China’s incessant military activities in and near the Taiwan Strait over the past several months are “greater in meaning than in substance,” and are aimed at polarizing Taiwanese society, a researcher said in a report published on Friday.
China has attempted to intimidate Taiwan through military threats, while at the same time calling on Taiwanese and US officials to practice restraint, which is aimed at causing a rift between those who prefer resistance against China and those who prefer peace, said Lee Kuan-cheng (李冠成), a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
“China’s goal is to obscure public awareness of it being the enemy and to incite social conflict,” Lee said.
In his analysis of cross-strait tensions, published in the institute’s latest bi-weekly report, Lee examined the motivations behind China’s military exercises in the past several months, and its official statements on its activities and cross-strait relations.
An article published last month in the Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times issued a warning to “Taiwanese separatists,” but also uncharacteristically called on all sides to exercise restraint, Lee said.
Then, on Aug. 27, Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesman Wu Qian (吳謙) said that the military exercises were routine and not aimed at any particular country, and called for improved US-China communication to avoid a crisis, Lee said, adding that the statement showed a markedly different attitude from many of China’s past statements.
China’s increased military activity was also to avoid appearing weak in the face of US actions such as its own military activity in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, its economic sanctions on Beijing and its ban on the import of certain China-made technology, he said, adding that inaction might cause the Chinese Communist Party to lose credibility with the Chinese public.
Several locations of this year’s military exercises were chosen mainly for their close proximity to Taiwan and to intimidate Taiwanese, Lee said.
By calling for restraint in the face of such exercises, China was attempting to push the blame for regional instability onto the US and Taiwan, he said, adding that Beijing might also have hoped for the Taiwanese military to lower its guard.
Citing an online poll, Lee said that the public was currently three times more supportive of war with China, should the need arise, than during the administration of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), adding that opponents of a strong stance against China would accuse President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of causing the heightened threat of war.
China was likely to continue the drills and might even scale them up, he said.
Despite China increasingly closing the gap in military strength with the US, Beijing was noticeably uneasy about US naval activity in the region, Lee said, adding that conflicts between the US and China were likely to continue, but would stop short of war.
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