Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised the future “peaceful” but “complete” unification between mainland China and Taiwan. A statement that comes amid growing tensions between both sides of the strait. A week earlier, planes of the People’s Liberation Army had penetrated the island’s air defense zone almost 150 times in four days, provoking an angry reaction from Taipei – “abuse”, declared its government – and its great ally, the United States. Unidos, who called it “provocation.”
“The historic task of the complete unification of the mother country must be achieved, and of course it will be achieved,” Xi stressed in a speech at the Great Hall of the People to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the uprising, in Wuhan, which would precipitate the fall of imperial China and the arrival of the Republic. That commemoration is, in Taiwan, the equivalent of their national day.
Taiwan replied shortly after, insisting that China must abandon its “coercion”, which it considers to be the root of the problems between Beijing and Taipei. The island will commemorate the anniversary this Sunday with an annual military parade. In it, the president, Tsai Ing-wen, will deliver a speech in which, according to the Reuters agency, she will express the island’s determination to defend itself and not to back down when it comes to sovereignty.
The speeches of the two leaders close a week in which tensions, always on the surface on both sides of the strait, have become red hot between Beijing and Taipei. Although air raids have become almost daily in the last year, they have never reached such a volume in one go. In the first four days of October, they broke the record for daily overflights three times. Fighter aircraft, submarine detection and surveillance, and some fifty nuclear-capable bombers.
This Wednesday, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng assured that Beijing will be in a position to successfully invade the island by 2025, in a parliamentary session to examine a proposal for an extraordinary military budget worth about 8.9 billion dollars. Chiu also described the current situation as “the bleakest” between China and Taiwan in his 40 years of military experience.
The incursions seemed to respond, on the one hand, to the development of large joint military exercises between the United States and friendly countries in the area; exercises that, in turn, came after the announcement of the security alliance between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom known as Aukus. And on the other hand, after a year in which the relationship between Washington and Taipei has been narrowing, serve as a warning against greater support from the United States – or from its allies: this week the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited the island. and a group of French parliamentarians – to promote the independence of Taiwan. The raids also seemed to have internal content: the first of them came on October 1, the Chinese national day.
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“They are, in part, a military exercise, designed to develop the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army,” and in part a psychological warfare designed to intimidate the Taiwanese people and prevent them from seeking more independent status, “Shelley Rigger notes by email. , Professor of Political Science at Davidson College and author of the book Why Taiwan Matters (“Why Taiwan Matters”). The raids allow Chinese forces to gain intelligence on the Taiwanese response, and they put a heavy strain on the island’s air force.
Also, Rigger notes, “Beijing is concerned that Taiwan is intensifying its efforts to gain international support, which may make it more difficult to prevent Taiwan’s independence. And Beijing is particularly concerned about the United States and the possibility that the United States will abandon its commitment to the one-China policy, ”for which it recognizes the Government of Beijing and has stopped maintaining formal diplomatic relations with that of Taipei.
Because Taiwan, self-governed and democratic, represents the most fundamental interest of the Chinese Government. Since the end of the civil war in 1949, the proclamation of the People’s Republic in mainland China and the flight to the island of the nationalist troops of Chiang Kai-shek, Beijing has not ceased to consider it an inalienable part of its territory, and always He has declared his will for unification, by force if necessary.
But Tsai Ing-wen, believes that the future of the island must be decided by its inhabitants. And according to polls, only 4.7% of the 24 million residents are in favor of integration with China. 50.3% are in favor of maintaining the status quo as it is and 38.9% are in favor of independence, according to a poll by the Taiwan New Constitution Foundation released in August.
And the island is at the heart of the rivalry between China and the United States in the Pacific. For Beijing, controlling it is not only a matter of national pride, the recovery of the last territory lost during the century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. It is also a strategic question: what General Douglas McArthur described as an unsinkable aircraft carrier stands in the way of the Chinese fleet’s access to the Pacific.
For Washington, in the same way, Taiwan represents the key to its control of this ocean. And defending it is not just a strategic issue, but a test of its commitment to its allies. This week, the White House spokeswoman insisted that US support for the island is “rock solid.”
Despite the high-sounding statements from both sides, both parties remain cautious. Unlike other moments of tension, the Chinese planes have not crossed the median over the Strait in their incursions, the line that marks the unofficial border. In his speech this Saturday, Xi has been relatively contained; in his speech to mark the centenary of the Communist Party of China in July, he had spoken of “crushing” any Taiwanese pro-independence fickleness.
The respective national security advisers, the American Jack Sullivan and the Chinese Yang Jiechi, have met this week in Geneva to build bridges. Xi and US President Joe Biden have agreed to meet via video conference in the coming weeks. In her speech, Tsai will also specify that she does not plan to move “hastily”.
But, although neither side wants the blood to reach the river – they all risk losing a lot in the economic, diplomatic and military spheres – military activities are intensifying, and there is a risk that the constant tensions will cause an incident. that can get out of control.
“Increased military activity around Taiwan increases the risk of an accident or miscalculation that would be difficult to defuse, underlining the risks of poorly managed US-China ties that Biden and Xi are trying to control,” says consultancy Eurasia Group on a note this saturday.
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