Peoples Liberation Army fighters are increasingly showing themselves in the skies around Taiwan, the waters around the de facto independent island are the scene for the Chinese Navy. Economic pressure is also being stepped up slowly, most recently with a Taiwanese pineapple ban. What the next step from Beijing towards Taiwan will look like is uncertain. Clearly, Beijing is starting to get impatient.
Until the early 1990s, the propaganda telephone in Xiamen was used, according to China, the worlds largest, to transfer propaganda messages to the Taiwanese. The Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Islands are visible to the naked eye. Now the volume knob is turned down and the speaker only serves as a museum piece: Beijing is using heavier means to make its intentions clear to the Taiwanese. In April alone, at least a hundred Chinese military aircraft flew into the Taiwanese air defense zone. Aircraft carrier the Liaoning, accompanied by five escort ships, recently performed exercises in the waters around Taiwan.
Exprescities that, according to Beijing, will take place in the future on a regular basis to safeguard sovereignty. “Taiwan is our province, and must be liberated,” says a retired visitor to a memorial park on the Daddengeiland, the place for the last great convulsion in the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s. The nationalists of the Kuomintang fought against the Communists, but stood up at Kinmen. “When Taiwan declares independence, our troops will immediately take action,” the pensionado waves his finger.
Threat more tangible
The threat of such an armed conflict around Taiwan has been around for decades. But for a long time it wasnt as tangible as it is now. “The danger is clearly present,” says Robert Blackwill, associated with the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think there is little chance that China will use violence against Taiwan in the foreseeable future, but you cant be absolutely sure of that,” said Blackwill. He worked out multiple scenarios for such military intervention. An occupation of several islands claimed by Taiwan, the pinch of the supply routes to Taiwan by sea or, in the extreme case, a complete invasion.
“ A Chinese occupation of the Pratas Islands could theoretically intimidate Taiwan,” says Philip Zelikow, who co-wrote the scenarios. “But it is more likely that in such a case all alarm bells will go off. Both in Taiwan and far beyond.” In the second scenario, China would play police officer at sea. “That way, it could, for example, stop arms deliveries,” says Zelikow. “One could say: this ship must dock on the Chinese mainland, where the cargo must then pass through customs.”
The pineapple farmers themselves think differently about the struggle between China and Taiwan:
Pineapple farmers and traders are mainly based in the middle and south of Taiwan, a region predominantly voting for independent democrats. “There is no one in Beijing who thinks Taiwan will admit when pineapples are no longer allowed on mainland China,” says Professor Chen Xiancai, asked if the pineapple ban is an attempt to intimidate President Tsai ing-Wens constituents. Chen studies Taiwan and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) from the Chinese port city of Xiamen, where he leads the Taiwan Research Institute. “At the same time, we must note that the relationship is not good at the moment. If you do, you might be able to tolerate it more easily if problems occur.”
Through an orchestrated campaign, Taiwan managed to largely undo its losses to the pineapple industry. Countries such as Australia, Japan and Singapore also bought additional Taiwanese pineapples. “Taiwan has turned the tide rapidly,” notes Taiwanese expert Gerrit van der Wees of the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs about the pineapple fight. He expects China to continue to adhere to a strategy in which Taiwan will, on the one hand, try to move more economically towards itself, the military base on the other.
Although China has shown itself more emphatically in recent months, Professor Chen thinks that a complete invasion is still far away. “The relationship has not been as bad in recent decades as it is now,” says Chen, also advisor to the Chinese government. American top admiral Philip Davidson recently warned in the Senate that such a complete invasion could take place “in six years”. “The reason why the party summit has not yet begun violence is because the Taiwanese people are ultimately concerned with Chinese compatriots,” says Chen. “The price is too high, many people will die.” It is not unthinkable that the Americans Taiwan in such an invasionhelp would shoot.
Party boss Xi Jinping said he didnt want to push the Taiwan problem to a next generation and never wanted to rule out reunification by force. “Something many Chinese would like to see on Internet forums,” says Chen. The fact that things are looked at differently in Taiwan does not bother them. Most of the population on the island considers themselves Taiwanese, and prefers to stick to the current de facto independence. Chen, which by no means deviates from official government positions: “public opinion in Taiwan has been influenced by Taiwanese media, which depict the Chinese mainland badly.”
Beijing puts pressure on
The best defense for Taiwan is perhaps the mutual dependence. The island is dependent on China for economic growth, but vice versa it is equally true: the highly developed chip industry in Taiwan is the coronavirus artery of Chinese tech companies. “Thats why I think they would cut themselves pretty deep into the flesh if China did something more substantial than what is already happening in the ADIZ,” says Taiwanese connoisseur Van der Wees, referring to the Taiwanese air defense zone. “No matter how you turn it, China depends on Taiwan and Taiwanese companies that produce in China.”
It is clear, however, that Beijing is trying to increase pressure to force Taiwanese President Tsai ing-Wen through a strategy of coercion and intimidation. “We have been waiting for peaceful reunification for 70 years,” the Chinese Taiwanprof Chen refers to the moment when the Communists founded the Peoples Republic of China. “If you do not want war, but a peaceful solution is unrealistic, you will have to sit somewhere between those two scenarios.” Tsai, who was re-elected for four years at the beginning of last year, is holding firm firm and hopes to make Taiwan a more full member of the international community.
When The Economist put Taiwan on the front page last week as “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth,” Tsai wrote in a comment on her Facebook page that the Chinese military expansion drift in the region is against Chinas self-proclaimed “peaceful turnout,” said Taiwanese president. “Taiwan is on the front line of democracy. As long as the Taiwanese people remain united, we can face the challenges of authoritarian expansion,” she further stated. “We will not bow to pressure.”