Within the past 12 months, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has no fewer than four times publicly called on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare for war. On Jan. 4, Xi welcomed the New Year with an ominous message: The Chinese military must be ready for war “at any moment.”
This followed a similar instruction on Oct. 13 last year, when he said, while inspecting PLA marines in Chaozhou City, that they must “put all [their] minds and energy on preparing for war.”
Prior to that, on May 26 last year, he told PLA officers at the annual National People’s Congress that commanders should “step up preparations for armed combat” — and specifically name-checked “Taiwanese independence forces.”
On Tuesday last week, Xi reprised the chest-thumping rhetoric, ordering the PLA to “increase combat readiness,” and be prepared to “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
Xi has also repeatedly warned of a “peace disease” that he believes has “infected every corner of the military.” The implication is that the PLA, not having experienced significant combat since the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, is in desperate need of real combat to test its mettle.
Recent clashes with Indian troops on the China-India border might have been an attempt to engineer some real fighting experience and toughen up troops ahead of a larger-scale military operation.
There are two schools of thought regarding how to interpret Xi’s martial rhetoric. One, it is relatively innocuous stuff — red meat, tossed to hardline party members and hawkish generals by an insecure leader to placate their bloodlust over Taiwan and other perceived territorial injustices. Two, Xi is deadly serious, taking into context Beijing’s immense military build-up over the past two decades, its repeated threats to annex Taiwan and its persistent provocative military “exercises” around Taiwan.
Indeed, a growing number of Taiwanese and international observers believe the threat to Taiwan from an increasingly belligerent China is today at an all-time high. On Tuesday last week, US Navy Admiral Philip Davidson warned that Beijing could invade Taiwan within the next six years. Taiwanese and Japanese military experts have issued similar warnings in the past few months.
Given the apparent severity of the threat, a wise government would adopt the precautionary principle — assume that the latter is true, and prepare the nation accordingly.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has made significant progress on multiple fronts since coming to power in 2016 — initiating a new defense doctrine based on asymmetric warfare, successfully petitioning the US to sell Taiwan significant quantities of advanced military equipment, and starting the ball rolling on an indigenous submarine program. However, these measures pale into comparison with the relentless advance of the Chinese military.
At the National People’s Congress early this month, Beijing announced a 6.8 percent increase in this year’s defense budget to 1.35 trillion yuan (US$208 billion). While most international analysts believe China understates its defense spending, the official figure is 16 times that of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s defense budget for this year is to increase by only 4.4 percent, while the nation has gradually wound down compulsory military service and training for its reserve forces.
On Wednesday, National Taiwan University associate professor of political science Chen Shih-min (陳世民) urged the government to think about how to convey the gravity of the situation to the public.
While conventional wisdom dictates that there are no votes in defense and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would certainly try to make hay by falsely claiming that the Tsai administration’s policies have made Taiwan unsafe, the government must trust in the public’s natural instinct for self-preservation and its common sense.
It is time for the government and the public to take Xi’s saber-rattling at face value, before it is too late.
With a Taiwan contingency increasingly more plausible, Taiwanese lobbies in Japan are calling for the government to pass a version of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), emulating the US precedent. Such a measure would surely enable Tokyo to make formal and regular contact with Taipei for dialogue, consultation, policy coordination and planning in military security. This would fill the missing link of the trilateral US-Japan-Taiwan security ties, rendering a US military defense of Taiwan more feasible through the support of the US-Japan alliance. Yet, particular caution should be exercised, as Beijing would probably view the move as a serious challenge to
As the Soviet Union was collapsing in the late 1980s and Russia seemed to be starting the process of democratization, 36-year-old US academic Francis Fukuyama had the audacity to assert that the world was at the “end of history.” Fukuyama claimed that democratic systems would become the norm, and peace would prevail the world over. He published a grandiose essay, “The End of History?” in the summer 1989 edition of the journal National Interest. Overnight, Fukuyama became a famous theorist in the US, western Europe, Japan and even Taiwan. Did the collapse of the Soviet Union mark the end of an era as
During a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Monday, US President Joe Biden for the third time intimated that the US would take direct military action to defend Taiwan should China attack. Responding to a question from a reporter — Would Washington be willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan? — Biden replied with an unequivocal “Yes.” As per Biden’s previous deviations from the script of the US’ longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” — maintaining a deliberately nebulous position over whether the US would intervene militarily in the event of a conflagration between Taiwan and
Will the US come to the defense of Taiwan if and when China makes its move? Like most friends of Taiwan, I’ve been saying “yes” for a couple decades. But the truth is that none of us, in or out of government, really know. This is precisely why we all need to show humility in our advice on how Taiwan should prepare itself for such an eventuality. After all, it’s their country, and they have no choice but to live with the consequences. A couple weeks ago the New York Times published an article that put this reality in stark relief. As