China-Taiwan: Between Election Maneuvering And Dress Rehearsals For War
The Chinese military's encirclement of Taiwan is above all a political move, not a tactical one. War is unlikely for now: Beijing still has other cards to play in the crisis. But if these fail, anything is possible.
BEIJING — No one, not even China (despite how it may seem), nor the United States or Taiwan, want war in the region. But for the past three days, the world has watched a game of intimidation around this island of 24 million inhabitants, which has become, as The Economist described it a few years ago, "the most dangerous place in the world."
The means deployed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army are considerable, including the Shandong aircraft carrier, the pride of the Beijing navy, as well as the new J-15 fighter jet. The maneuvers, which included repeated violations of the Taiwanese air identification zone, are like a dress rehearsal for a possible Chinese invasion of the island.
Amidst the tension and Chinese navy maneuvers, an American destroyer has sailed in for a freedom of navigation mission in international waters.
A warning from China in response to Taiwanese President's U.S. visit
No one wants war, but a small incident could provoke an unwanted escalation. Above all, it is one of the options on the table in a crisis that has no good solution and will likely worsen in the coming months and years.
Taiwan is, as Xi Jinping says, "the heart of the heart" of Chinese policy.
Beijing had to react to the visit by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to the U.S., and especially to her meeting with the Republican Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. But, maybe because McCarthy did not go to Taiwan, the Chinese government's reaction was less dramatic than last year, when they responded to Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei by firing missiles over the island.
Still, the message was clear: Taiwan is, as Xi Jinping says, "the heart of the heart" of Chinese policy. The Chinese leader has gone even further, confiding to some that any desire for independence on the island constitutes "a personal humiliation."
The guard of honor of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) carrying a copy of the country's Constitution during the ceremony for newly elected Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing, China.
Is Beijing ready to embark on a military adventure to conquer Taiwan? Not immediately, both because the Chinese military is not ready, but also because China has other options.
The date to remember is Jan. 2024. In less than a year, presidential and legislative elections will be held on the truly democratic island, which has already experienced several political changes.
The situation may become dangerous, with the path to peace blocked.
The current president, from the Democratic Progressive Party, which was historically pro-independence but now favors the status quo, cannot run for re-election after serving two terms. The field is therefore wide open, pitting Vice President Lai Tching-te, who will run for the DPP, and a candidate to be chosen for the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which is the political heir of General Chang Kai-shek, Mao's rival, and is more favorable to rapprochement with Beijing.
China has every interest in favoring a victory for the Kuomintang. The stakes: on one hand, appeasement with the Kuomintang; on the other hand, war with the DPP. Most Taiwanese are opposed to any rapprochement with China. But intense psychological warfare is to be expected from Beijing.
If, as expected, the DPP wins the elections, the situation may become dangerous, with the path to peace blocked — and the maneuvers of the last few days will have truly been dress rehearsals.