After decades of 'tensions' Taiwan appears ready to push back against a rising and increasingly bellicose China
Speedboat in the Taiwan Strait. Photo: Weixi Zeng, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.
Taiwan’s defense minister warned warned on Wednesday that the country would treat any Chinese incursion into its airspace as a “first strike,” reports Bloomberg.
Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng [Qiū Guózhèng, 邱國正] told lawmakers in Taipei that the ministry was taking such incursions more seriously after a recent spate of closer flights by Chinese warplanes and drones.
But before we ratchet up the drama – a common problem when it comes to cross-strait issues – what did Chiu say?
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He said, yes, Taiwan has “red lines.” He also said, yes, Taiwan is ready to enact “countermeasures” if the red lines are crossed. But he did not specify what those countermeasures were, reports Focus Taiwan.
As Bloomberg puts it:
Taiwan is trying to reassert a buffer zone that China has eroded, particularly since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August. Since then, an average of 10 Chinese military aircraft per day have flown across the median line dividing the Taiwan Strait or into the southwestern corner of the island’s larger air-defense identification zone [ADIZ], according to Bloomberg-compiled data.
So far, Chinese military aircraft and warships have kept well outside the smaller 12-nautical-mile (22 kilometer) area that Taiwan regards as defining its territorial sea and airspace. Taiwan would react militarily if Chinese forces crossed the 12-nautical-mile line, Reuters reported in August, citing an unnamed Taiwanese official.
The defense minister’s words were, however, a further sign that the days of pure bluster are fissuring and re-materializing into a genuine standoff that will only be resolved in a contest of wills, resilience and might.
Despite that, the week’s headlines got off to a start with a much-discussed piece by the Carnegie Endowment, which essentially argues:
China’s political goal since U.S.-China diplomatic normalization in 1979 has been to preserve the possibility of political unification with Taiwan at some undefined point in the future.
What’s more, the Carnegie piece maintains, an invasion of Taiwan would be such a massive undertaking that we would – don’t look up – know at least months in advance.
There should be no reason to have to point this out. But given the absence of wiggle room for diplomacy between China and Taiwan – which have mutually exclusive political systems – and China’s pointed refusal to renounce the use of force against the de-facto island nation, hostilities are at some point inevitable.
We don’t need more months to know that.
Over the past decade, under Xi, China has roughly doubled its defense spending, a report from London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies reveals.
Just a week ago, according to August 31 satellite imagery reviewed by USNI News, the PLA navy staged a major exercise to prove how it could use large civilian ferries to launch a massive amphibious invasion of Taiwan.
All this – and more – amid a report from the New York Times that the US plans to “transform Taiwan into a weapons depot” as a reaction to “recent naval and air force exercises by the Chinese military” that reveal …
… China would probably blockade the island as a prelude to any attempted invasion, and Taiwan would have to hold out on its own until the United States or other nations intervened, if they decided to do that, the current and former officials say.
As Reuters put it on Wednesday, it’s Taiwan’s view that China has “destroyed a tacit agreement on military movements in the Taiwan Strait by crossing an unofficial ‘median line’ running down the waterway.”
It has to be clear to China now that any window of opportunity to seize the country The Economist last year labeled “the most dangerous place in the world” is shrinking by the day.
Does it act now or wait for the US to collapse into the smoldering morass of venality Beijing paints it as?
The answer is that China will likely become as impatient waiting for that to happen as the US has waiting for the democratization or the coming collapse of China – either would have done; neither came to pass.
In the meantime, the world needs to wake up – as Taiwan appears to be doing – and realize that conflict is the most likely outcome to an irreconcilable impasse.
10 more years?
The man himself, in the Great Hall of the People, 2016. Photo: Public Domain.
Is Comrade Xi Jinping, the chairman of everything, the worst thing that could have happened to China?
It’s impossible to say. But he’s certainly not the best thing that could have happened – at least according to almost everybody not in the pay of the CPC.
Martin Wolf in an opinion over at the Financial Times, which refers to a third term for Xi as a “tragic mistake,” writes:
Ten years is always enough. Even a first-rate leader decays after that long in office. One with unchallengeable power tends to decay more quickly. Surrounded by people he has chosen and protective of the legacy he has created, the despot will become increasingly isolated and defensive, even paranoid.
The Guardian, which suggests, if you think Putin is a problem, consider Xi, opines that his “extraordinary accretion of personal power has already made” China’s chairman …
… the most dominant, and most feared, Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. It is all the more unusual because, like Mao, many of Xi’s big policy initiatives have misfired, setting China back and damaging its international standing.
Gone are the restraints of collective leadership as practised by predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Gone too is the commitment to market reforms and openness championed by Deng Xiaoping. And also abandoned is Deng’s guiding principle of China’s steady, peaceful rise.
He has turned a fractured party that had disappeared from many ordinary people’s lives into an omnipresent, ideologically re-charged, tech-enabled machine. He has crushed dissent: wiping out much of civil society, building a gulag for Muslims in Xinjiang and gutting Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Mr Xi has turned sand banks in the South China Sea into fortresses, threatened Taiwan with military exercises near the island’s coast and increased the deployment of nukes to keep America at bay. He has beefed up China’s global power, using its economic heft in a battle for political influence with the West, which he scoffs at as being chaotic and in decline.
So, does anyone think Xi will not get the third term he so obviously craves – no doubt self-servingly imagines he is irrefutably qualified for?
As Xiaohong Xu, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan put it in a tweet thread early this week, Xi will get what he wants, but it will not be the great victory he undoubtedly wants:
That’s the rub. Xi is getting what he wants not at a moment of great success, but at a moment in which all of China’s “great successes” of the past three decades are under siege.
Xi – and, yes, with no chosen successor – is about to become the sole savior of a mess he inherited and has arguably made worse. It’s not going to work out, but as we are likely witnessing in Russia the price of stability imposed by autocracy is that it takes abject failure for a system reset.
UN votes against Uyghur crisis debate
17 Yes; 11 Abstain; 19 No. Source: Twitter.
Cheers in Beijing, no doubt, as the United Nations’ top human rights body yesterday voted down a proposal to debate rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in former East Turkestan, now China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Reports the Associated Press:
At the 47-member state Human Rights Council, 17 countries voted in favor, 19 were against, and 11 abstained in a vote to hold a debate on Xinjiang at its next session in March. The vote amounted to a test of political and diplomatic clout between the West and Beijing, and would have marked the first time that China’s record on human rights would merit a specific agenda item at the council.
The result, prompting a smattering of applause in the chamber, followed days of diplomatic arm-twisting in Geneva and in many national capitals as leading Western countries tried to build momentum on a report from former U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s office, released Aug. 31, which found that possible “crimes against humanity” had occurred in Xinjiang.\
Oldsters just want to have fun
‘I always dreamed of sitting by the sea and gazing at a rock in the distance.’ CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.
Sixth Tone reports that as China’s young “lie flat” it’s the elderly that are carrying a deflating economy, taking holidays in the PRC that in the past would have been taken abroad.
China’s tourism sector has been in the doldrums all year due to guess-where-next zero-covid lockdowns and general economic malaise that’s reflected in, among other factors, the dreadful youth unemployment numbers.
According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on August 15, the unemployment rate for 16-24-year-olds was 19.9%.
China’s economy is predicted to grow just 2.8% this year, a sharp drop from last year’s 8.1% growth. The tourism sector has been hit particularly hard: flight and train bookings have fallen dramatically for this year’s National Day holiday
Step in China’s retirees, who have “emerged as the driving force of China’s tourism sector … [remaining] one of the few bright spots for an industry that has been decimated by the country’s draconian lockdown policies and a wider economic slowdown.”
Zhao Wenzhi, the president of a major travel company in southern China, said last month that tourists aged over 50 have driven the recovery in the tourism sector after each major COVID-19 outbreak. Over-50s usually have travel budgets between 2,000 and 10,000 yuan, which makes them a high-spending group, he added.
‘Middle-aged and elderly people are less affected by the economy, place greater value on enjoying life, and are willing to increase their travel budgets,’ said Zhao.
The Greater Sinosphere
Give us your floor plans
According to the Financial Times, foreign missions are being required to provide floor plans – and much more – in line with foreign embassies and consulates in China.
The order has brought the city in line with how China treats embassies and consulates on the mainland and sparked fears in the diplomatic community that Beijing could use the information to plant listening devices, according to three people familiar with the matter.
China has claimed that foreign powers, particularly the US, were behind the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, one of the greatest challenges to Chinese rule on domestic soil since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.
The South China Morning Post reported a former Asian diplomat describing the Chinese request as “clumsy” and possibly “counterproductive”.
‘I doubt it will work – those very few, mainly Western, consulates inclined to behave in the way the Chinese fear are not going to stop supporting “democracy” or calling out Chinese violations of human rights in Hong Kong, while the majority of consulates who never had any intention of doing so will just get irritated.’
Virgin Atlantic ceases Heathrow-Hong Kong flights
Reuters reports that Virgin Atlantic announced Wednesday it would drop its Hong Kong route after 30 years in yet another blow to Hong Kong’s withering tourism sector.
The airline blamed the move on issues related to the closure of Russian airspace.
Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has led several airlines, which were already reeling from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, to suspend flights and plan longer routes to avoid Russian and Ukrainian airspace.
It comes as Hong Kong moves cautiously to reopen its doors to tourism by relaxing quarantine regulations and the Hong Kong Tourism Board throwing some HK$100 million at a global advertising campaign.
Critics say money needs to be spent on restarting flights to Hong Kong and getting businesses up an running again.
RTHK reports that Freddy Yip, president of the Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners Association, said that …
… even residents were finding it difficult to get air tickets to fly home and stressed that relaxing pandemic restrictions and helping airlines to return should be the top priorities.
’Along with global advertising promotions, we need to encourage more international carriers to come back,’ Yip told RTHK's Samantha Butler. ‘Right now, even for residents or their relatives who want to come back to Hong Kong it's hard to get an air ticket because most of the carriers have suspended their services.’
English news goes 24-7
TaiwanPlus launch. Screen grab.
Taiwan launched TaiwanPlus, a government funded 24- hour English-language channel on Monday.
Modeled on the BBC, Japan’s NHK, and South Korea’s Arirang, TaiwanPlus began last year as an online streaming platform offering free content including news.
While the online platform news stories sometimes mirror the government and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) views uncritically (for example this recent story about local elections in Miaoli County), the channel has so far been balanced on issues such as migrant workers.
As Minister of Culture Lee Yung-te (Lǐ Yǒngdé, 李永得) noted, Taiwan has talked about broadcasting a 24-hour channel internationally for more than two decades.
Broadcasting over North American cable networks is planned to begin in six months. While this is a typically rushed Taiwan schedule (it took Arirang three years), the channel will be part of President Tsai ing-wen’s legacy.
Tsai said in English that the channel would allow Taiwan to tell its story to countries with shared core values from Taiwan’s own perspective at a time when attention to Taiwan is unprecedented.
Hopes are running high in Taiwan, but the new station is unlikely to grab audiences as France 24, Al Jazeera and NHK have.
It would probably also be wise to enact editorial independence into a proposed government bill that would make TaiwanPlus a permanent part of Taiwan’s Public Television Network. Nonetheless, it is a vastly more ambitious project than previous underfunded and sputtering attempts.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Bring it back home
US think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has issued a report by Scott Kennedy finding that almost 26% of surveyed Taiwan companies with operations in China have already moved operations or sourcing from China while another 33% are considering it in the next five years.
The most popular destinations are to Southeast Asia (68%) and Taiwan (51%). That’s important because
In 2021, two-way trade between China (both Mainland China and Hong Kong) and Taiwan was $273 billion, with China accounting for 42.3 percent of Taiwan’s exports. Through the end of 2021, cumulative Taiwanese investment in China totaled nearly $200 billion. And as of 2020 (the last year for which data is available), there were an estimated 240,000 Taiwanese working in Mainland China (Chinese sources set the figure at 158,000).
According to Taiwan government statistics, returning Taiwanese businesses have invested almost NT$1.9 trillion (about US$58.4 billion) in Taiwan over the past three years in response to incentive programs from the Taiwanese government and the decoupling of the US’s supply chain from China. Given the scale of Taiwanese investment in China, it is likely that most of this investment is coming from firms with significant operations there.
The CSIS report also states that 60% of Taiwanese companies that have already left China believe that there will be military conflict between the US and China in the next five years. That percentage fell to about 28% for those that are merely thinking about leaving China at this point.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Taipei candidates face off over pet policies
Photo: Andrew Shiau, Unsplash.
Taipei’s three-way mayoral election had been almost completely devoid of substantive policy proposals until last week when the DPP and KMT candidates suddenly released details of their pet policies.
TaiwanPlus recently reported 175,000 new pets, known as “furry children” (máo xiǎohái, 毛小孩) have already been been registered in Taiwan while less than 140,000 babies are forecast to be born in 2022.
The DPP’s Chen Shi-chung (Chén Shízhōng, 陳實中) is promising a pet amusement park (with carnival rides?) and long-term care for older pets, while the KMT’s Chiang Wan-an (Jiǎng Wàn'ān, 蔣萬安) would expand access to public transportation for pets and create uniform contracts for pet insurance policies.
Independent candidate Huang Shan-shan (Huáng Shānshān, 黃珊珊), who is running on her track record as deputy mayor of Taipei, made an initial misstep, criticizing the DPP candidate for bringing his famous Shiba Inu to campaign events.
She’s since changed her tune, taking advantage of the 2022 Taipei World Pet Day press conference on September 27 to point out that Taipei City Hall has already implemented an autopsy program for dead pets to ensure that their deaths were not caused by abuse.
Another triumph of good governance, she announced, has been the city’s 65 “cat houses,” where stray cats can be fed hygienically (as opposed to foraging for food waste and rats, which Taipei does indeed have despite recent rave reports that depict the city as paradise).
If elected, Huang claims she will turn the site of an incinerator into a zero emissions “green circular park” that will be a “new wonderland” for pets, families and stray animals.
She’s also declared an interest in Taipei’s many wild animals, making her animal policies potentially the most diverse and inclusive.
Michael Fahey in Taipei
Beijing and Dharamsala at loggerheads over reincarnation
China is again asserting its right to ‘discover’ and ‘anoint’ the next Dalai Lama. His Holiness continues to maintain he may not reincarnate at all. Photo: Lonyi; Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication.
The long simmering issue of whether the CPC has the right to choose Tibet’s next Dalai Lama has again surfaced, with the Kashag (Tibet’s exiled governing council in Dharamsala, northern India) indicating that the decision was the Dalai Lama’s alone.
The Kashag said in a statement:
‘Reincarnation of lama/tulku is a unique religious system of Tibetan Buddhism requiring someone to substantially believe in past and future lives.’
The Kashag rejects the Chinese government’s “Management Measures for the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism,” introduced in 2007, which it says the CPC has consistently misused in recognizing reincarnations.
In 2014, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959, told a German interviewer that his spirit would not be reborn in Tibet under Chinese control.
He has reportedly said that Tibetan Buddhism could survive without a reincarnation of his spirit. He also suggested that his spirit might be divided among several or many believers.
For Beijing to appoint its own Dalai Lama against the wishes of Tibet’s current spiritual leader would amount to an attempt to take central control over the soul of Tibet. It would at best be a hollow victory, but a “loyal” Tibetan “god-king”
China’s great ‘Han hope’ looks to the future
Han Kuo-yu, who actually managed to win notoriously green Kaohsiung for the KMT in local elections before being ignominiously defeated in the presidential elections was China’s great hope for a Taiwan leader for sale. Photo: Facebook.
Han Kuo-yu (Hán Guóyú, 韓國瑜), or Mr. Han, as he apparently likes to refer to himself, has the multiple distinctions of being backed by Beijing in Taiwan elections, losing the the KMT’s presidential shot and being the first Taiwan mayor (Kaohsiung) to be recalled by a public vote of “no confidence.”
What next? Why not release a calendar?
Hopefully it will be published in time so that all 2,000+ participants of the CPC 20th Party Congress, which gets underway on the 16th of this month, get a copy.
After all, it would be embarrassing to let China down again.
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