2022: The World This Year

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2022: The World This Year
The Taiwan Strait: Political and military assertions

  Avishka Ashok

TWTW#196, 31 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 45


What happened?

On 28 July, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden discussed and exchanged their views and concerns on bilateral ties and issues of mutual interest during a two-hour-long telephonic conversation. On the Taiwan issue, President Xi reiterated China’s objection to any support extended towards the independence movement and interference in the country’s internal affairs. Xi urged the US to abide by the one-China principle and the joint communique. Biden reassured Xi that the US adherence to the one-China principle had not changed and that the country did not support the independence movement in Taiwan.

On 2 August, the US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and five other Democratic lawmakers visited Taiwan and met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Pelosi appreciated and praised Tsai’s leadership and capable handling of China in the region. The Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the US Speaker’s visit to Taiwan and threatened Taiwan and the US with strong repercussions. As an immediate response to the visit, China imposed a ban on the import of citrus fruits, two types of fish and other food products from Taiwan. China also declared a four-day military drill in six large areas surrounding Taiwan’s main island. The Eastern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army conducted precision missile strikes, four of which landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, engendering a strong reaction from the Japanese Defence Ministry. Ever since Pelosi’s visit, China has increased its military drills around the island. During the last quarter of 2022, China extended the duration, frequency and intensity of its drills. On 26 December, Taiwan reported the largest Chinese incursion in 24 hours when the 71 PLA aircraft violated the ADIZ. 

On 26 November, Taiwan conducted its local elections where Chiang Kai-shek’s great-grandson Chiang Wan-an won Taipei’s Mayoral elections to become the youngest to hold the position at the age of 43. As the Democratic Progressive Party lost two more cities and counties, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as the party head. On 27 November, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson referred to the local elections in Taiwan and remarked that the island desires peace, stability and a better life after Chiang’s Kuomintang Party (KMT) made a comeback in national politics.

What is the background?

First, increased assertion in the Straits by China, Taiwan and the US. In recent years, China’s narrative on Taiwan has become increasingly aggressive and assertive. Beijing vehemently opposed the inauguration of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, downgraded diplomatic relations and economically coerced the European country to repeal its actions. China's relations with Australia further worsened when the latter expressed concerns over a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in October 2021. Taiwan has been conducting counter-military drills against the Chinese PLA. Taiwan and the US have also been increasing their cooperation on the sale of defence equipment, trade and investment, irking the Chinese government. Congress acted independently while asserting its views on Taiwan. Regardless of President Biden’s reassurance over the US not supporting the independence movements in Taiwan, the actions of Congress present a different narrative. Other than Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, in November 2021, a delegation of 13 Congressmen visited Taiwan and discussed its defence security with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials. Prior to that visit, a delegation of US Senators visited the country in June 2021 and announced the donation of 7,50,000 COVID-19 vaccines.

Second, the significance of Nancy Pelosi’s visit. Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan marks the second-highest visit made by a Speaker of the US House since 1997. Although the President of the US does not hold the power to restrict the Speaker from making visits across the world, Pelosi’s visit signifies the US response to China’s aggression in the Taiwan Strait. Although there have been multiple US Congressional delegations that visited Taiwan, there hasn’t been one on the scale of Pelosi; which threatens China’s hold over the issue. Since its establishment as a republic in 1950, China has vehemently opposed the narrative of Taiwan being an independent and sovereign country. In fact, the one-China principle has been the basis of establishing and maintaining diplomatic relations with countries. In the furtherance of this principle, China has not encouraged any relations with Eswatini, the only country in Africa that is not a part of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation. 

Third, China’s political and military response. China has conducted numerous military drills in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, areas that it considers its own. Taiwan has constantly reported on the Chinese PLA’s incursion into its ADIZ. Between 1 and 4 October 2021, while China celebrated its National Day, the PLA conducted the largest military incursion where almost 149 fighter jets and aircraft entered the Taiwanese ADIZ. A similar intimidation tactic is used with Japan on the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands dispute, but at a much smaller scale.

Fourth, Taiwan’s response to the tensions in the Strait. The results of Taiwan’s local election hint at a growing unease amongst the people over the DPP’s handling of the local issues as well as the government’s approach to the Chinese aggression in the straits. The Taiwanese are also sceptic about the US support for the island due to the prolonged war in Ukraine and fear becoming the Ukraine of East Asia. The KMT and the DPP are two of the most popular parties and have dominated the political landscape of the country ever since the founder Chiang Kai-shek relocated the KMT to Taiwan. Compared to the 2018 elections, the DPP has lost control over a majority of the cities and now only holds a majority in five out of 21 cities and counties. The KMT on the other hand has successfully gained control over 13 cities and counties and four out of six of Taiwan’s municipalities where 70 per cent of the population resides. The KMT has evolved from being overly nationalist, and an anti-China party to adopting a more moderate approach towards dealing with the Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Straits. Despite KMT’s win in the local elections, it does not guarantee a friendlier approach to dealing with China. The KMT will attempt to bridge the economic gaps with China, but it does not believe in reunification according to Chinese ideals.

About the author

Avishka Ashok is a Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.

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