How close is China to its goal of annexing Taiwan?

Although it is not easy to predict when China will take military action against Taiwan, but Beijing appears to have started preparing to invade the self-ruling island and flurry of provincial chiefs’ visit in the past one month to Nanjing where the PLA’s eastern command is based, shows the country is moving ahead with a plan to forcefully reunify the island with the mainland.

Mired in economic slowdown with the International Monetary Fund predicting its growth to 4.6% this year, down from its 5.2% growth in 2023, China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is single mindedly focussed on reunifying Taiwan as it is a last resort for him to protect the country from any threat of instability.

Economic slowdown and high-level unemployment have the potential to hit the chaos button in China. To thwart such prospects, which would eventually hurt the interests of the ruling Communist Party of China, Beijing, it is felt, might turn “aggressive (against Taiwan) in order to distract attention from internal problems,” Foreign Policy said.  

In this regard, signs have started emerging in China. Last month, particularly close to presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan on January 13, three provincial-level CPC secretaries made special visits to the Eastern Theatre Command and met its Chief, General Lin Xiangyang, South China Morning Post said.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command oversees the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea. For the past few years, this theatre command has been carrying out exercises involving seizing maritime and airspace control, submarine search and anti-submarine operations in the waters and airspace of Taiwan.

In August 2023, the Eastern Theatre Command had organised joint naval and air force drills around Taiwan with an aim to establish warships-aircraft coordination and control of the battlefield. The exercise tested the troops’ combat capabilities in joint operations, China Military, the official English language news website of the PLA, said. This apart, it has been the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command which has been regularly flying aircraft and sending naval vessels around Taiwan to intimidate the self-ruling island.

Nonetheless, during his meeting with Eastern Theatre Command Chief General Lin, CPC Secretary of Anhui province Han Jun is said to have conveyed that his province would “fully support troops training and combat readiness,” Anhui Daily said.

However, close on the heels of Anhui province CPC Secretary’s meeting, Fujian province CPC Secretary Zhou Zuyi also met General Lin and he was quoted by South China Morning Post as saying that the Eastern Theatre Command could “make greater contributions to the great cause of reunification.” Jiangxi’s CPC Secretary Yin Hong, during a meeting with the Eastern Theatre Command, vowed that his province would “focus on what the troops need to prepare for and win combat,” the Hong Kong-based English language newspaper said.

Objective behind these provincial CPC leaders’ meeting with the Eastern Theatre Command Chief was forging close bonds and unity between the military, local civilians, and local governments for the larger interest of PLA soldiers and their mobilisation for the intended task. Moreover, it took place following President Xi’s call to improve coordination between the military and locality to promote high quality development of the PLA.

Besides ramping up military activity, China under Xi’s leadership is busy in ratcheting up intimidatory and coercive actions against Taiwan. For this, it has extensively used a spy network, spread across length and breadth of administration in the self-ruled island. They steal secrets, gather intelligence, sow discord, and undermine the island’s democracy from within.

In November, 2023, a Taiwan court sentenced two serving soldiers to jail for accepting bribes from Chinese spies to record a video declaring their loyalty to China. The video, as per media reports, made its way into Chinese propaganda materials. While this shows Beijing’s desperation to weaken Taiwan internally so that it can easily be won over by mainland China, it is also engaged in courting Taiwanese working in China to speak highly of Chinese culture and its past.

On February 2, 2024, as per CGTN, about 40 Taiwan residents gathered in Beijing to celebrate the Chinese New Year. At the event, these Taiwanese nationals were encouraged to tell their friends and relatives to devote their efforts in building modern and strong China.

Through such moves, even as China is giving a momentum to its annexation designs, what worries experts the most is its consequence on the Indo-Pacific region. They fear that no reunification of Taiwan will be possible without bloodbath and war. If it happens then the US will plunge headlong into war to save Taiwan from being taken away by force, and it will prove to be disastrous for the world, warn analysts. For now, it is apparent that China is rattled by the victory of William Lai Ching-te in the presidential election in Taiwan. Described by Beijing as an “obstinate separatist,” William Lai has become a sort of red rag for the ruling CPC in China. It has repeatedly warned that Lai would bring the risk of war to Taiwan.

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