Chinese President Xi Jinping may not have been able to stop Nancy Pelosi from visiting Taiwan, but he has ordered his country’s military to take a much more aggressive step, according to security experts: a blockade vital to seizing Taiwan by force.
China’s military planners have long discussed a blockade of Taiwan, but until now they likely viewed the exercise of such a move as too provocative, experts say, according to Reuters.
But after President Pelosi’s visit, China’s military fired missiles over Taipei for the first time, flew a large number of drones over Taiwan’s offshore islands, sailed warships along the middle line of the Taiwan Strait and surrounded the self-ruled island in what Taiwan’s military said amounted to a “blockade” practice.
“These early actions actually changed Taiwan’s security status quo,” said Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“This gives China’s military a new base from which to push more limits in future exercises,” he said.
The show of prowess and resolve comes from a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that is far more formidable than it was during the “third Taiwan Strait crisis” in 1996, the last time it fired missiles near Taiwan.
The ability to impose a blockade would give Beijing the ability to bring Taiwan to the negotiating table during a conflict.
If Taiwan, unwilling to suffer large-scale death and destruction, bloodlessly accepted unification, Xi would secure the biggest prize in his long-term goal of “rejuvenating the Chinese people.”
Although Taiwan’s public, weary of Beijing’s threats for decades, appeared unfazed, some observers said its military leaders may be worried.
Michael Chang, who managed Taiwan’s 1996 missile crisis when he was secretary general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, told local media that the high schools could be a preview of a Chinese invasion scenario.
The United States and its allies, such as Japan, condemned the exercises. But because they did not want to escalate the situation, they did not immediately intervene to stop the blockade rehearsal.
A former Chinese defense official told Reuters that their reaction was little comfort to Taiwan’s political and military leaders.
“Seeing how the US and its allies have reacted to the high schools, how confident can Taiwan’s leaders be that they will rely on them to come to their rescue in the event of an attack by China?” he said.
Exercises are being completed today as scheduled.
A “wicked” situation
The episode comes at a sensitive time for Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
Mao founded the People’s Republic of China by winning a civil war in 1949, forcing the Nationalist Kuomintang government to retreat to Taiwan, which has been self-governing ever since.
Bringing Taiwan into Beijing’s arms is the key piece of the puzzle that will bring Xi’s stature alongside Mao’s and justify his move in 2018 to abandon term limits.
Despite widespread dismay at the zero-covid policy that has plunged the country into a third year of self-imposed isolation and battered the world’s second-largest economy, Xi is expected to secure an unprecedented third five-year term at the helm at a major Communist Party congress this year.
At home, Beijing must balance the furor it caused over Pelosi’s visit with its embarrassment at not preventing it, observers said.
State media highlighted the exercises with videos and comments extolling China’s advanced military capabilities.
Former Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said the hype is partly an effort to save face for Xi, who cannot afford to appear weak ahead of the party congress.
“The hard and indisputable fact is that despite all the bluster, China has failed to prevent Pelosi’s visit. So the CCP must put on a show in its response,” he said.
Zero margin of failure
Although China may have moved one step closer to using force on Taiwan, most experts do not believe war is imminent.
“An invasion within this decade is far from certain to succeed. Failure would mean the end of Xi Jinping, his dream and possibly the end of the CCP,” said Charles Parton, a retired British diplomat.
Xi, who has not spoken publicly about Pelosi’s visit but as chairman of the Central Military Commission is effectively the commander-in-chief of China’s military, is well aware of the risks of the move, experts say.
“China would hope that these high schools could somehow stop the worrying trend of the US, Europe and many other countries becoming more sympathetic to Taiwan,” Li said. “So far, that outcome remains to be seen.”