Beijing’s Stance on Taiwan

Parisa Pasandepour
8 Min Read
Beijing's Stance on Taiwan

Beijing’s military exercises for Taiwan

Beijing launches punitive military maneuvers around Taiwan just days after the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president. Waters around Taiwan are heating up, as Beijing began new military exercises on the morning of May 23, just three days after the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, on the island.

The exercise, known as Joint Sword 2024, began this morning and will continue for two days in the Taiwan Strait and around the disputed island.

A Chinese army spokesman, Li Xi, said that their naval and air forces will focus on joint combat readiness patrols and jointly control the battlefield and conduct joint precision strikes on key targets.

In other words, Beijing wants to emphasize its absolute military superiority over Taiwan, which claims to be an inseparable part of its territory.

According to official media reports, these maneuvers are aimed at punishing separatist forces and sending a warning to foreign hostile forces following a separatist speech by Taiwan’s regional leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

Taipei condemned these military exercises as irrational provocations that threaten Taiwan’s democracy, freedom, as well as peace and stability in the region.

Dangerous Words

But why has Beijing concluded that it must now punish Taiwan? It’s not coincidental that China’s statements refer to the speech of the new President William Lai on May 20, where he emphasized peace with China by calling for a halt to military threats and intimidation against the island.

Lai stated, ‘I hope China faces the reality of Taiwan’s existence, respects our people’s choices, and chooses dialogue over confrontation with goodwill. The island’s democracy is determined to defend itself against threats and various infiltration efforts from China.’

Beijing views Lai as a dangerous separatist and reacted to his remarks by stating that he lacks the caution of former President Tsai Ing-wen, emphasizing that there is only one China, and recognizing Taiwan’s independence will have consequences.

William Lai was elected as the President of the Republic of China in January, officially defining Taiwan as a de facto independent entity. He is a member of the Progressive Democratic Party, an organization that is not seeking independence from China but believes that Taiwan is currently an independent nation.

Unstable Situation

Taiwan, with a population of around 23 million, has been self-governing since 1949, but China considers it a rebellious province and intends to bring it back under its control, even if necessary by force.

The importance of this island to Beijing lies in historical, geopolitical, and economic reasons. Recognizing its independence would mean undermining the principle of territorial integrity and also acknowledging the existence of a different political and economic model for communist China.

Furthermore, the dispute with this island involves Beijing’s competition with the United States. This island, besides being the leading producer of semiconductors in the world, is situated in what is termed as the first island chain, including allied countries with the United States that are overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Controlling it opens up a gap in this chain and gives Beijing direct access to the Pacific Ocean.

Struggling to maintain a delicate balance between its interests and relations with China, Washington’s policy has been based on strategic ambiguity since 1979. The United States does not officially recognize Taiwan’s independence but remains its main supporter and arms provider.

It’s no coincidence that they often get involved in military crises between the two countries. One of the recent incidents was in August 2022 when Nancy Pelosi, the then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Taipei, causing tension between the two countries.

Does ambiguity sometimes help?

Some China policy experts say that in his speech, Tsai deviated from the path his predecessor had taken, despite being committed to maintaining the status quo in electoral battles.

For example, while Tsai referred to Beijing authorities or the other side of the strait without assuming the existence of two different countries, Lai spoke of the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, stating that they are not subordinate to each other.

The Financial Times writes that there is a real danger of losing ambiguity that has allowed Beijing’s territorial claims to coexist with Taiwan’s real independence without causing conflicts. We need to wait to see if William Lai really intends to increase military spending and strengthen alliances, especially with the United States, to increase risks.

But if that’s the case, even if policymakers claim they have no choice, it will complicate relations with mainland China.

Meanwhile, the two-day duration announced by Beijing will make the ongoing maneuvers shorter than the previous two, unlike in 2023, they will not include live-fire exercises. However, as the last word in the name of the Joint Sword 2024A operation suggests, they may just be the first in a long series.

After months of anticipation, China once again increased military pressure on Taiwan following an inaugural speech perceived as provocative by Beijing. Chinese armed forces announced military exercises that essentially simulate a naval blockade on the island.

It does not seem that the goal is invasion, which would be very difficult in the current circumstances. Rather, the goal is to send a strong political signal to Taipei by showing that Chinese armed forces would be ready to act if desired.

However, given Taiwan’s deep integration into international supply chains, the hypothesis of sanctions is the most practical option on Beijing’s table. Nevertheless, this indicates an escalation of tensions with global consequences, to the extent that if this island is blockaded by sea, it is estimated that the world economy could decrease by up to 5%.


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Master's Degree in International Relations from the Faculty of Diplomatic Sciences and International Relations, Genoa, Italy.