Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

Analysis | Taïwan&nbsp ;: Chinese moderation, but for how long?

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Taiwan on Wednesday recorded the highest number of Chinese People's Liberation Army planes to circle the island in three weeks, but China has not really increased military pressure. Pictured is the Taiwan Strait as seen from Pingtan Island, Fujian Province, China.

  • Philippe Leblanc (View profile)Philippe Leblanc

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The disaster scenario predicted by some did not occur. The election of a new Taiwanese president in favor of the status quo and the sovereignty of the island has not really triggered China's fury.

Yes, Taiwan on Wednesday recorded the highest number of Chinese People's Liberation Army planes circling the island in three weeks (24 aircraft), but China hasn't really stepped up the military pressure. These military movements are far from the peaks recorded in the last year, more than 100 in a single day last September.

For the moment, China appears to be limiting itself to its usual coercion: economic pressure (on Taiwan and its official diplomatic allies in order to isolate the island) and warnings against any country that asserts its support for Taiwan. Communist China has never ruled the sovereign island, but it considers it part of its territory.

And it's there “We see that China is taking a relatively calm stance regarding this election result, says Amanda Hsiao, chief China analyst at International Crisis Group.

They say it doesn't matter for their long-term goals of achieving unification and, therefore, perhaps they are creating a bit of ;space for their response in the coming weeks and months to be less provocative and less excessive.

A quote from Amanda Hsiao, International Crisis Group's chief China analyst

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to journalists present at the Summit from Davos earlier this week that he believes Beijing has alienated itself from possible support in the region due to intense pressure on Taiwan in recent years.

China must make decisions about what it will and will not do. However, I think that the approach they have shown in recent years has, in reality, been completely counterproductive to their interests. By trying to put pressure on Taiwan – economic pressure, military pressure, diplomatic pressure, isolation – it only strengthened the minds of many people against their cause, people that Beijing wanted to keep for his part, Mr. Blinken said.

For its part, the United States congratulated Taiwan's president-elect, Lai Ching-te. But Joe Biden also immediately reiterated his support for the one-China policy, while again speaking out against the independence of Taiwan. A message, confusing for some, which aims to calm any angry reaction from China.

After all, Washington and Beijing have been trying to manage their tensions and competition for several months, some experts point out. They reopened, among other things, the interrupted military communications channel in 2022.

But it really depends on the dynamics of relations between the United States and China, the extent to which Beijing wants to intensify or ease pressure, believes Brian Hioe, editor-in-chief of the magazine New Bloomin Taiwan. And so, it's not always just about Taiwan, but also the current status of negotiations or exchanges in the dynamic between the United States and China.

The US election campaign adds to the climate of uncertainty in China-US-Taiwan relations and would prompt Beijing to be cautious at this time, adds Brian Hioe.

We don't know if there will be another term for Donald Trump. There will be a lot of instability and uncertainty about the future direction of American politics. But when it comes to this overall relationship, the United States has emphasized its confidence in Taiwan's democratic institutions, while emphasizing continued support.

A quote from Brian Hioe, editor-in-chief of New Bloom magazine in Taiwan

This American support, regardless of who obtains the keys to the White House next November, remains crucial for Taiwan, which has adopted the porcupine military strategy, that is, deterrence against any Chinese attack or attempt. The vast majority of experts do not expect such attempts until at least 2027, and probably later.

In this spirit of deterrence, the acceleration of military spending over the past five years, the production of weapons and vehicles manufactured in Taiwan as well as the purchase of American weapons has been at the heart of the priorities of the DPP government in Taiwan. since 2016, even if the deliveries promised by the Americans are seriously delayed.

Under the proposed 2024 budget, Taiwan will invest the equivalent of nearly C$26 billion on defense, a record amount. This is the equivalent of 2.5% of GDP. The United States wants to see this proportion rise to 5%. Taiwan's president-elect wants to continue accelerating military spending.

On the other hand, Taiwan's Legislative Assembly is divided after last Saturday's vote and the opposition KMT party will hold the largest number of seats when the next government takes office on May 20. This could influence Taiwan's strategy.

In an interview with German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou [from 2008 to 2016], of the KMT, who retains significant influence within the party, called for a reduction of the military budget to ease tensions with China. It's quite worrying, actually. If this type of rhetoric becomes increasingly common within the KMT, it could be dangerous. And I think that this could eventually lead to attempts to reduce the military budget or at least to stabilize it, specifies Brian Hioe.

The next few months, between now and the swearing-in of Taiwan's new government, will therefore be crucial for behind-the-scenes games and possible alliances.

The date of the swearing-in of President-elect Lai Ching-te, May 20, is one to watch, according to Amanda Hsiao. China's aggressive military pressure may well resume at that point.

This will be an opportunity for Lai to define his approach to relations across the Taiwan Strait and thus define what will happen over the next four years. It's not just a matter of the specific words he will use, and it's worth noting here that it is highly unlikely Lai will say the words Beijing wants him to say. It’s also a question of more general tone. In response, Beijing may step up pressure after the speech, because at that point they will be able to point to this speech and claim that, once again, Lai has failed to meet their policy demands.

The less visible pressure is also likely to increase. An article by a Chinese researcher published after the results of the Taiwanese presidential election recommended redoubled efforts to influence and make the younger generation more receptive to the Chinese dream of taking control of Taiwan.

These efforts could well be in vain, according to a study published Tuesday by the Pew Research Center in the United States. Just 1% of Taiwanese aged 18 to 34 responded that they consider themselves Chinese, while 83% say they are Taiwanese. Nearly 15% identify as Taiwanese and Chinese.

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