China’s Taiwan strategy: Is Beijing drawing plan for the island’s integration with the mainland?

Just ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan on January 13, Beijing has come out with a plan for the integration of Taiwan with mainland China on the cultural, social, and economic front. Under the initiative, China has identified the coastal province of Fujian as a “model zone” for the planned integration with Taiwan.

For this, Beijing has also vowed to do away with constraints that dog cross-strait smooth transition on trade and investment front, and Taiwanese desire to seek mainland residency, South China Morning Post said.

This has given rise to fear that Beijing may soon launch a military operation to reunify Taiwan once the election in the self-ruling island is over. In fact, China wants to pursue its goal over Taiwan methodically and in this regard, the country’s all agencies and departments are working overtime to ensure that reunification remains a meaningful affair.

Given this, China’s Ministry of Commerce, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Taiwan Affairs Office, as per the Hong Kong-based English daily newspaper, are busy in laying out a blueprint for the planned integration of Taiwan with mainland China on all crucial fronts.

On September 12, 2023, China had first released a 21-article blueprint on “reunification” of Taiwan where in Fujian was identified as the first-choice mainland gateway for Taiwanese residents and companies. Overall, emphasis has been laid on an “interconnected living” for Taiwan and mainland China, particularly Fujian.

Interestingly, the development has come just ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan which China presume would result in the victory of a pro-independence leaning outfit again. Political surveys conducted in Taiwan recently show that the majority of people in the self-ruling island identify themselves as only Taiwanese. It alludes to the continuation of the same situation in Taiwan.

But China, which is desperate for the reunification of Taiwan, looks at such pro-Taiwanese inclinations among the people of the self-ruling island as a challenge. It is urging Taiwanese to “firmly stand on the right side of history, promote the return of cross-strait relations to the correct track of peaceful development, and advance the process of the peaceful reunification of the motherland.” It is seen as a ruse from China, which aims to adopt various ways, including the military one to make its goal of reuniting the self-ruling island successful.

On January 9, it launched a Long March 2 rocket that passed over southern Taiwan. China confirmed the launch of the Long March 2, which is part of the People’s Liberation Army’s main ballistic missile rocket family. The rocket was carrying an advanced satellite, described by China as “Edison Probe.” The Chinese Academy of Sciences in a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, said the satellite will be used to monitor fleeting phenomena in space, including the merging of black holes.

Nonetheless, this was the first time China fired any kind of rocket that passed directly over Taiwan since August 2022, when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the self-ruling island. Taiwan’s defence ministry was quoted by NPR as saying that a Chinese rocket passed directly above the southern end of the island as it made its way towards outer space.

To intimidate Taiwanese people, China is already sending fighter jets and drones across the air defence zone of the self-ruling island on a regular basis. Of late, it has begun flying weather balloons near Taiwan’s airspace—all this in an attempt to deter Taiwanese from falling in line with its dictate on reunification with the mainland. China’s stated position on Taiwan is that it will reunify Taiwan with the mainland by force if necessary.

This stand was reiterated by China during the just concluded two-day meeting with the US in Washington DC. “China would not make any concession or compromise on the Taiwan question,” a readout published by the Chinese Defence Ministry on January 10, said.

A new report by the US intelligence maintains that China could attack as soon as 2024, presumably around Taiwan’s elections. However, there are no signs like China massing troops on the coast along the Taiwan Strait. Then there are reports of corruption in China’s military, casting doubts on the PLA’s ability to wage a successful war.

Citing an example of pervasive corruption in China’s military, US intelligence assessments quoted by Bloomberg, maintained that Chinese military officials filled missiles with water instead of rocket fuel. US intelligence sources quoted by Bloomberg said that corruption was so severe in China’s Rocket Force and the wider PLA that it would most likely force President Xi Jinping to think over his military’s capability to take any major action soon. Besides military capability, there are doubts over China’s ability to bear the cost of possible war on Taiwan. According to Bloomberg Economics estimates, the price tag of war over Taiwan would be around $10 trillion, equal to about 10% of global GDP—dwarfing the cost brought upon by the Ukraine war, Covid pandemic and global financial crisis.

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