China’s media have been persistently hyping up a military unification of Taiwan and China, while what was once a widely endorsed notion of peaceful unification appears to have fallen out of favor. What are the reasons for this significant change in tone?
It is well known that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views the media as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government; media organizations are therefore tightly controlled by the party. It is extremely difficult for any content deemed inappropriate to gain circulation within the nation’s news media.
Although the idea of military unification of Taiwan has always existed, until now discussion of this strategy has primarily been an internal party discussion.
Not any longer. There are three important signs of a fundamental shift in stance.
First, many of China’s Taiwan specialists now readily fall back on the option of a military unification during cross-strait exchanges.
Second, starting last year, China’s media have ramped up the number of news reports designed to engender animosity toward Taiwan among the public.
Third, discussion in favor of military unification has appeared on Chinese Internet sites. The most controversial was an opinion poll conducted by the CCP’s Chinese-language mouthpiece, Global China, in June last year, which reported that 85.1 percent of Chinese netizens supported military unification.
Although the poll was expunged, one can surmise that it was not published on the party’s official media outlet without good cause.
Are these recent phenomena pure coincidence, or are events being orchestrating?
Some academics and China observers say the chorus of voices in favor of military unification do not represent the official position of China’s leaders. There is some persuasive evidence to back this up.
On Jan. 20 at a CCP central working committee, Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲) said the party’s Taiwan policy has not changed.
Additionally, at a news conference last month, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) reiterated this point, saying it is the sincere intention of China to achieve peaceful unification.
How should one interpret the clamor of voices now calling for military unification?
One explanation is that China is adopting a twin-pronged strategy: stressing a desire for peaceful unification while using the threat of military unification to pile pressure on Taiwan.
Another explanation is that Beijing is allowing the public to let off steam over Taiwan.
A third explanation is that, in a direct challenge to the authority of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government, a CCP faction is spinning the idea of military unification in an attempt to seize power from Xi by calling into question officials’ stance toward Taiwan.
Whatever the case, reason dictates that Beijing will only resort to military force if Taiwan declares independence.
Nevertheless, the key to maintaining peace revolves around the extent to which the Chinese public feels goodwill toward Taiwan. While there is widespread agreement that China should not attack “fellow Chinese” and that the cross-strait problem should be resolved peacefully, legitimacy for a military invasion remains limited.
However, if Beijing deliberately allows the media to fan the flames of war, Chinese might be persuaded to support military unification. There is a danger that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead to war.
Weber Lai is a professor in National Taiwan University of Arts’ Department of Radio and Television and president of the Chinese Communication Management Society.
Translated by Edward Jones
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