By Andrew Thornebrooke for the Epoch Times October 14, 2021
What began earlier this month as a routine display of cross-strait harassment resulted in a record-breaking 149 Chinese warplanes transgressing into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the course of four consecutive days, sparking international alarm and outrage.
The events marked a new low in cross-strait relations. Experts, however, believe that the show of force is not a signal of imminent attack, but a complex display meant to simultaneously intimidate Taiwan, undermine the island’s international relationships, and solidify Xi Jinping’s standing within the Chinese Communist Party and its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Intimidation or Weakness?
John Dotson, deputy director of Washington-based non profit Global Taiwan Institute, told The Epoch Times that the incursions were an intimidation tactic and part of a grander strategy by Beijing to coerce the international community away from the defense of Taiwan.
“The flights into Taiwan’s ADIZ are part of a larger intimidation campaign that is also being conducted in the realms of diplomacy and propaganda,” Dotson said in an email, “as seen in Xi Jinping’s Oct. 9th speech, which condemned Taiwan’s government and reasserted the inevitability of Taiwan’s ‘unification’ with China.”
Shortly after the incursions, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also conducted amphibious assault drills across the Taiwan Strait, and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for the “reunification” of Taiwan with mainland China.
The PLA Daily, China’s official military newspaper, followed up with an article that said that the PLA would “crush” any attempts to separate Taiwan from the mainland, though Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949.
Former U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith Krach told The Epoch Times in an email that the rapid escalation of air incursions was designed to simultaneously intimidate the people of Taiwan into abandoning democratic forms of governance and to undermine the island’s relationship with the United States following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
“As the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Taiwan in four decades, I know what it’s like to be greeted by 40 Chinese fighters and bombers,” Krach said, referring to his three-day visit to the island last September, during which the regime sent aircraft over the ADIZ on two of those days.
“The escalation of these intrusions is meant to [firstly] intimidate the Taiwanese people, who cherish their democracy, into giving up the will to stand their ground. [And secondly], test the will of the U.S. and free world after Chinese state media openly mocked Taiwan for relying on the US for its defense after the Afghanistan crisis.”
Dotson and Krach also said that the incursions belied the current weakness of Xi’s position in Beijing, following months of attempts to tighten his personal control over the CCP and PLA, a floundering real estate market, and growing energy crisis.
“Intimidation tactics against Taiwan also serve Xi Jinping’s purposes for shoring up his own position within the Communist Party,” Dotson said. “Ultimately, that’s a more important factor than any of the justifications cited by Beijing.”
Krach said, “With the brewing domestic real estate and energy crisis, Xi is weaker than he wants the world to believe and he’s overplaying his hand.”
“Tyrants can’t persuade, so they bully, especially when their own deck of cards is weaker than they want others to think,” he added.
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Two Chinese SU-30 fighter jets take off from an unspecified location to fly a patrol over the South China Sea in a file photo. (Jin Danhua/Xinhua via AP)