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Beijing’s Bold Moves: What Next for Taiwan?

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China’s military maneuvers around Taiwan, described as ‘strong punishment’ exercises, highlight Beijing’s escalating tactics to assert dominance in the region. These exercises, notably occurring just days after the inauguration of Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te, underscore the deepening tensions and raise questions about the future trajectory of China’s military provocations and their historical context.

Recent Developments in Military Provocations

China’s military announced a two-day exercise named Joint Sword-2024A, involving multiple branches of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) around Taiwan and its outlying islands such as Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin. This represents a strategic shift as it includes Taiwan’s peripheral islands, simulating a full-scale invasion scenario for the first time in recent years.

Chieh Chung, a researcher at the Taipei-based Association of Strategic Foresight, interprets the inclusion of these outlying islands as a significant escalation. The drills are not just symbolic but practical preparations that could lead to regular incursions into these waters, eroding Taiwan’s defensive perimeter and challenging its sovereignty. Beijing’s actions are a response to Lai Ching-te’s inaugural address, which called for Beijing to acknowledge the reality of Taiwan’s existence and cease military intimidation.

Historical Context of Military Provocations

The current military actions must be understood within a broader historical framework. The roots of this conflict trace back to the Chinese Civil War, which culminated in 1949 with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by the Communist Party and the retreat of the Kuomintang (KMT) to Taiwan, where they continued the Republic of China (ROC). Since then, the PRC has regarded Taiwan as a breakaway province, while Taiwan has developed its own democratic government and distinct identity.

Historical precedents of military tension are numerous. Notably, the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis saw China conducting missile tests and military exercises in response to then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States. More recently, in August 2022, China conducted unprecedented live-fire drills around Taiwan following a visit by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, marking another peak in military tensions.

Geopolitical Implications and Future Outlook

China’s recent actions are not merely about Taiwan but are also aimed at the United States and the broader international community. By escalating military activities, Beijing seeks to pressure Washington to reconsider its support for Taiwan and deter other countries from engaging with Taipei. This geopolitical maneuvering is part of China’s broader strategy to assert its dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and challenge U.S. influence.

The international response has been critical but cautious. The U.S. continues to support Taiwan, emphasizing peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, regional players like Japan and South Korea are closely monitoring the situation, aware that any conflict could have significant regional implications.

Role of Historical Territorial Disputes

China’s military provocations are not limited to Taiwan. In the South China Sea, China employs gray-zone tactics—aggressive actions that stop short of open warfare—to assert its territorial claims. Incidents involving the Philippine Coast Guard, such as the use of military-grade lasers and water cannons, illustrate China’s broader strategy of territorial expansion and control.

These tactics echo historical practices of using incremental advancements to solidify control over disputed areas, a strategy reminiscent of the salami-slicing approach. This involves gradually changing the status quo through small, cumulative actions that each individually may not warrant a military response but collectively alter the strategic landscape.

Strategic Responses and Regional Dynamics

The Philippines, despite facing significant provocations, has opted for a strategy of restraint and transparency, highlighting Chinese aggressions to the international community. This approach aims to garner global support and portray China as the aggressor, thereby strengthening the Philippines’ diplomatic position.

Moving forward, countries in the region are likely to enhance their defense capabilities and seek stronger alliances. For instance, the Philippines is considering increased defense spending and closer military cooperation with allies such as the United States. Taiwan, too, is boosting its defense budget and capabilities in response to growing threats.

Military provocations

China’s military provocations around Taiwan and in the South China Sea are part of a broader strategy to assert regional dominance and challenge international norms. These actions, deeply rooted in historical territorial disputes and geopolitical ambitions, are likely to continue and possibly escalate. The international community’s response will be crucial in determining whether peace and stability can be maintained in this strategically vital region.

Understanding the historical context and strategic implications of China’s actions is essential for anticipating future developments and formulating effective responses. The situation remains fluid, and the potential for miscalculation or unintended escalation poses a significant risk to regional and global security.

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