Last weekend, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi embarked on her much-anticipated trip to Asia. A Chinese nationalist Tweeter calling on the People’s Liberation Army to shoot down Pelosi’s plane if it flew to Taiwan, people wondered if World War III was about to happen.
Such a reaction was overdone, but without a doubt, Chinese strongman Xi Jinping is determined to take control of Taiwan. However, he is unlikely to do so at the moment, due to domestic difficulties.
Xi’s National Challenges
There is a lot of speculation regarding Xi’s plans to invade Taiwan. From a military point of view, Xi is well prepared. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has the the largest navy in the worldmeasured by fleet size, including a recently launched third aircraft carrier. Since 2020, the PLA has sent thousands of military aircraft in the Taiwan Air Defense Zone. In addition, the PLA conducted several military eexercises near Taiwan, amounting to rehearsals of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan.
Besides preparing for war, the Chinese government has stepped up its aggressive rhetoric over the past year. At an international security conference in Singapore last June, Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe warned: If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will certainly not hesitate. to start a war, whatever the cost. Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang reiterated a similar stand during his fireside chat at the Aspen Security Forum last month.
Xi has the political will and military might to invade Taiwan, but his most pressing task right now is to ensure he gets a third term as China’s leader at the 20th Party Congress in autumn. If Xi wins a third term, his rule would contradict the two-term limit enshrined in China’s constitution by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.
Although Xi faces no apparent challenger, he is unlikely to involve China in any significant military conflict ahead of a major political maneuver. Some to predict that after securing his third term, Xi will be back with a vengeance. He is more likely to invade Taiwan once he has unchallenged authority and the full power of the Chinese state behind him.
China’s current economic challenges could also have deterred Xi from attacking Taiwan. China’s economic growth has fallen to 0.4% in the second quarter of this year, caused by the government’s harsh zero-Covid policy which kept millions of people and businesses under strict lockdown measures.
For Xi, invading Taiwan amid this growing socio-economic instability at home is reckless. He is assertive and determined but not crazy. Suppose Pelosi visits Taiwan. Xi has many options to respond without starting a war with Taiwan or the United States. Xi may send more fighter jets to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, send a Chinese aircraft carrier across the Taiwan Strait, and launch military exercises. Just at the right time, as Pelosi began her journey in Asia, the PLA led live fire exercises near the coast of Taiwan and even posted videos of missile strikes.
Such actions will allow Beijing to live up to its bullying promises and allow Chinese leaders to save face on the international stage by displaying their displeasure when Xi has other more pressing issues to deal with.
Why is the CCP obsessed with Taiwan?
That Taiwan is safe for now does not mean it will be for long.
The Chinese Communist Party’s obsession with taking control of Taiwan has been driven by political, national security and economic factors. The separation between the mainland and Taiwan was the legacy of the Chinese Civil War, fought between the ruling Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
After losing the Civil War, the Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan, taking the government of the Republic of China with it. The CCP views a separate government in Taiwan as a threat to the legitimacy of the Communist Party. Taiwan’s flourishing democracy today has also exposed the CCP’s lie that democracy is incompatible with Chinese people and culture.
Taiwan, like a mirror, constantly reflects the flaws of mainland China’s one-party political system. The CCP does not want mainland Chinese to take inspiration from Taiwan and demand political reform in China. Therefore, the CCP sees Taiwan as a threat to be eliminated.
From a geopolitical perspective, the CCP views Taiwan’s strategic position in the South China Sea and the islands’ close ties with the United States as a security threat. Taking control of Taiwan will allow China to pretend that the Taiwan Strait is no longer international water and thus prevent the US Navy from crossing it. This would ward off an alleged security threat from the Chinese mainland.
Control of Taiwan will also allow Beijing to absorb Taiwan’s economy, which is the world’s largest. 21st tallest, and in particular, boosting China’s struggling semiconductor industry. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), a major supplier to technology companies including Apple, represented more than half chip sales worldwide last year. TSMC is dominant in making the world’s most advanced chips, an area where Chinese chipmakers still lag despite receiving billions in government subsidies under the “Made-in-China 2025” industry plan. .
To compound the growing pains of Chinese chipmakers, the former Trump administration blacklisted If China controls TSMC, it will not only eliminate China’s semiconductor industry’s dependence on the United States overnight, but also allow China to retaliate against the United States to prevent it. US technology companies to access the chips they need from TSMC.
Besides economic, political and security reasons, Xi also has personal reasons. It is inspired by the great emperors of Chinese history who were immortalized for their territorial conquests. Integrating Taiwan into China is part of Xi’s “Chinese dream”. He considers it both his destiny and his legacy to do so. But he will only do so when the timing and conditions guarantee him a quick and decisive victory.
Although Xi is not likely to attack Taiwan at this time, the United States does not have the luxury of time. Therefore, it is deeply concerning that the Biden administration, distracted by its awakening agenda and the Russian-Ukrainian war, has not come up with an effective strategy to deter Xi from invading Taiwan. Without US support, Taiwan’s 22 million people could lose their freedom sooner than previously thought.
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