Beijing ‘will keep military pressure on Taiwan’ after Xi Jinping’s call for unification
- Xi said on Wednesday he proposed ‘democratic consultations’ for ‘peaceful development of cross-strait ties’ but would not renounce force
- People’s Liberation Army Navy will continue its patrols because it is in deadlock with US support for Taiwan, military analysts believe
Beijing is unlikely to reduce its military pressure on Taiwan despite Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call on Wednesday for “peaceful reunification”, analysts said.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy and Air Force are expected to continue patrols around the self-ruled island, as they have been doing regularly since Taiwan’s pro-independence president Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016.
“Such patrols have become the normal programme and prearranged in the PLA’s annual training plans,” said Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator.
Beijing views the island as a breakaway province and has vowed to reunify it with the mainland, by force if necessary.
At Wednesday’s gathering to mark the 40th anniversary of the Communist Party’s call to end military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, Xi re-proposed “democratic consultations” with Taipei to “reach transitional arrangements for the peaceful development of cross-strait ties”.
“Chinese don’t fight Chinese,” he said.
But Xi said his government “makes no promise to renounce the use of force and reserves the option of taking all necessary means”, adding that the military would target only external elements and those seeking Taiwan independence. “And foreign interference is intolerable,” he said.
Xi also said a “one country, two systems” model – an approach adopted in Hong Kong and Macau – was the way to resolve cross-strait conflicts, a suggestion Tsai rejected.
Xi’s comments on Taiwan comes amid tense ties with the United States and passage of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which was signed by US President Donald Trump on Monday and promotes greater arms sales to and closer exchanges with the island – although Washington switched its formal diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
“Xi has both hard and soft approaches: military deterrence towards the separatists and the Americans, and incentives to try to appeal to the general Taiwanese people,” military analyst Ni Lexiong said. “He picks either tool according to circumstance.”
An increase in PLA operations – including intensified patrols and a live-fire drill in the strait last year – and US support for the Taiwanese government are forming a vicious spiral, according to Ni.
Song said more patrols and more exercises should be seen as a response to US interference and playing of the Taiwan card.
“If the PLA softened its military posturing, it would send a misleading signal that it isn’t so determined about Taiwan,” Song said. “So I think in the face of US pressure the Chinese military will react more strongly.”
Between August 2016 and December 2017 the PLA carried out 27 patrols by air and sea, including two by the aircraft carrier Liaoning. Last April, there were four “aerial encircling” operations in nine days.
The most recent patrol was last month and included a Su-30 fighter, H-6K bomber, Il-78 aerial tanker and Tu-154 reconnaissance aircraft along with two warships loaded with full armouries, after a six-month break from such operations.
“Resisting reunification with force is a road leading to death,” defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said when asked to comment about the patrol.