“Battle” over Taiwan - peaceful and non-peaceful



China has responded to provocations by Taipei and the United States with the largest military exercises in the last year

According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, on May 23–24, the Eastern Combat Command Zone of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held joint military exercises around the island of Taiwan. The exercise took place in the Taiwan Strait, in areas north, south and east of Taiwan Island, as well as in areas around Kinmen, Mazu, Wuqiu and Dongyin islands.

Li Xi, spokesman for the PLA’s Eastern Combat Command Zone, said the exercise, called Joint Sharp Sword-2024A, involved members of the ground forces, navy, air force, and missile forces. According to Li Xi, the exercise practiced “joint patrolling by the Navy and Air Force, jointly establishing overwhelming control on the battlefield, and launching precision strikes against key targets”. He added that the exercise tested the actual combat capabilities of the PLA Eastern Area Combat Command’s armed forces to carry out joint military operations. In a vague statement, Li Xi pointed out the PRC’s reasons for this military activity, “The drills serve as a severe punishment for the separatist actions of forces seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and a stern warning against outside interference and provocations”.

The transcript is available in a statement by Chen Binhua, Director of the Information Bureau of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, which was published by Xinhua. He said the drills “will serve as a serious admonition after the provocative statements of the Taiwan region’s chief executive”.

The fact is that the Chinese show of force followed three days after the inauguration of the new Taiwanese chief of staff from the pro-US Democratic Progressive Party, Lai Ching-te, and exactly one month after the joint US-Philippine exercises in the South China Sea, which were joined by the Australian and even French navies. Earlier, responding to Lai’s inauguration speech, Beijing said Taipei’s independence and peace in the Taiwan Strait are incompatible. “No matter how the situation on the island changes, no matter who is in power, it will not change the fact that the lands on both sides of the strait belong to China alone”, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China reminded again.

As for the “strict warning against interference and provocations from outside”, as the PRC Defense Ministry spokesman said, this refers broadly to the policy of the US and its allies preventing Taiwan from returning “to the bosom of the motherland”, as well as military assistance to Taiwan. Specifically, it seems to refer to the planned visits of U.S. congressmen to the island to formally congratulate Lai Ching-te on his assumption of office and to discuss with the new chief of staff further strengthening of U.S.-Taiwan cooperation. The PRC is categorically opposed to Taipei’s official contacts with anyone, especially with the United States, and believes that such contacts should go through Beijing. And this is understandable, since legally Taiwan is a province of the PRC, which is officially recognized by Washington. Although in fact the Americans support separatist forces on the island and arm them.

Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said: “If US congressmen visit Taiwan, it will be a flagrant violation of the ‘one China’ principle and the provisions of the three joint Sino-US communiqués, interference in China’s internal affairs, it will also harm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China and send a serious false signal to the separatist forces advocating Taiwan’s independence”.

Officially, China traditionally does not disclose the number of troops and military equipment involved in the exercise. Taipei and Western experts estimate it was the PRC’s biggest show of force around Taiwan in the past year. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said on Friday that every provocation aimed at so-called “Taiwan independence” will trigger escalating opposition from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), up to complete reunification of the motherland.

There is nothing new here. Although the tone of the statements suggests that China, seeing the divisive actions of the opposing side, intends to intensify military pressure. In other words, military exercises and practicing various options for “returning Taiwan to the bosom of the Motherland” will be intensified in the wake of the provocations. According to the ancient Chinese military art, a war should be won without starting it by creating an overwhelming advantage and a hopeless situation for the enemy. That is to make such a suggestion that he cannot refuse.

In global terms, as military experts believe, it could be a blockade of the island at the first stage of the military scenario. Together with the cessation of trade with Taiwan, the volume of which last year, according to the main Chinese newspaper Zhenmin Zhibao, amounted to $267 billion (and according to other data, $320 billion), this could put the island in an extremely difficult situation. The Americans will be faced with the choice of whether to engage in a direct military clash with the world’s first or second largest economy and the largest nuclear power.

Beijing, of course, does not want such a scenario. But the PRC’s legislation enshrines military measures to influence Taiwan in case of declaring independence (which is what the ruling DPP is going for and what Washington is pushing for). For many years, the PRC hoped for peaceful reunification with the rebellious island, its gradual inclusion into its bosom through economic and humanitarian ties. It was about the Hong Kong version of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. Fujian Province bordering Taiwan (as well as other regions of the PRC) has done a lot for this purpose, playing a certain role of China’s showcase with its economic miracle, turned towards Taiwan. Chen Guoquan, deputy head of the Fujian Provincial Office of International Affairs, said in response to the author’s question that 80 percent of Taiwanese are natives of the province, and that kinship ties are still quite strong.

Because of this, more than 3 million people have already moved here from Taiwan, according to provincial authorities. The cities of the coastal zone, especially such as Xiamen and Quanzhou, have created just-so-perfect conditions for life and business. This is a comfortable housing, excellent roads and railroads, often pierced through the thickness of the mountains, excellent ecology, the highest standard of living, which, for example, in Xiamen reached the Taiwanese. Of course, the situation in this region is the most peaceful and there is nothing to indicate a possible storm.

Beijing would continue this policy, avoiding any sudden moves. But as we can see, this is prevented by Washington, using Taiwan as an element of containment of China, creating additional problems for its development. The PRC’s reaction is adequate. At the same time, the Chinese leadership considers the solution of the “Taiwan problem” to be of paramount importance.

At the official level and in private conversations, the Chinese reject any comparisons with Ukraine. But it is obvious that such analogies can be seen. There is a consensus in the American establishment about China, which is seen as the main threat to the American-centered world order.

So the “battle” over Taiwan — peaceful or non-peaceful — is still to come.