Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Brandishing a double-edged sword

By John Lim 林泉忠

While national security authorities in Taipei were under huge pressure following Beijing’s launch of the M503 flight route, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, accompanied by several other warships, sailed southwest along the median line on the morning of Jan. 5, all the way through the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwanese military closely monitored the Liaoning’s movements and raised the alert level by dispatching missile-equipped F-16 jets as well as other aircraft, while Keelung-class destroyers and Cheng Kung-class frigates patrolled the surrounding waters.

However, the Taiwanese military assumed that the aircraft carrier would first cross the Miyako Strait and then sail south along the eastern side of Taiwan before crossing the Bashi Channel, traveling toward Hainan Island. The military thought it would only sail through the Taiwan Strait on its way back.

This miscalculation shows Taiwan’s weakness and its inability to grasp Chinese military information in advance.

Since Tsai’s inauguration, the Liaoning has sailed through Taiwan’s surrounding waters on four occasions, while Chinese military aircraft have reportedly conducted drills in the airspace surrounding Taiwan on 23 different occasions, according to information provided by the Taiwanese military.

It is not very difficult to predict that unilateral actions by China will become even more frequent in the near future, and the possibility of the Chinese air force performing drills along the new air routes cannot be ruled out.

The pressure unilaterally imposed on Taiwan by China, both at sea and in the air, will become the normal state of affairs.

In the short run, such measures aim to maintain and intensify pressure on Tsai’s administration and force her to acknowledge the “1992 consensus.” China’s long-term objective is to erode Taiwan’s de facto jurisdiction little by little, while weakening the effectiveness of the government’s ability to administer that jurisdiction and gradually incorporate Taiwan into its own administrative system.

The ultimate goal for China is to unify the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. However, whether the pressure that Beijing is imposing on Taiwan will bring about the expected results is something that will have to be closely watched.

For Beijing, the best outcome would be that the Taiwanese public lose confidence in Tsai’s cross-strait policy, thinking that she is incapable of dealing with the cross-strait relationship properly, and they stop supporting the Tsai administration. That way, China hopes to lower support for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and put an end to DPP rule in 2020.

However, after having undergone several stages of democratization, including six presidential elections and three changes of government, as well as the Sunflower movement, the Taiwanese public have formulated a more mature and independent view of the direction of Taiwan’s development and its relationship with China.

Although China’s growing strength has allowed it to increase its overall pressure on Taiwan, this exercise of power could be a double-edged sword. China must use it judiciously and gradually, lest it causes resentment among Taiwanese and increases their sympathy for the Tsai administration.

What is more, China’s push toward changing the cross-strait relationship could cause the US and Japan to make adjustments to their security cooperation strategy and strengthen their military deployments so that they more clearly include Taiwan.

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