After weeks out of the public eye, Chinese leader Xi Jinping showed up at the national monument commemorating the defeat of the Kuomintang nationalist army and the beginning of the Communist Party’s predominance over Imperial China.
Is this public appearance by Xi at a place of historical significance for the Communist Party a hidden message to nations that support Taiwan or is it a signal to Xi’s opponents within the CCP?
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently traveled to the island nation to lend support, highlighted the nation’s democratic values and its fears of China’s invasion.
The CCP, quick on reflexes, had already prepared its moves to counter international media coverage. It published a white paper on Taiwan, stating its intentions to reclaim the island and reunify it with China through “peaceful means.”
Such statements clash with reality. Before, during, and after Pelosi’s visit, the CCP kept up its repeated military exercises and several shells landed too close to the strait, some even hitting Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
This visit brought to light several aspects of the political and social situation in China that converge on the CCP leader, who has the 20th Party Congress in his sights. Because of this, he is strengthening his alliances in search of re-election. The reunification of Taiwan by force would be a sign of Xi’s loyalty for those party members who want to see him fall definitively.
So far, Xi has resisted the temptation to invade Taiwan and instead cracked down on opponents. Some Chinese-language foreign media reported in late 2021 that former People’s Liberation Army Air Force General Liu Yazhou was detained for questioning Xi’s ability to lead the CCP to victory in a “decisive battle” over Taiwan and for calling for “a change of commander-in-chief.”
Xi has repeatedly stated that Taiwan should be reunified with the People’s Republic of China, but at the beginning of this year his directives to the PLA were different from previous years. The PLA is developing new aircraft carrier and ballistic missile designs, yet the navy’s training is not sufficient to catch up with technological advances. As commander-in-chief of the PLA, Xi’s first order decreed for the army at the beginning of this year was unusually brief and very general: “I order the start of military training in 2022” and added that he expected the PLA to successfully support the 20th CPC Congress.
The PLA is undergoing a major restructuring of military personnel and resources. In fact, reports coming from U.S. military intelligence agencies show that the PLA’s air and missile military equipment is obsolete. Air training is not achieving the ultimate goal and there are serious deficiencies in landing maneuvers on aircraft carriers.
Xi’s recent orders deployed the Chinese military inside the country to strengthen internal control, that is social stability. According to an article published on June 16 by New York-based China specialist consulting firm SinoInsider, “Xi’s leadership is primarily interested in using the ‘nonwar’ military order to legalize and standardize PLA deployment for internal stability maintenance operations.” “Apart from economic problems, Beijing has to deal with a number of other issues that could trigger widespread public resentment and serious social unrest. These include the excesses of the ‘zero-COVID’ policy, long-standing official-civil conflicts, food crisis, natural disasters, etc. Having the ‘nowar’ order gives Xi’s leadership a head start in preparing for the worst-case scenario.”
On the other hand, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe declared that China would “fight to the end” to achieve the island’s reunification.
Meanwhile, several experts in China said that if Xi wins re-election in 2022, Taiwan is more likely to suffer the consequences of a military invasion.
Grant Newsham, a research expert at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, said that psychological warfare from the CCP should not be underestimated, especially with the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine on the global stage.
“Psychological warfare, trying to wear down resistance, is part of China’s strategy. And it has its effect if the Taiwanese don’t believe there is anyone really backing them,” Newsham said.
Michael Beckley and Hal Brands, authors of the recently published book “Defending Taiwan,” said, “In the most worrisome scenario, Beijing would launch a surprise missile attack, striking not only Taiwan’s defenses, but also U.S. naval and air forces concentrated at a few large bases in the western Pacific.”
The consequences would be devastating, as they point out in their report Into the Danger Zone: The Coming Crisis in US-China Relations: “If China succeeds in overpowering Taiwan, it would gain access to its world-class semiconductor industry and unleash dozens of ships, hundreds of missile launchers, dozens of fighter jets, and will have billions of dollars to wreak havoc elsewhere. China could use Taiwan as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ to project military power in the Western Pacific, blockade Japan, the Philippines and fracture U.S. alliances with East Asia.”
The report goes on to say, “Not least, a successful aggression would eliminate the world’s only Chinese democracy, suppressing a persistent threat to the legitimacy of the CCP. Taiwan is therefore the center of gravity in East Asia; whatever happens in Taiwan, is replicated in the region.”
Pelosi’s visit brought to center stage the CCP’s massive media hype aimed at asserting its intentions for a military invasion of Taiwan, with planes and threatening shells included. However, Xi’s appearance in Liaoshen is an unknown, does it reflect the CCP’s ambition for world dominance or the beginning of its downfall due to the deep cracks of the political struggles of the different factions?