by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: VOA
WITH THE announcement that the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will take place in mid-October, speculation runs high about what this will mean for Taiwan. In general, what is expected is that Chinese president Xi Jinping will consolidate his power, as observed in the fact that Xi seems to face few challengers at present if at all and that in recent public ceremonies, Xi is increasingly referred to as “lingxiu” in state-run media. Speculation runs high, however, regarding potential successors to Xi or Xi’s unwillingness to name successors, as well as Xi’s influence over the Chinese military.
What is feared by some, however, is that following the consolidation of his power at the 19th Congress, that Xi will move next towards putting the screws on Taiwan. Xi came into power vowing to achieve the unification of Taiwan and China, a goal which Xi presently claims he will achieve by the 2020s. In truth, despite speculation that Xi is making moves to make armed invasion of Taiwan more possible, China appears to be far from ready to launch an immediate invasion of Taiwan at present given the disruption this would have to the Chinese economy and questions of whether the CCP could survive the crisis legitimacy which would come from Chinese loss of life following an invasion of Taiwan, China not having fought a war outside its borders for decades.
Yet is also possible that China will take actions following the 19th National Congress to increase pressure on Taiwan. China is notably moving towards an increasingly hardline strategy in Hong Kong to suppress political dissent, with the imprisonment of young political dissidents as Umbrella Movement activists. Seeing as China tends to view Hong Kong and Taiwan within the same frame and attempts to adopt uniform policy towards both aimed at curbing what it views as “separatist” forces, despite its lack of political control over Taiwan at present, China may step up repressive measures directed at Taiwan.
Nevertheless, one wonders what this will consist of. With cross-strait relations having deteriorated to a low point under the Tsai administration due to Tsai Ing-Wen’s refusal to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus, including drops in Chinese tourist numbers and threats to cut the number of Chinese students in Taiwan, one speculates as to what further measures China can take. China no doubt will continue with efforts to depict the Taiwanese economy as wholly dependent and parasitic on the munificence of the larger Chinese economy.
The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the meeting is set to take place. Photo credit: Thomas.fanghaenel/WikiCommons/CC
But China has in the past stuck to the same tropes regarding tourism, Chinese students, and the like regarding the dependency of the Taiwanese economy on it and if it wishes to continue to threaten Taiwan, it will need to think of new grounds upon which to threaten Taiwan economically. China cannot actually separate its own economy from Taiwan where it comes to industries themselves crucial for the Chinese economy and so this may take the form of boycotts of substitutable Taiwanese consumables, as we saw with boycotts against South Korean substitutable consumables in anger regarding South Korea’s deployment of the THAAD antimissile system.
Otherwise, China may increase attempts at the military intimidation of Taiwan, such as through Chinese fighter planes flying close to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone or naval patrols that enter into sea waters disputed between Taiwan and China. Obviously, a crucial flash point with regard to the latter would be South China Seas islands disputed between Taiwan, China, and other Asia Pacific countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. However, while the possibility for conflict breaking out through such actions exists, one expects this to generally remain at the level of intimidation only.
Overall, one generally expects China’s hard tack against Taiwan to continue through attempts at intimidation both economically and militarily. One does not expect China to turn around and try to win Taiwan over through adopting a velvet glove rather than an iron first approach through, for example, diplomatic overtures aimed at covertly ensnaring the Tsai administration or attempts to co-opt elements of the DPP. Indeed, if China had taken such approaches at the start of the Tsai administration, it would probably have more options open to it at present with regards to its Taiwan question, but China can hardly reverse course now. We see that quite clearly in the Lee Ming-Che case.
This will also likely be a foregone conclusion of the 19th Congress. We will see as to China’s future actions directed against Taiwan, then.