Many countries have expressed concerns over security in the Taiwan Strait, but neither China’s threats nor the government’s warnings seem to affect most Taiwanese.
Ministry of National Defense data show that from Friday last week to Tuesday, China’s military sent a total of 150 aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), and many countries, especially the US and Japan, have said they are concerned about China endangering cross-strait stability.
Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) on Wednesday described the security situation in the Strait as the tensest in 40 years, citing the surge in incursions by Chinese aircraft. Previous crises, such as in 1976 or 1996, mainly affected Taiwan’s outlying islands, while posing less of a threat to Taiwan proper, he said.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a contingent of 20 US special operations and conventional forces have been training Taiwanese troops in Taiwan, with The Economist the next day largely confirming the report.
Despite increasing signs of heightened cross-strait tensions, it is unclear how Taiwanese should react. So far, Taiwan’s economy, including commercial airlines, have remained unaffected. Most people seem to care more about COVID-19 vaccines and the Quintuple Stimulus Vouchers. Few, if any, are talking about migrating, or even evacuating, in the face of China’s threats.
It is as if Taiwan were split into two parallel worlds: one dominated by politicians’ warnings and media reports — about Chinese actions, how the US might respond and statements by foreign officials — and the other inhabited by people who pay limited attention to those issues.
If the aircraft incursions are a sign of an impending Chinese invasion of Taiwan, why did their number not increase exponentially, but only gradually, with larger numbers crossing into the ADIZ around symbolic dates? Why did the incursions occur near the South China Sea, rather than closer to Taipei? Should Taiwan continue to place itself, or be placed, in the center of an international discourse about China’s military actions?
Asking these questions does not amount to downplaying China’s military threat to Taiwan. Beijing has never hidden its intention to annex the nation.
However, to avoid seeing China’s deployments through a distorted lens, the focus of the discussion should be widened.
In an opinion article on Tuesday, strategy researcher Chang Ching (張競) wrote that Chinese aircraft flying near Taiwan have not conducted any tactical maneuvers beyond basic flight training. Chang said that finding political explanations behind every Chinese aircraft deployment is not feasible and that the government only publicizes Chinese aircraft movements, while not regularly reporting those of aircraft or vessels of other nations’ militaries.
Asked if a cross-strait war is imminent, Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a defense analyst at the state-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that China is more likely only flexing its muscles to test its strength and for domestic propaganda, Deutsche Welle’s Chinese-language service reported on Friday. Commenting on Chiu’s statement, Su said that the defense minister’s warning, based on a rigorous risk assessment, is more effective in reaching elites. Despite bearing the warning in mind, ordinary Taiwanese might continue to appear relaxed, Su added.
The government should rethink its strategy on informing the public about security threats. If its warnings are aimed at garnering public support for plans to increase military spending, it should be careful about the information it releases.
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