September 01, 2023

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 31, 2023

Editors: Dan Blumenthal and Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute

Data Cutoff: August 29 at 5pm

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s paths to controlling Taiwan and relevant cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways  

  1. Foxconn founder Guo Taiming (Terry Gou) announced his campaign for Republic of China (ROC) president as an independent candidate. His entrance will likely further divide non-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voters, thereby increasing the chance of the DPP candidate Lai Ching-te (William Lai) winning the race.
  2. The Central American Parliament expelled the ROC as an observer. This advances a CCP coercion campaign to politically control Taiwan.
  3. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began employing new flight patterns on August 24 in the Republic of China (Taiwan) air defense identification zone (ADIZ) likely to complicate and reduce Taiwan’s decision response timeline.

Taiwan Developments  

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to Taiwan, including its upcoming January 13, 2024 presidential and legislative elections. 

Foxconn founder Guo Taiming (Terry Gou) formally announced his campaign for Republic of China (ROC) president as an independent candidate. His entrance will likely further divide non-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voters, thereby increasing the chance of the DPP candidate Lai Ching-te (William Lai) winning the race. Gou’s announcement at a press conference of the “Mainstream Opinion Alliance,” a political organization supporting his candidacy, followed numerous campaign-like events in the months after he failed to secure the Kuomintang (KMT) nomination in May.[1] The KMT expressed regret over Gou’s announcement, calling on him to honor his May pledge to support the KMT nominee.[2] Gou stated the purpose of his candidacy is to unify the opposition and invited the other two non-Lai candidates, Ko Wen-je (TPP) and Hou You-ih (KMT), to sit down for discussions.[3] Gou’s previous outreach to Ko Wen-je on the topic of cooperation did not produce a combined ticket, however.[4] Ko stated that Ko-Gou cooperation is impossible and called on Gou to first discuss cooperation with the KMT.[5] Ill will between Gou and the KMT, which dates to the 2020 presidential election cycle when Gou quit the party, would complicate any potential cooperation between Hou and Gou.[6] The CCP-controlled Global Times bemoaned that Gou’s entrance into the race would split the anti-DPP vote in the upcoming election.[7]  Hou was polling thirty points behind the leading presidential candidate Lai Ching-te in late August before Terry Gou also entered the race.[8] Gou draws his base of support from the KMT, which indicates his entrance will hurt Hou’s candidacy.

A Terry Gou victory is the most dangerous outcome from the perspective of US interests relative to the other presidential candidates. This is because Gou has proposed the most concrete steps towards negotiations with the People’s Republic of China that could compromise ROC sovereignty.[9] Gou on August 25 announced the “Kinmen Peace Initiative,” a series of new civil-society projects to promote cross-strait peace.[10] Gou stated he would fund the “Kinmen Peace Initiative Foundation” with $20 million of personal funds to develop eight major projects, including a “cross-strait peace consultation” office and an accompanying peace-oriented think tank.[11] This announcement follows his May “Kinmen Peace Declaration,” in which he affirmed support for “One China, respective interpretations,” whereby Taiwan affirms it is part of “One China” but not the PRC, and called for Kinmen to become the permanent site of new rounds of negotiations with the PRC.[12] This position contrasts with that of KMT candidate Hou You-ih, who has called for communication and the reduction of cross-strait tensions but said “democratic consultations” with the PRC are not practical.[13] Negotiations as proposed by Gou could provide an avenue for delivering concessions on ROC sovereignty to the PRC. Statements of support from other presidential candidates for Gou’s cross-strait proposals would prompt a revision of ISW’s assessment of the unique danger of a Gou victory.

ISW is updating its prior assessment of CCP leverage points over each of the Taiwanese presidential candidates under the dominant but contested war versus peace narrative. The updated leverage points account for Gou’s candidacy.


Taiwan: Presidential Candidate Key Policy Views and CCP Leverage Points

This chart highlights the cross-strait and US-Taiwan policy positions for the candidates running in Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election. This chart also lists the leverage points the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could exploit under the “war vs peace” election narrative.

Terminology: 1992 Consensus: a disputed cross-strait policy formulation supported in different formations by the CCP and KMT that acts as a precondition to cross-strait dialogue. The DPP does not support the 1992 Consensus.

There are four scenarios that could play out now that Gou has entered the Taiwanese presidential election.

KMT presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih plans to visit New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC from September 14-22 visit, which is unlikely to draw a by the CCP.[29] The CCP inaccurately portrays the DPP as radicals pushing for Taiwan independence while ignoring the reality that the ROC is already an independent and sovereign polity.[30] The CCP used this false reasoning as justification for the economic and military coercion in response to Lai’s August 12 and 16 transits through the United States.[31] The CCP portrays the KMT as a responsible party in comparison to the DPP due to the former’s emphasis on cross-strait economic integration and political dialogue.[32] The continued independent KMT attacks on the DPP for pursuing Taiwan independence aligns with the CCP’s portrayal of the DPP. This alignment indicates that the CCP will not carry out a military or economic response to Hou’s visit to the United States. A CCP military or economic reprisal for the visit would also undermine the party’s inaccurate portrayal of a KMT election leading to cross-strait peace while a DPP election victory would lead to war with the PRC.

Presidential candidates Ko, Gou, and Hou released separate peace plans that center on Kinmen, which is a group of Taiwan-governed islands that are roughly ten kilometers off the coast of China. All three candidates view Kinmen as a good staging ground for cross-strait initiatives due to the islands’ proximity to China. Ko and Hou’s plans both broadly aim to increase cross-strait exchanges and cooperation through transformation of Kinmen into an economic and transportation hub. Gou also aims to increase the number of peaceful interactions with the PRC via the establishment of foundations and think tanks. Gou’s plan differs from Ko’s and Hou’s plans in that he is not advocating for building physical infrastructure and has not discussed building a Jinxia bridge between Kinmen and Xiamen, China. Democratic Progressive Party politicians have come out against the three’s plans stating that their rhetoric promotes ”one country, two systems,” placates the CCP, and that their plans carry national security risks.[33] The KMT and TPP point to Kinmen as an area where cooperation can be easily developed between Taiwan and China while the DPP point to Kinmen as an example of why Taiwan needs to maintain its sovereignty and national defense capabilities.[34]

The Central American Parliament expelled the ROC as an observer, which advances a CCP coercion campaign to politically control Taiwan. Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega proposed on June 23 that the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) replace Taiwan as an observer with the PRC.[45] PARLACEN expelled Taiwan in favor of the PRC on August 22.[46] This successful proposal fits within a trend of the PRC courting PARLACEN countries to reverse their recognition of the ROC as an independent state since the 2016 election of ROC President Tsai Ing-wen. The expulsion of Taiwan from PARLACEN buttresses CCP efforts to diplomatically isolate the ROC on the international stage.

The CCP’s ongoing efforts to diplomatically isolate the ROC are part of a campaign to degrade the ROC’s legitimacy on the international stage to unify with Taiwan. The ROC losing full diplomatic relations with other countries and participating in fewer international organizations makes it easier for the CCP to increase pressure on the ROC to unify with the PRC without prompting an international backlash. Undermining international recognition of the ROC buttresses the CCP’s argument that the ROC is not a state, but rather a province of the PRC.

China Developments  

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to China and the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) began employing new flight patterns on August 24 in the Republic of China (Taiwan) air defense identification zone (ADIZ) likely to complicate and reduce Taiwan’s decision response timeline. The new flight patterns involve longer horizontal incursions across the median line and counterclockwise flights in the sensitive northern part of Taiwan.[52] Horizontal refers to a parallel flight path to the Taiwan Strait median line, the black line running between the PRC and ROC in Figure 1. The location of the capital Taipei in northern Taiwan makes this portion of the island politically sensitive. On August 25, the PLAAF carried out the unusual combination of clockwise and counterclockwise flights part way around Taiwan in addition to longer horizontal flight violations of the median line.[53] The CCP-controlled Global Times stated that the August 25 violations came in response to the United States approving a $500 million arms sale to Taiwan on August 23.[54]

Figure 1: The image shows the Republic of China air defense identification zone violations by People’s Liberation Army Air Force planes and drones from August 25 to August 26.

Source: ROC Ministry of National Defense X[55]

These patterns complicate the ROC’s contingency planning compared to previous flights around Taiwan. Longer horizontal flight violations of the median line come with the possibility of turning into flights around the island, as demonstrated by the black flight path in the image above. The new PLAAF flight patterns around Taiwan confer operational advantages to the PLA by presenting an increasing number of situations to which the ROC military must be prepared to respond. This compresses the ROC’s decision-making timeline about engaging PLA aircraft and presents challenges to determining which aircraft to target.

The normalization of these new flight patterns around Taiwan within the ADIZ would support a CCP coercion campaign to induce unification on the PRC’s terms. The flights aim to wear down Taiwanese military readiness, force difficult decisions regarding ROC resources allocation, as well as create a sense of impenetrable siege among the Taiwanese population. These effects support CCP efforts to degrade the Taiwanese populace’s confidence in its government’s capacity to defend the country, a key part of the longer-term CCP coercion campaign to induce unification under the PRC. Compressed decision-making timelines about whether to engage PLA aircraft also enhances the risk of miscalculation by the PRC or ROC that could lead to a crisis. ISW does not assess that this new pattern of ADIZ violations presages an imminent invasion or other intentional act of war by the PRC or ROC.

The BRICS invited six new countries, including Iran, to become full member states on August 24. This supports the CCP’s efforts to reduce the party’s reliance on the United States dollar for international monetary exchange. The CCP seeks out opportunities to utilize the yuan as a currency for international trade as a mechanism to avoid American sanctions like those facing Russia. The party has achieve success in reaching deals to trade with other countries such as fellow BRICS member Brazil.[56] The CCP propaganda apparatus actively promotes the party’s efforts to achieve the “de-weaponization of the dollar” through such means as trading with Brazil in yuan.[57]

A future Iranian ascension to BRICS would present the CCP with another opportunity to trade in yuan as well as strengthen its claimed image as an anti-colonial counterweight to alleged Western hegemony.[58] The Critical Threats Project (CTP) and ISW previously assessed that Iranian ascension into BRICS would allow Iran to accelerate the completion of regional infrastructure projects and mitigate Western sanctions.[59] Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stressed that the expansion of BRICS underscores the decline of “unilateralism” during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on August 24.[60] These Iranian objectives align with the party’s economic and geopolitical effort to degrade Western influence on the international stage.

  • Iranian state media reported on August 24 that one of the biggest advantages Iran will gain through its newfound membership in BRICS is access to the New Development Bank.[61]The New Development Bank has its own payment notification system, which can act as an alternative to SWIFT.  Iran has sought an alternative financial messaging system to Belgium-based SWIFT ever since SWIFT disconnected Iran from its platform in 2018.[62]

  • Iranian state media also reported on August 24 that Iran’s membership will help Iran “activate” the Russia-Iran-India corridor and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.[63]The completion of these projects would bolster Iran’s economy and help Iran become a regional and international “transit hub.”[64] Iran has repeatedly sought Russian and Chinese assistance and financing to complete infrastructure projects.

The CCP issued anti-Japanese messaging in response to Japan discharging radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company began discharging the wastewater on August 24. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and state-run media accused Japan of “misrepresenting” the safety of the discharge. They also implied that Japan was working in concert with the IAEA to conceal the true danger that the wastewater presented on multiple occasions.[65] The messaging conflicts with statements from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which deemed the discharge from the Fukushima nuclear power plant safe.[66]

  • Chinese government and state-media outlets messaged that the discharge is a “selfish and irresponsible” act on the part of the Japanese government.[67] They also issued the narrative that the discharge was unsafe and that Japan was disregarding near-unanimous opposition both internationally and domestically.[68]

  • China's General Administration of Customs imposed a “temporary” ban all Japanese “aquatic products” for an indeterminate period following the discharge.[69] China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Embassy to Japan both “urged” Japan to cease the discharge and pledged that China would take “all necessary measures” to “safeguard” the health and safety of Chinese citizens.[70]

Multiple incidents of threats and vandalism occurred in China against Japanese nationals and property, including Japan’s embassy staff and consulate.[71] Chinese social media accounts circulated calls to boycott Japanese products and “target” Japanese nationals.[72] China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin did not to disavow domestic anti-Japanese sentiments but rather condemned the “selfish and extremely irresponsible behavior of the Japanese government.”[73] Chinese state-media outlets also circulated articles and unsigned opinion pieces claiming that reports of anti-Japanese incidents were an information campaign by Tokyo to portray itself as a “victim” and “shift blame” onto Beijing.[74]

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