China’s pursuit for Taiwan reunification grows larger with every passing day. At the start of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) the Chinese leader President Xi Jinping stated that China will not renounce the use of force to reunite Taiwan, while the island nation responded saying that it will never compromise on the values of sovereignty, democracy, and freedom. Whatever the end results, it is clear that Taiwan is one of the key issues for the CPC as well as for Xi Jinping, and they will do something about it sooner than later. At the same time, recent developments have reaffirmed Taipei’s resolve that it will not accept any unilateral decision set by China about its independence.
Delivering his opening remarks from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi Jinping warned that China reserved “the option of taking all measures necessary” when it came to denying Taiwanese independence and pushing through unification. He also spoke of making China a “great modern socialist country” that represents a “new choice” in global politics — a gesture to the geopolitical rupture between China and the West that has started to define Xi’s time in power. At the same time, Tien Chung-Kwang, the Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister, reiterated Taiwan’s sovereignty, and said that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are the responsibility of the two sides and it must always be taken care of. Describing the support of international organizations, Tien mentioned that EU’s support for Taiwan has become increasingly clear in recent years. After the visit of the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island, China’s rhetoric has increased to an unprecedented level, visible by its increased military exercises in the Strait.
It is ironic that despite increased interest in the international community regarding Taiwan, there is continued reluctance to challenge Beijing directly. Combined with China’s financial and political clout in major international organizations, this increases the reluctance to even consider Taiwan’s case, as it was witnessed most recently when the head of Interpol, Jurgen Stock, stated that the agency could not grant Taiwan observer status at its General Assembly, as the international criminal police organization only recognises the People’s Republic of China and not Taiwan as the sole representative of China. This is not the only international body which has denied Taiwan an observer status. Earlier this year, Taiwan had requested to participate as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization. However, the island nation was excluded from the conference for the sixth straight year in 2022 as the Chinese government has been blocking Taiwan’s representation. At the same time, Taiwan Strait tensions are at their highest in decades, as China attempts to get Taipei to acquiesce to Xi Jinping.
As seen above, Taiwan remains a core concern for Xi, who has also made it clear that the PRC intends to deal with the question in his next term in office. Analysts believe Xi, who has previously yoked his legitimacy to unification with Taiwan, is bent on realizing this vision. While in the past Chinese leaders spoke about unification as something to be achieved in the long run, these days it is the number one priority on the agenda. The war in Ukraine has only sharpened tensions over Taiwan. Xi has shown support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, while also ratcheting up pressure on Taiwan with rhetoric and greater military encroachments. Projecting greater confidence and military force makes sense for a nationalist regime that has invested hugely in its military.
Last June the Chinese leader signed a directive allowing ‘non-war’ uses of the military, prompting fears that China may be gearing up to invade Taiwan under the guise of a “special operation” not classified as war, just as Russia has done in the case of Ukraine, with a ‘special military operation’. Xi Jinping signed an order that systematically regulates basic principles, organization and command, types of operations, operational support, and political work, and their implementation by the troops, something that according to news agency Xinhua provides a legal basis for non-war military operation. Among the six-chapter document’s stated aims there are “maintaining national sovereignty … regional stability and regulating the organization and implementation of non-war military operations.” In trying to explain how the PRC armed forces could maintain national sovereignty, the Chinese state mouth-piece Global Times noted that carrying out such operations overseas, “in some cases” Chinese troops can prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China. Furthermore, such military operations will help the PLA secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects, and personnel.
The outlines are supposed to standardize and provide the legal basis for Chinese troops to carry out missions like disaster-relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests. The outlines aim to prevent and neutralize risks and challenges, handle emergencies, protect people and property, and safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and world peace and regional stability. Prima facie this set of principles suggests diversification of the PLA’s operational duties to non-traditional areas of security, apart from its regular duties of fighting a war. However, this does not in any way reduce the possibility of the no-war doctrine being used to invade Taiwan by virtue of non-traditional means, including cyber security and psychological means.