led to talks, but they eventually broke down. On 30 January 1995, Jiang Zemin, then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and president of the People's Republic, delivered a speech, entitled "Continue to Promote the Reunification of the Motherland," contained eight major points designed to achieve the unification of mainland China and Taiwan. Taiwan's President, Lee Teng-hui, responded the following year with a six-point proposal in response to Jiang's proposition.

But cross-strait relations worsened after Lee made public his "two states" theory in 1998. And in 1999 Lee Teng-hui redefined ties as "special state-to-state" relations. In 1995, nearly half of Taiwan's residents considered themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese, while as many as 25 per cent thought there were Chinese [by 2004 only 8 per cent of the island's residents regarded themselves as Chinese, while 42 per cent deemed themselves to be Taiwanese]. China suspended talks with Taiwan on eventual reunification in 1999, after Taiwan insisted negotiations be considered state-to-state.

By 2006, time was clearly not on the side of those who supported Taiwan's independence from the mainland. China's growing economic appeal to the island's business community, coupled with outreach to Pan-Blue politicians in 2005, suggested that over time Taiwan would inevitably be absorbed into the mainland. It would be argued that the window of opportunity for Taiwan to irrevocably assert its independence had closed. The "period of maximum danger" of a profound crisis appeared to be the summer of 2008. President Chen Shui-bian had pledged to push for a new constitution for Taiwan before the end of 2008. Pro-indepedence leaders might have calculated that Bejing would take no actions that would detract from the depiction of "peaceful rise" attending the 2008 Olympics, slated to open on 08 August 2008 in Beijing. But this moment came and went un-eventfully.

As of 2014, the prospects for military conflict across the Taiwan strait appeared nearly unthinkable. In the less than two months since President Ma Ying-jeou was inaugurated as the chief executive of Taiwan in May 2008, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government had implemented or proposed numerous measures designed to tie Taiwan's future to the People's Republic of China. Regular weekend direct flights between five cities in China and eight airports in Taiwan had already commenced. Since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou in March 2008, the security situation in the Taiwan Strait has entered a period of relaxing tensions. Both Beijing and Taipei have emphasized enhancing people-to-people contacts and expanding economic ties. However, there had been no meaningful actions on the part of the Mainland to reduce its military presence directly opposite Taiwan.

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Page last modified: 17-03-2021 18:03:24 ZULU