On Friday last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) delivered the latest in a long succession of warmongering speeches to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The speech is another worrisome indication that Xi appears to be hell-bent on military adventurism in the near future.
“On the path of completely building a modern socialist country and realizing the second centennial goal, national defense and the military must be placed in a more important position, and the consolidation of national defense and a strong military must be accelerated. We must persist in strengthening the overall planning of war and make preparations for military struggle,” the South China Morning Post cited Xi as saying.
Xi called on the “entire party and entire country” to work to realize the Chinese military’s long-term goals, saying that the military’s needs would need to be considered when drafting plans for societal and economic development.
This indicates that Xi intends to put China’s economy on a military footing; a frightening prospect. Following nearly three decades of double-digit defense budget increases, China has embarked on an unprecedented peacetime military buildup, while barely skipping a beat and maintaining a flourishing civilian economy. Imagine what China could achieve if it were to channel a much larger proportion of its formidable industrial base into military production, as Nazi Germany did in the 1930s.
Xi has repeatedly cautioned of the danger of a “peace disease.” Aside from firing on unarmed civilians during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the PLA has not seen serious military action since China’s calamitous invasion of Vietnam in 1979. This appears to be gnawing away at Xi.
Xi’s words hint at two possible scenarios: a border war with India or, the jewel in the crown, a campaign to annex Taiwan.
Xi might favor the former, at least initially, as a high-altitude Himalayan border war with India would be containable due to the highly isolated location of the contested territory, while providing the PLA with some much needed combat experience ahead of a possible attempt to annex Taiwan. This might have been the motivation behind the PLA’s ambush of Indian border troops last year. Fortunately, India showed great restraint.
In a Chinese-language interview with Voice of America, published on Tuesday, Taiwan’s former chief of the general staff, admiral Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明), warned that the PLA does not have the ability to launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan, but said that the final pieces of the puzzle might be snapped into place by 2027. That is just six years away.
Given the looming threat of invasion, it is questionable whether there is a sufficient sense of urgency within the government, military and wider society. Would it not be prudent, for instance, to begin building a serious volunteer civilian defense force, trained in sabotage and diversionary techniques, which could act as a significant deterrent force, and be unleashed should an invasion occur?
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) might understandably be reluctant to significantly increase defense spending, given conventional political wisdom that there are “no votes in defense.” Tsai might also be wary of unduly panicking the public.
Nevertheless, Taiwan, unique from any other democratic society in the world — save perhaps Israel — is faced with an existential threat within spitting distance of its borders. Despite this, life in Taiwan largely carries on as normal.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has demonstrated that it is more than capable of rising to the challenge during a national crisis. If the government were to set out a bold plan to shore up the nation’s defenses, the public would likely respond with equal maturity and sense of purpose.
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