KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – Double Ten Day is fast approaching and around the globe, Taiwan’s representative offices and expat communities are celebrating the 110th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of China.
Meanwhile, communist China seems intent on escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait. The number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft, including nuclear-capable bombers, which are flying across the southwest corner of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) increased significantly over the past week.
This increase has seen cross-strait rhetoric being ramped up, too. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) even went so far as to say Taiwan is "very concerned that China is going to launch a war against Taiwan at some point."
Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) vowed that Taiwan will "do whatever it takes" to defend itself against China as it menaces the country with a record number of warplane incursions.
Even foreign politicians are chipping in. Former White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has spoken of 2022 being “a critical period” for Taiwan, while U.S. President Joe Biden said China will abide by the "Taiwan agreement," by which he presumably means the "one China" status quo.
To consider how serious and imminent the threat is, we do have to put the current escalation and provocation from China into context. It would not be the first time that China has chosen to make a show of force and increase hostilities around Double Ten Day.
We have also had the recent announcement of the AUKUS agreement, which would see the U.S., and U.K. help Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines. That is specifically targeted at maintaining peace in this region and few are in any doubt that it is aimed squarely at China.
On top of that, we have recently seen joint U.S., U.K, and Japanese naval exercises off Okinawa. Also, the British government has exercised its right to freedom of navigation in international waters by sailing the Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond through the Taiwan Strait.
These were all activities likely to trigger a reaction from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and that is exactly what we are seeing. Even so, does this latest escalation mean that invasion is closer?
Closer than close
While we can never rule anything out with an unstable authoritarian regime like the CCP, it still seems highly unlikely at the moment. Any invasion of Taiwan, even if it were successful, would come at a huge price.
The PLA has millions of soldiers and lots of equipment, but its troops are not trained well enough to use much of it. They are also not well-paid and morale within the PLA is believed to be low.
An invasion of Taiwan would come with a huge casualty rate, even if it were successful, and this would not play well within the ranks, or with a domestic audience back in China. An invasion would also likely result in significant economic sanctions and other financial punishments.
It is important to remember that China is still economically dependent on overseas financial investment, and this would slow markedly and possibly dry up altogether.
Put simply, the current escalation has all the hallmarks of more saber-rattling from the CCP rather than a genuine increase in the threat of invasion. This threat plays well with the brainwashed nationalistic audiences back in China and the CCP appears to have judged this more important than any international reaction it might receive.
However, it should be noted the international reaction has been a strong one. There have been headlines in major media outlets around the world and even the president of the U.S. has commented.
This is not normally the case when the CCP starts banging its shield and may well have taken them by surprise. From Taiwan’s point of view, it has proved a fantastic opportunity to put the ongoing threat posed by China to Taiwan’s democracy firmly in the public eye around the world.
It is no coincidence that Taiwan government officials, including President Tsai have gone in heavy on the rhetoric around the escalation. It is in their interest, and the interests of Taiwan to do so.
Even the staunchest DPP supporter would admit that communication has not always been a strong suit of the Tsai administration. Even so, they have played a blinder over the past week.
The threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is now firmly on the international agenda. We have seen politicians and media commentators from all backgrounds condemning the escalation and offering support to Taiwan.
This is exactly what Taiwan wants because it increases pressure on the CCP and therefore acts as a deterrent against China.
Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng recently said that China will have the ability to launch a "full-scale invasion" of Taiwan by 2025. This comment confirms that such an invasion is not expected right now.
But 2025 is not too far down the road and as well as investing in defense measures, Taiwan wants to be sure that if and when such an invasion is militarily feasible, there are plenty of other roadblocks to put China off.
This latest flurry of activity, threats, and commentary all contribute toward that and helps to send the message to the CCP that the world will not just stand by. Even if a successful invasion is possible, there will be economic and political consequences for the CCP and that is much clearer now than it was before.
Saber-rattling over Taiwan might play well with audiences back in China, but elsewhere it is counter-productive for the CCP’s ambitions. And from Taiwan’s point of view, that is just fine.