China conducted one of its largest incursions into the airspace near Taiwan when it on May 30 sent 30 military aircraft into tha nation’s air defense identification zone. Although taking Taiwan by force was not a primary consideration in the past, China’s rhetoric and military hostility toward Taiwan has been rising rapidly over the past few years.
Beijing has changed its stance for several reasons.
The first is China’s unexpected economic setbacks. Since opening up to the outside world in 1978, China has enjoyed an enviable boom, with an average annual GDP growth rate of 9.5 percent over 40 years.
China’s economic success attracted not only a sizeable influx of foreign investment, but more importantly, it has lured Taiwanese businesses and citizens in search of a prosperous future. This gave China the confidence that time was on its side.
With the help of some Taiwanese politicians who share the Chinese Communist Party’s, national unification dream, China hoped that Taiwan would one day surrender itself voluntarily for economic survival.
However, the US-China trade dispute, which began in 2018, has diminished this expectation.
In response to China’s more hostile business environment and increased political uncertainty, the former influx of foreign investment is turning into an exodus of hard currency, and multinational brands are moving supply chains to Southeast Asian countries. With its international influence fading, China senses that the “land of opportunity” it once offered has become much less attractive for Taiwan.
China’s economic setbacks have had crippling effects on its relationships with cash-deprived developing countries. Beijing has been exerting political influence on these countries by handing out “easy money” through its Belt and Road Initiative.
With wealth generated by foreign investment drying up and a slowdown in the initiative’s funding, China is seeing a buildup of resentment among these partners, which China has been relying on for much-needed support on international stages such as the UN Human Rights Council.
China fares even worse in its influence on Taiwan. Older Taiwanese politicians with family roots in China have been instrumental to Beijing’s unification campaign, but this ideology is losing ground among younger Taiwanese, who witness Beijing’s increasing hostilities.
In the meantime, the US and other allies are advancing high-profile collaborations with Taiwan and voicing strong support for the nation’s official participation in global affairs. With the two sides of the Taiwan Strait drifting further apart and the nation increasing its international recognition, China senses that its only chance to take Taiwan is by force.
China’s biggest concern is Taiwan’s defense capabilities. The US has for four decades restricted arms sales to Taiwan to maintain a military balance across the Strait. This practice changed in Taiwan’s favor under former US president Donald Trump, and the change has been accelerated by US President Joe Biden’s administration.
This change not only strengthens Taiwan’s conventional defense capabilities, but drastically increases its ability to conduct asymmetric warfare, the effectiveness of which has been demonstrated in Ukraine’s successful resistance to a Russian invasion over the past three months.
Facing a deteriorating economy, growing resistance from Taiwan and the West, and the nation’s increasing military readiness, the window for China to take Taiwan by force is closing quickly, while the likelihood of Beijing gambling on an invasion is growing.
China has been watching Russia’s progress in Ukraine closely, as well as the consequences it suffers from international sanctions. Although Russia has not achieved the goals it declared at the beginning of the war, it has not been defeated either.
The seemingly ineffective countermeasures implemented against Russia by the West might have given China a false confidence; it could decide to follow suit, hoping to withstand international sanctions.
Russia’s resilience against sanctions has served as a successful example of playing ruthlessly, and might encourage China to take bold military actions toward Taiwan that it would not have dared to attempt before the Ukraine war.
A more effective deterrent is urgently required to stop China from initiating an unprovoked military aggression against Taiwan.
Daniel Jia is founder of consulting firm DJ LLC Integral Services in Spain.
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