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After China’s military show, the options to win Taiwan are reduced

China’s 72 hour show missiles, warships and jet fighters that swarm in Taiwan was designed to create a firewall:

a fiery warning made for television against what beijing it sees as an increasingly stubborn challenge, backed by Washington, of its claims on the island.

“We maintain a high state of alert, ready for battle at all times, capable of fighting at any time,” Chinese navy captain Zu Guanghong said in a People’s Liberation Army video of the exercises, which were expected to end. on Sunday.

“We have the determination and ability to mount a painful direct attack on any invader who destroys the unification of the motherland and shows no mercy.”

People lined up near Taiwan's Hsinchu Military Air Base on Friday. Photo Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

People lined up near Taiwan’s Hsinchu Military Air Base on Friday. Photo Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

But even if China’s display of military might discourages other Western politicians from emulating the US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosiwho angered Beijing by visiting Taiwan, also dampens hopes of conquering the island through negotiations.

Beijing’s shock-and-awe tactics may deepen the skepticism in Taiwan that it can ever reach a peaceful settlement and enduring with the Chinese Communist Party, especially under Xi Jinping as their leader.

“Nothing is going to change after the military exercises; there will be one like this and then another,” said Li Wen-te, a 63-year-old retired fisherman in Liuqiu, an island off the southwestern coast of Taiwan, less than 10 kilometers from China’s launchers.

“They’re as stalker as ever,” he said, adding a Chinese saying, “digging deep in soft ground,” which means “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”

Celebrating National Day in Taipei, Taiwan, last year. Photo Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Celebrating National Day in Taipei, Taiwan, last year. Photo Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Xi has now shown he is willing to pull out a daunting military stick to try to push back what Beijing sees as a dangerous alliance of the Taiwanese opposition and US support.

Chinese military exercises in six zones around Taiwanwhich on Sunday included joint air and sea exercises to hone the capabilities of long range airstrikeThey allowed the army practice blocking of the island in the event of an invasion.

While the exercises were scheduled to end in Taiwan on Sunday, Taiwanese authorities were not sure they had taken place and the Chinese military did not explicitly state that they had been completed.

In the face of continuing pressure, the carrot policy that China has used to lure Taiwan into unification may carry even less weight.

During earlier eras of better relations, China welcomed investmentsagricultural products and artists from Taiwan.

A Taiwanese warplane landing at a base in Hualien, Taiwan, on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Photo Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times.

A Taiwanese warplane landing at a base in Hualien, Taiwan, on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Photo Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times.

The result can be a increased mutual mistrust which, some experts warn, could, at one extreme, lead Beijing and Washington to a total conflict.

“It’s not going to be a blowout tomorrow, but it raises the overall likelihood of crisis, conflict or even war with the Americans over Taiwan,” said Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister who previously worked as a diplomat in Beijing.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Communist Party, but Beijing maintains that it is historically and legally part of Chinese territory.

Chinese Nationalist forces that fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war also long claimed that the island was part of a great China who had ruled.

But since Taiwan emerged as a democracy in the 1990s, a growing number of its people see themselves as very different in values ​​and culture of the People’s Republic of China.

Members of the Taiwanese Coast Guard patrol near one of the areas where China was conducting its military exercises on Liuqiu Island on Saturday. Photo Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times.

Members of the Taiwanese Coast Guard patrol near one of the areas where China was conducting its military exercises on Liuqiu Island on Saturday. Photo Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times.

That political skepticism toward authoritarian China has persisted, and even deepened, as Taiwan’s economic ties to the mainland have expanded.

“The appeal of carrots in China’s Taiwan policy (economic incentives) has now fallen to its lowest point since the end of the Cold War,” said Wu Jieh-min, a political scientist at Academia Sinica, the leading academic academy. Taiwan research.

“The card you currently have is to increase military threats to Taiwan step by step and continue military preparations for the use of force,” he said, “until one day a large-scale military offensive on Taiwan turns into a favorable option”.

Since the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders have tried to persuade Taiwan to accept unification under a “one country, two systems” framework that promised autonomy in law, religion, economic policy and other areas as long as the island accepted Chinese sovereignty. . .

But in an increasingly democratic Taiwan, few see themselves as proud future Chinese citizens.

Support for Beijing’s proposals sank further after 2020, when China cracked down against Hong Kongeroding the freedoms promised to the former British colony in its own version of the framework.

Xi has continued to promise Taiwan a “one country, two systems” deal, and may again offer economic and political incentives to Taiwan, if he can influence the island’s presidential election in early 2024.

Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, is due to resign after her second term ends that year. And a possible successor to her Democratic Progressive Party, which rejects the “one China” principle and favors independencecan be more aggressive with Beijing.

In the years after that election, China’s leaders are likely to “want to show some substantive progress in Taiwan, not necessarily unification, but some results there,” said Wang Hsin-hsien, a professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei. studying Chinese politics.

“Xi Jinping is the type of man who gives back enmity with revenge and he returns kindness, but when he retaliates he returns twice as much.”

One puzzle hanging over Taiwan is whether Xi has a timetable in mind.

He has suggested that his view of the “rejuvenation“China’s transformation into a prosperous, powerful and comprehensive world power depends on unification with Taiwan.

Rejuvenation, he said, will be achieved by mid-century, which is why some see that moment as the outer limit of his ambitions in Taiwan.

“Now we have a fuse of 27 years which can be slow or fast,” said Rudd, the former Australian prime minister who is now president of the Asia Society, citing that mid-century date.

“The time to worry is in the early 2030s, because you are closer to the countdown zone to 2049, but you are also in Xi Jinping’s political life.”

In an agenda-setting speech on Taiwan policy in 2019, Xi reaffirmed that China hoped unify peacefully with Taiwan, but I wouldn’t rule out armed force.

He also asked to explore ways to update what a “one country, two systems” arrangement would look like for Taiwan, and the Chinese government assigned academics to the project.

Such plans, Xi said, “must fully consider the realities of Taiwan and also be conducive to a lasting order and stability in Taiwan after unification.

“I continue to believe that military capability is calibrated first and foremost today as deterrentsaid Willian Klein, a former US diplomat stationed in Beijing who now works for FGS Global, a consulting firm, referring to the China buildup.

“Their strategy is to narrow down the possible universe of outcomes to the point where their preferred outcome becomes reality.”

But the proposals that Chinese academics have put forward on Taiwan highlight the gulf between what Beijing seems to have in mind and what most Taiwanese might accept.

Chinese studies propose sending Chinese officials to maintain control in Taiwan, especially if Beijing gains control by force; others say that China should impose a national security law on Taiwan, like the one it imposed on Hong Kong in 2020, to punish opponents to the Chinese government.

“It must be recognized that ruling Taiwan will be much more difficult than Hong Kong, either in terms of geographic extent or political conditions,” wrote Zhou Yezhong, a leading law professor at Wuhan University, in a recent “Outline for the Unification of China,” which he co-authored with another scholar.

Taiwanese society, they wrote, must be “resignified” to embrace official Chinese values ​​and “fundamentally transform the political environment that has long been shaped by ideas of ‘Taiwan independence’.”

China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, said in a television interview last week that independence ideas had brainwashed to the people of Taiwan.

“I am sure that as long as they are re-educated, the Taiwanese public will become patriotic again,” he said in the interview shared on his embassy’s website.

“Not under threat, but through re-education.”

Surveys of Taiwanese show that few have an appetite for unification on China’s terms.

In the latest National Chengchi University opinion poll, 1.3% of respondents are in favor of unification as soon as possible and 5.1% want independence as soon as possible.

The rest mostly wanted some version of the ambiguous status quo.

“I appreciate our freedom of expression and I don’t want to be unified by China,” said Huang Chiu-hong, 47, who owns a shop that sells fried braided dough sticks, a local snack, in Liuqiu, the Taiwanese island.

He said he tried to see the People’s Liberation Army in action out of curiosity, but saw nothing in a pavilion overlooking the sea.

“It seems that some people are concerned,” he said.

“To me, it’s just a small episode in ordinary Taiwanese life.”

c.2022 The New York Times Company

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