INTERVIEW – As Taiwan votes to elect its new president this Saturday, Xi Jinping is displaying much more belligerent speech and behavior than in the past, observes China expert Marc Julienne.
Marc Julienne, Doctor of Political Science and International Relations, is a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), responsible for the activities in China within the Asia Center and teaches at INALCO.
LE FIGARO. – On Saturday, January 13th, Taiwan will elect its new president. Lai Ching-te, the ruling party's candidate, has an advantage in the polls. How is this election perceived in China?
Marc JULIENNE. – China has no real allies among Taiwan's presidential candidates, but prefers candidates that least serve its interests, i.e. parties that do not support independence. To this end, it is exerting political and military pressure on the island, both to dissuade the Independence Party from pursuing this path and to dissuade voters from supporting that party. More severely, China is employing a strategy of disinformation in Taiwanese society and social networks, spreading rumors and false information about the Progressive Democratic Party and its national and local candidates.
China at the end of August had started military maneuvers around Taiwan as a “serious warning » after a visit to the United States by Taiwanese Vice President William Lai. How can we understand this event in retrospect?
At every meeting between high-ranking Taiwanese and American officials, Beijing clearly demonstrates its dissatisfaction through military exercises. These are also opportunities for the Chinese army to conduct larger-than-usual maneuvers. Already in April 2023, President Tsai Ing-wen made a stopover in the USA, in California, to meet the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy. China then launched major air and naval exercises in the strait just as French President Emmanuel Macron concluded a state visit to the country.
Chinese military activity in the strait and around Taiwan is commonplace.
Likewise, the largest Chinese military deployment around Taiwan in history followed Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei in August 2022. However, it must be remembered that Chinese military activities in the Strait and around Taiwan occur on a daily basis and are not limited to international meetings.
How is China increasing its military capabilities? Is Taiwan a destination for them?
China has two main objectives when it comes to its military capabilities. The first is to close certain gaps to strengthen its projection capabilities: aerial refueling of tankers, amphibious ships, anti-submarine warfare. This equipment is all the more a priority because it is essential for a possible offensive against Taiwan. The second goal is to improve the quality of an army that is very numerous but very unequal and largely inexperienced in combat.
Xi Jinping has already judged: “inevitable ” There “reunion » with Taiwan. Because of his wishes, he renewed his desire to annex the island. What other options are there from Beijing?
Xi Jinping's opportunities are dwindling. Taiwanese identity is advancing inexorably in Taiwan. This reduces the desire for unification with the continent, which is particularly deterred by the ideological radicalization in People's China. Time is therefore no longer on Beijing's side. Furthermore, his proposal to apply the “one country, two systems” principle to Taiwan – hitherto credited with the success we know of in Hong Kong – is unanimously rejected on the island, fueling even more mistrust.
The Chinese flag now flies everywhere in Hong Kong. MAY JAMES / AFP
China has been announcing its intention to annex Taiwan for several years. Why hasn't she done it yet? Is she waiting for a specific event?
The essential goal of the Communist Party is unification, if possible peacefully, if necessary by force. The military option is not only not a priority, but is also very risky in the short term due to the army's capacity gaps. However, Xi Jinping is displaying much more belligerent language and actions than in the past, which should encourage us to seriously monitor the development of cross-strait relations.
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