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Intel Brief on China’s Military Exercises in the Taiwan Strait

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Date: 01/09/2023


Who’s involved:

  • Republic of China (Taiwan), Biden Administration, China People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Communist Party of China.





What happened?

  • On 30/08/2023, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported several PLA fighter aircraft and naval patrol ships crossing the Strait Median Line between Taiwan and China. Tensions have risen in recent months as incursions violating Taiwanese airspace have picked up since the beginning of August 2023.


  • On 30/08/2023, the Biden administration approved $80 billion in military assistance to Taiwan under a program that grants assistance to independent, sovereign states. Since Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign state under the US, this reflects a change of policy. The State Department has utilized the funds to improve Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities against China’s emerging military capabilities. China’s Foreign Ministry strongly objected to the further sales of arms to Taiwan and remains firmly opposed to “factors that could lead to tensions in the Taiwan Strait”.


  • On 19/08/2023, Beijing launched extensive military drills following Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te’s visits to New York and San Francisco for meetings with top US political leaders. He is the frontrunner in the presidential race scheduled in January 2024. China is opposed to Lai because he suggested he was working for Taiwan’s Independence, though he has moderated his comments during the campaign to maintain the status quo. The People’s Liberation Army warned that the drills were a response to “Taiwan’s independence’ forces colluding with external forces”.


Analysis


  • The military assistance for Taiwan is part of the Biden administration’s strategy to re-arm Taiwan and deter Beijing’s intimidation and military exercises. The strategy is primarily viewed in military terms; to bolster Taiwan’s military capabilities and prepare against an invasion of the island by the PLA. The Biden administration scored a diplomatic win for regional security in East Asia by nudging US allies Japan and South Korea to establish closer security ties after years of frosty relations. While this might prove to deter the PLA from a invasion of the island, China could feel threatened by encirclement.


  • Beijing’s military threats toward the island are intended to put pressure on Taiwan’s public to reject Taiwan’s pro-independence political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the coming presidential January 2024 election. Xi Jinping’s refusal to rule out lethal force in its dealings with Taiwan raises fears of an attempt to invade the island. While analysts do not believe that China’s military, navy and air capabilities are sufficient for a direct confrontation, accidents can happen. With the mutual hostility between the US and China, crises in the Taiwan Straits will require extensive restraint on both sides. The polls show that the DPP candidate, Lai Ching-te is far ahead, but faces a challenge from the Kuomintang party and a third party candidate started.


  • Taiwan’s relationship with China is a major political issue in the upcoming presidential election in January 2024. The Democratic People’s Party is running a new candidate, Lai Ching-te who is seeking closer ties to the US, though he has softened his stance on outright independence for Taiwan. The Kuomintang candidate meets with Chinese Communist Party officials and argues that a more moderate approach toward China can cool down tensions. Voters are broadly in support of maintaining the ‘status quo’.


Conclusion


The lack of trust between the US and China is threatening democratic Taiwan’s future security. Both sides accuse each other of breaking the status quo established in 1992 to keep Taiwan under the sovereignty of Beijing, while the US could unofficially maintain relations with Taiwan. The Communist Party of China under Xi Jinping has repeatedly made statements that it would not reject the use of force to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation” by 2049. With Xi’s accession to an unprecedented third term in October 2022, he has surrounded himself with loyalists who are less likely to object to policy catastrophes, such as an invasion of Taiwan. Tensions are rising and the outbreak of conflict would be catastrophic for the region, threatening the lives of millions.


 

Intel Brief_ China’s Military Exercises into Taiwan’s Airspace
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