Speculation rife as to whether Xi aims to ‘recapture’ Taiwan
As cross-strait relations deteriorate, China's strongman leader may be tempted to make China's reunification by military force part of his legacy
Over the last year or so, Beijing has apparently ratcheted up its military muscle-flexing in response to Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen’s seeming disregard for the “1992 consensus,” an oral understanding that both sides belong to “one China.”
The mutual cross-strait rapport enjoyed during Ma Ying-jeou’s time in office in Taipei is long gone, and in its place has emerged a growing inquietude on the island about the possibility of a military showdown.
Such fretfulness was on open display during the Chinese aircraft carrier the Liaoning’s passage across the Taiwan strait earlier this year, and whenever the People’s Liberation Army’s H-6K jet bombers traverse the island’s air defense zone, as they do at will.
Discussions about when and under what circumstances Beijing will attempt a decapitation strike or even embark on an all-out war to reclaim the island have been renewed by think tanks and opinion leaders.
Peter Enav, a former Taiwan bureau chief for the Associated Press, recently told the Taipei-based Central Daily News that a war could happen as soon as the second half of 2018.
Meanwhile, Yazhou Zhoukan (literally Asia Weekly) has also warned that those who entertain the idea that Xi will tolerate the idea of separatism may soon be surprised at his resoluteness.
Yazhou Zhoukan has warned that those who entertain the idea that Xi will tolerate the idea of separatism may soon be surprised at his resoluteness
Other analysts look ahead to a three-to-four year timespan that could be decisive for cross-strait relations, with a chain of landmark events taking place one after the other on both sides: polls in 2018 to elect mayors and local lawmakers in Taiwan; the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2019; Taiwan’s presidential election in 2020; and the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party in July 2021.
Observers say Xi, who has emerged as a strongman leader after amassing almost unlimited powers, has shown far less hesitation than his predecessors to browbeat Taiwan. He may therefore feel emboldened to aim for reunification as part of his legacy when he stands down in five years’ time. Equally, if he decides to cling to power after 2022, taking back Taiwan might lend him the justification to do so.
In a surprising turn, Tsai softened her stance soon after the conclusion of the 19th Communist Party Congress earlier this week. She said both sides should explore new ways to guarantee peace and eradicate any hostility or threat, hinting that mainlanders and Taiwanese are of the same family.
Her dovish remarks have made some wonder if she will seek to meet Xi in person to thaw the ice, as her predecessor did in November 2015.
UPDATE: (0910 GMT, from Reuters)
China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday called on the United States not to allow Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to transit through its territories.
Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made the comment at a daily news briefing in Beijing, adding that China had made stern representations to the US over the matter.
Taiwan said on Friday Tsai would travel to three Pacific island allies next week, transiting through Hawaii and Guam.