China hopes it can avoid having to use force against Taiwan to realize its political ambitions; an easier target is Taiwan’s democratic institutions
Up until the beginning of March this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and the members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Standing Committee must have felt very pleased with the way things were going in the Taiwan Strait. Their plan to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese through economic largesse seemed to be on track, and Taipei’s ability to reciprocate by further opening up Taiwan to Chinese investment appeared to be unassailable. Then the Sunflower Movement took over the legislature and shook things up.
Before we turn to this unprecedented event in Taiwan’s modern history, it is important that we first discuss China’s Taiwan strategy under Xi and his predecessor, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Despite China’s impressive military buildup in the past decade, it is clear that the option of resorting to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to force unification on Taiwan is regarded as a last, and costly, resort, at least among the civilian leadership in Beijing. Along the spectrum of options available to Beijing to facilitate the process of unification with Taiwan, economic incentives, and the cultivation of social ties to foster a sense of family among people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, are the preferred and least costly options. It goes without saying that the economic card goes well beyond increasing Taiwan’s reliance on China for its economic survival and also involves the possibility of blackmail as well as the development of influential business tycoons who can lean on Taipei to adopt certain policies that are favorable to the process of unification or that will help accelerate that momentum.
My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here. (Photo by Ketty W. Chen)