China promotes its vision for Taiwan as US delegation visits

BEIJING – As tensions in the Taiwan Strait reached their highest level in decades, China wowed the world by flaunting its military might, launching its biggest military drills since so far to intimidate Taiwan and its supporters. However, the message China seeks to convey involves more than warships and fighter jets.

Besides the flashy display of raw power, China has been setting forth the most powerful vision – politically, economically, culturally – of a unified future with Taiwan.

Under that vision, under the guidance of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, not only the Chinese navy will navigate at will through the Taiwan Strait, but mainland troops could also be stationed on the island. , to enforce a system of political dependence similar to that in Hong Kong. . China and Taiwan will work together to repel lurking foreign powers seeking to use the island to weaken Beijing. And the people of Taiwan themselves will put aside the distinct identity that has emerged on the island, recognize their blood and cultural roots, and return to the embrace of the motherland.

This envisioned future has been laid out in recent weeks through a combination of military exercises, new policy documents, propaganda and social media campaigns. On a visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month, followed by another congressional delegation on Monday, China accused the United States of stepping up efforts to divide China and said that they need to reiterate their position.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan, and the Taiwan issue does not allow foreign interference,” China’s defense ministry said in a statement on Monday, as the military announced more drills. “The People’s Liberation Army continues to train and prepare for war.”

Many elements of this vision are not new. Nor is it likely that they will be easily implemented, especially against the growing anti-Mainland feeling in self-governing Taiwan. But they are a window into what Beijing means when it comes to China’s rise and rejuvenation – a goal the country has increasingly emphasized in the run-up to this fall’s party congress, when Mr. Xi is expected to break recent precedent and demand a third term.

The white paper says: “CPC has always been the backbone of the Chinese nation, exercising a strong leadership role in realizing the process of national rejuvenation and reunification,” using the abbreviation of the Communist Party. Chinese products said.

The first step to achieving that vision would be to unify itself, and China has used military exercises to flex its growing ability to make that happen by force. Military jets have made dozens of unofficial median line incursions in the Taiwan Strait this month, and the first time China has launched a missile over the island.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies in Singapore, said the exercises were the first major test of recent modernization reforms in the military. “Theoretically, what we see is that Eastern Theater Command can do exercises of this scale,” he said.

The exercises also provide an opportunity for China to become more aggressive, more often in the Taiwan Strait. Last week, it extended the drills past the originally announced end date of August 7. Even after the exercises officially ended a few days later, Taiwan continued to report Report flights of Chinese jets over the median line.

Chinese officials have used the actions to signal a new standard, asserting that no part of the Taiwan Strait can be considered international waters because Beijing claims Taiwan as its own. .

“The median line will no longer be respected,” said Mr. Koh, an analyst in Singapore.

But the Communist Party’s preoccupation with Taiwan is not merely territorial. Under Xi, Beijing has emphasized the nation’s great ideals associated with blood and cultural heritage. In that view, Taiwan, with its majority ethnic Chinese, has an unalterable bond with China.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed that opinion in a Twitter post about the number of restaurants in Taipei serving noodles from Shanxi province. “Friends don’t lie,” she declared, claiming it was proof that Taiwan is China’s “long-lost child”.

She was thoroughly mocked. But Twitter is blocked on the mainland, and on Chinese social media platform Weibo, users gloat when they find regional Chinese food on an online map of Taiwan. A hashtag, “Speaks out of the owner of a Shanxi knife-cut noodle shop in Taiwan province”, has been viewed more than 920 million times. (The owner is said to have promised discounts to mainland diners.)

China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, also suggested this month that Taiwan has a filial obligation to China, when he said that Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, had “betrayed the ancestors”.

Of course, the project to shed light on the differences between democratic Taiwan and Communist China is also political. And it is the focus of a nearly 9,000-word white paper published last week.

The first article Beijing published on Taiwan since 2000, largely restated long-standing arguments, including that Beijing would not rule out the use of force. However, reflecting China’s more authoritarian turn under Xi, it also offers a harsher view of what life under reunification will be like than previous versions of the main article. book.

The party has long said that Taiwan will be governed under a “one country, two systems” model that – like in Hong Kong – maintains certain characteristics and potential rights, not found on the mainland. . The 2000 report stated nine times that negotiations between Taiwan and China to define that framework would be conducted on “equality,” or other similar language. But that commitment appeared only once on the new paper.

And China has destroyed many of Hong Kong’s freedoms, despite its promises.

The newspaper also made no previous pledge not to station Chinese troops or administrative personnel in Taiwan. It also hints at efforts to remake Taiwan’s identity, which the island’s youth increasingly see as distinct from mainland China. It pledged to “improve our compatriots’ understanding of the mainland” to reduce “misconceptions and doubts”.

Some Chinese officials have been more explicit. China’s ambassador to France recently said that reunification would be followed by “re-education” – a chilling echo of the so-called re-education camps that China has used to intern the Uighurs. Er in Xinjiang.

Despite the tougher stance, some experts see the white paper’s general message as one of its limitations. Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University, said China has repeatedly asserted that China prefers a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, given the fact that open conflict would still be extreme. costly period.

That is most likely a way of boosting the tone of public discussion for more nationalist Chinese, Professor Zhu added. Many have expressed outrage and disappointment that China did not force Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

“If the Taiwan issue is not handled well, it will only create new comprehensive problems for China,” he said.

However, the article is unlikely to convince perhaps the most important audience, Taiwan itself. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council dismissed it as “fantasy.” And Taiwan’s leaders have made it clear that they will not succumb to China’s show of force.

So the audience is most likely to hear this unified vision, the one that Beijing has the most control over: its own people.

China’s state media has sustained a flurry of headlines about the pursuit of unification – an obstacle that has set aside other issues such as a slowing economy, a banking scandal, attacks on women and continues to lock down millions.

Xiao Qiang, who studies Chinese censorship at the University of California, Berkeley, said:.

“The tight control, the economy is going through this severe slowdown – those are the real problems,” Mr. Xiao said. “There are so many other things that people are concerned about in their daily lives. And right now, it’s all being suppressed, those problems, under this issue of nationalism. “

Claire Fu and Amy Chang Chien Contributing research.

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