TAIWAN UNIFICATION & PLA MODERNISATION: GOALS TO WHAT END?

Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a mobilization order for the training of the armed forces for 2022 sparking off speculation about the fate of Taiwan, even as he addressed the nation on television hoping for reunification with Taiwan under his long-term vision to realize the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” 

The mobilisation of the armed forces is the first order of the new year by the Central Military Commission of which Xi is the chairman. There was a similar order last year as well as part of the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army forces.

The order says the entire rank and file of the armed forces are required to resolutely implement the plans and instructions of the Party leadership and the CMC, and accurately understand the changing landscape of national security and combat circumstances.

The armed forces must closely follow the evolution of technology, warfare and rivals, redouble their efforts to better combine training with combat operations, and strengthen systematic training and the use of technologies to develop an elite force that is capable of fighting and winning wars, the order reads.

Xi is focusing on military integration and modernization in the new year in the context of the growing American presence in the Indo-Pacific region in the form of the Quad and Aukus alliances and the assertion of the United States that it will not be a silent spectator to China’s aggression over Taiwan.

Analysts interpret this in terms of Chinese characteristics of the Xi era thus: “He is also reshaping Chinese identity by pivoting on the Chinese imperial past and bringing back Confucian wisdom in the mainstream narrative, even though the Communist Party has destroyed all that came before it in order to build a new China.”

The mobilisation of the forces along with sinicization of religion, reunification of Taiwan with the mainland and reinforcing Chinese domination over the politics and demographics of the Indo-Pacific and the South China Sea regions form the four corners of Xi’s eastern push.

The training of forces along with upgradation of military equipment is also seen in the geopolitical tensions Xi and his team might be feeling because of increase of American pressure in the Indo-Pacific. Military experts suggest China therefore requires to “outmatch the US military sooner rather than anticipated”.

That is probably why regular Chinese aggressive military exercises near Taiwanese airspace are aimed at both cautioning Taiwan as well as sending a signal to the US naval forces. The rivalry between the two papers continues unabated, increasing tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

The mobilisation order led to intense speculation about when China would be ready for its Taiwan campaign. There is no consensus on the subject other than the general agreement on two things. One, there will be no offensive in 2022 at least because Xi’s intention to stay on as party boss for a third term and perhaps for life will fructify at the 20th party congress this October. Only after that will he be able to consolidate his position and plan future operations.

Secondly, the PLA mobilisation for training and modernisation is not an overnight affair. It is the understanding of military experts that it will take till 2027 for the exercise to be completed. That year, incidentally, also marks the centenary of the formation of the PLA. Xi, theoretically, would have completed his fourth term the same year.

However, there is no indication whatsoever that Xi will not implement his “regional rejuvenation” plans before 2027. Newsweek the other day published an article that has gone viral, titled ‘Taiwan Could Be First Domino in Chinese Land Grab Across Asia’. Simultaneously, the Australian defence minister chose to make a statement along similar lines: “If Taiwan is taken, surely the Senkakus are next.” The message, at least in theory, being sent across is the possibility of one annexation leading to another till Chinese domination is complete.

Taiwan is one issue that is becoming a bipartisan matter in the United States with President Joe Biden and several Republican leaders echoing the same sentiments. Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn led the way saying that a hostile takeover of the democratic island—and its 23.5 million people—would be the first step in China’s quest for world supremacy.”

The current American policy towards China with reference to Taiwan applies to the “expansion of China’s territorial boundaries and its sphere of influence in the region and beyond”.

Cornyn told the US Senate in his address: “If China is able to capture Taiwan, there’s no reason to believe that the Chinese Communist Party would stop there. China also has territorial claims against the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and India. We shouldn’t view Taiwan as the CCP’s ultimate goal but as the first domino in a quest to reach regional and global dominance. If Taiwan falls, it will not be the end, but rather a beginning.”

It would be interesting to mention here that Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng was quoted as saying recently that “China was already capable of attacking Taiwan, but its ‘cost and attrition’ would be lowest after 2025.

The Newsweek article concluded saying: “In such a vision of the future, Southeast Asian nations, especially those whose maritime territorial claims overlap with China’s, would no longer believe in any realistic dispute settlement mechanism. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations could also kiss goodbye any hopes of drawing up a fair and effective code of conduct for the South China Sea. But the question of whether Asia “turns red” is one not only of China’s overwhelming capabilities, but the CCP’s ambitions, too.”

An editorial in the Chinese state media organ, Global Times, reads as a suitable counter: “The Taiwan question is the ultimate red line of China. In order to reduce the risk of a strategic collision between China and the US, the latter must take a step back from the Taiwan question and show its restraint.”

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