China Adopts Cautious Tone on Taiwan Amid Rising Tensions: Focus Shifts to Deterrence and Economic Integration

Last Updated on March 6, 2024 11:55 am

In the wake of a recent maritime clash near Taiwan-ruled Kinmen islands, China’s top leaders maintain a measured stance on Taiwan during the annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing. Premier Li Qiang and Communist Party of China’s (CPC) fourth-ranked official, Mr Wang Huning, delivered reports emphasizing Beijing’s opposition to separatist activities but refrained from escalating rhetoric.

Premier Li’s work report on March 5 reiterated China’s stance on Taiwan, vowing to “resolutely oppose separatist activities aimed at ‘Taiwan independence’ and external interference” while advocating for the “peaceful development of cross-strait relations.” Notably, the mention of “external interference” raised eyebrows, but experts suggest it aligns with recent discourse from leaders like President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Wang, in his CPPCC work report on March 4, strategically avoided explicit references to “Taiwan” except in the context of an upcoming forum promoting cross-strait development. Analysts interpret this as a signal that Beijing’s existing Taiwan policy remains unchanged, focusing on deterrence and potential economic integration.

Dr. Li Nan from the National University of Singapore suggests that China may intensify efforts to integrate Taiwan economically, raising the costs of independence and creating vested interests. The goal is to strengthen Beijing’s position while wielding economic leverage to discourage separatist tendencies.

Amid heightened cross-strait tensions following the Kinmen islands clash and China’s adjustments to flight paths in the Taiwan Strait, observers note a more cautious approach. Despite China’s continuous pressure on Taiwan since the recent presidential election, Beijing appears to favor military operations below the threshold of war to achieve its objectives.

Dr. James Char, an expert in China’s military and domestic politics, points out that the Chinese military’s current shortcomings, particularly in combined arms and joint operations, may influence its strategy. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems reluctant to challenge Washington’s military dominance or unilaterally alter the Taiwan Strait’s status quo.

China’s defense spending for 2024 sees a 7.2% increase over the previous year, reaching 1.67 trillion yuan. Dr. Li suggests that this growth rate, consistent with the last decade, may be restrained when considering factors like inflation and exchange rate fluctuations.

In a notable development, Defence Minister Dong Jun, appointed in December 2023, is not expected to assume additional roles in the State Council or the Central Military Commission during the current parliamentary sessions. Dr. Char indicates that this administrative procedure won’t impact China’s military diplomacy, which continues despite the absence of General Li Shangfu since August 2023.

As China navigates complex geopolitical dynamics, its approach to Taiwan and military strategy reflects a delicate balance, emphasizing deterrence while leaving room for economic incentives and diplomatic maneuvering.

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