China–Taiwan Weekly Updates

 

This page features the China–Taiwan Weekly Updates by ISW's China Team, which track the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) strategies towards Taiwan and relevant cross–Taiwan Strait developments since April 24, 2023.

The Coalition Defense of Taiwan is a collaboration between ISW and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Research Director Stephen Gailliot and ISW Senior Fellow Matthew McInnis, along with AEI Senior Fellows Dan Blumenthal and Frederick W. Kagan, lead the project.

The initiative aims to explore strategies for the United States and its allies to deter the CCP's aggression and potentially defeat the People's Liberation Army. Over the next two years, it will produce essays, op-eds, analytical graphics, and reports offering policy recommendations. By leveraging ISW and AEI’s Asia expertise and military planning methodology like PLANEX, the project will analyze strategic and operational challenges.


 

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 24, 2024


Click here to read the full report with maps 

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: May 24 at Noon ET

Key Takeaways

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Legislative Yuan on May 21 and May 24 to protest the advancement of a controversial legislative reform bill in the Legislative Yuan.
  • The PRC launched two days of joint military exercises around Taiwan to “punish” Taiwan for the election of President Lai Ching-te and what the PRC deemed separatist “provocations” in Lai’s inauguration speech. PRC and ROC media cited analysts who said that the exercise’s name, Joint Sword 2024A, suggests that there may be additional exercises in the series later this year.
  • The Fujian branch of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) conducted “law enforcement” drills that entered restricted waters around the Taiwanese Wuqiu and Dongyin islands. The CCG coordinated the drills with PLA joint exercises on May 23 and May 24. The CCG also carried out drills east of Taiwan on May 24.
  • The PRC announced new sanctions on three US defense firms over arms sales to Taiwan.
  • The PRC referenced UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 to block Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization’s 2024 annual assembly.
  • The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) released new law enforcement procedures on May 15 likely as part of PRC efforts to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Legislative Yuan on May 21 and May 24 to protest the advancement of a controversial legislative reform bill in the Legislative Yuan. The Legislative Yuan (LY) began voting on the joint Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) reform bill on May 17, which would grant the LY the ability to call on anyone to testify before an investigative committee, establish penalties for perceived non-compliance or dishonesty in responses, confirm political appointments, and mandate the president to give an annual national address on the state of the union.[1] The “Contempt of Congress” aspect of the bill is a focal point of the controversy, as it entails punishment such as fines and jail time for individuals whose compliance with LY investigators’ inquiries is deemed unsatisfactory, including government officials. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators opposed the reform bill in the LY on May 17, which climaxed in a physical confrontation between members of the legislature. Mass demonstrations took place outside the LY on May 21 and 24 as the general assembly continued voting on the bill’s provisions.[2] The LY is set to continue voting on the bill on May 28.

DPP legislators have criticized the bill as unconstitutional and labeled it a political tool that the KMT and TPP will abuse to expand their power. DPP Caucus Whip Ker Chien-ming articulated the threat that the bill poses to the executive branch, calling it a “limitless expansion of powers” and a “constitutional monster” whose purpose was to weaponize the legislature.[3] KMT Caucus Deputy Secretary-General Lin Szu-ming, one of the main authors of the reform bills, earlier highlighted the LY’s need to possess “strong weapons” to supervise the government.[4] DPP Caucus Secretary-General Rosalia Wu stated on April 1 that the DPP will fight against the law with all its strength, and would request action from the justices of the Constitutional Court if the bill passed the LY.[5]

The DPP China Affairs Department highlighted the Contempt of Congress aspect of the bill among a series of KMT actions that benefitted CCP interests.[6] DPP legislator Puma Shen criticized the Contempt of Congress law during LY proceedings on May 24 for granting legislators excessive penal authority and claimed that the law could be used arbitrarily to punish those with opposing views, including individuals that the CCP might accuse of separatism.[7] Ker claimed that the bill amounted to Taiwan’s “Hong Kong-ization,” referring to the territory’s democratic backsliding and political assimilation with the PRC.[8] The DPP argues that the law carries national security risks, as military or government officials could be compelled to disclose confidential information during questioning from an LY investigative committee or face indictment under the law.[9] The bill includes a stipulation that exempts sensitive national security information from disclosure.[10]

The DPP and protestors are also condemning the KMT and TPP for using opaque and undemocratic methods to advance the reforms in the legislature. The DPP accused the KMT of automatically advancing the bill to the general assembly without proper review in the relevant committee on April 15.[11] The KMT and TPP introduced an amended version of the bill on the morning of May 17, which the parties did not make available to the public or disseminate to the general assembly before initiating voting.[12] TPP Caucus Whip Huang Kuo-chang stated in an interview on May 17 that the amended version was “top secret.”[13] Huang later pushed back against the DPP and protesters’ accusations of opacity and circumvention of legislative procedures and criticized the DPP for using violence to obstruct the bill’s advancement.[14]

KMT Chairman Eric Chu expressed the party’s strong resolve to achieve its political objectives in defiance of what it views as an uncooperative DPP. Chu stated on May 19 that the KMT would no longer be “restrained and courteous” in its fight to achieve reform and invoked the KMT’s mandate to carry out the public’s expectations for reform, which is based on the party’s dominant presence in the LY.[15] Chu criticized the DPP on May 22 for staging the protests to obstruct democracy and the will of the majority.[16] KMT Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi, who spearheaded the bill’s sponsorship, vowed on May 24 to finalize its passage next week after the LY proceedings continued into the night.[17]

The PRC framed ROC President Lai Ching-te’s inaugural address as hostile and provocative for cross-strait relations. Lai took office on May 20, marking the start of the DPP’s third consecutive term in power. Lai’s inaugural address emphasized the importance of upholding Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy.[18] PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Chen Binhua rejected Lai’s assertions of Taiwan’s sovereignty and self-determination as “separatist fallacies” that made clear his desire to realize Taiwan’s formal independence.[19] Chen described Lai as a separatist zealot who poses a danger to cross-strait peace and does not represent mainstream public opinion in Taiwan. Chen criticized countries that sent representatives to attend Lai’s inauguration and warned against foreign interference in Taiwan that violates the recognition of the PRC as the sole government of China.[20] Chen specifically called out the United States for having diplomatic relations and “official exchanges” with Taiwan. There were no official government representatives in the US delegation and the United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at a foreign ministers’ summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, stated that nothing can stop the PRC from reunifying with Taiwan, and that “separatists will be nailed to a pillar of shame.”[21]

PRC state broadcaster CCTV claimed widespread disapproval of Lai’s alleged independence-minded rhetoric in Taiwan.[22] The segment featured spokesperson Yu Chih-pin of Taiwan’s New Party, a pro-unification party that grew out of the KMT, who framed the DPP as the antagonist in cross-strait relations and criticized Lai for stating that “neither side of the strait was subordinate to the other.” The piece highlighted a Taiwanese poll released on May 20 that showed more than half of respondents did not have confidence in Lai’s ability to manage cross-strait relations.[23]

China

The PRC launched two days of joint military exercises around Taiwan to “punish” Taiwan for the election of President Lai Ching-te and what the PRC deemed separatist “provocations” in Lai’s inauguration speech. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command (ETC) carried out two days of joint military exercises around Taiwan on May 23-24. The exercises, titled “Joint Sword 2024A,” took place in nine distinct locations in the waters to the north, south, and east of the main island of Taiwan and around the Taiwanese islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin. ETC spokesperson Senior Colonel Li Xi said that the ETC was organizing services including the army, navy, air force, and rocket force for the joint drills. Li said the drills would focus on joint sea-air combat-readiness patrol, joint seizure of comprehensive battlefield control, and joint precision strikes on key targets. He also said the exercises would involve the patrol of vessels and planes closing in on areas around Taiwan and “integrated operations” inside and outside the island chain to test the joint combat capabilities of the ETC’s forces.[24] The ETC also released a map of the exercises on May 23 that showed PLA Navy (PLAN) warship formations approaching Taiwan from five directions on all sides of the main island.[25]

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported 49 PLA aircraft around Taiwan on May 23, the first day of the joint exercises. 35 of the aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait and entered the north, central, and southwest parts of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).[26] It did not report on the number of ships that day. The MND again reported 49 PLA aircraft along with 19 PLAN vessels and 7 Chinese Coast Guard vessels around Taiwan on May 24, the second day. 35 of the aircraft crossed the median line and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ that day.[27]

ETC spokesperson Li said the second day of the exercise on May 24 drilled vessel-aircraft coordination, sea assault, and land attack, and tested the forces' combat capabilities including multi-domain coordination and joint strike. PLA Rocket Force units conducted mock fire strikes with modularized long-range rocket systems in eastern Fujian Province, which faces the Taiwan Strait. PLAN warships around Taiwan conducted mock strikes on maritime targets. PLA bombers and fighter jets took off carrying live missiles.[28] The ETC also released a video showing a 3D simulation of strikes on the Taiwanese cities of Taipei, Hualien, and Kaohsiung by PLA air, naval, and rocket forces.[29]

The political purpose of this exercise is to punish Taiwan for its election of Lai as president and what the PRC deemed “provocations” in Lai’s inauguration speech. The exercises began three days after Lai’s inauguration as president of Taiwan. ETC spokesperson Li said that the drills serve as a “strong punishment for the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’ forces” and a “stern warning against the interference and provocation by external forces.”[30] TAO spokesperson Chen Binhua elaborated in stating that the exercise was a punishment for “provocations seeking independence” in Lai’s inauguration speech on May 20.[31] Ministry of National Defense (MOD) spokesperson Senior Colonel Wu Qian claimed that Lai “seriously challenged the one-China principle, blatantly sold the ‘two-state theory,’ and attempted to ‘seek independence through force’ and ‘seek independence through foreign forces’” as soon as he took office. Wu warned that “every time ‘Taiwan independence’ provokes, our countermeasures will be pushed forward until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved.”[32]

The exercises also signal a message of deterrence both to Taiwan’s DPP administration and to “external forces” that support Taiwan to not make further moves toward Taiwan’s independence. The military purpose of the exercise is to improve the joint interoperability of various services under the ETC, including joint sea-air patrols, joint battlefield control operations, and joint precision strikes.[33] These capabilities are integral to executing several of the PLA’s joint operational war plans as identified in PLA military texts, including Joint Firepower Strike Operations against Taiwan, Joint Blockade Operations against Taiwan, and Joint Attack Operations against Taiwan.[34]

PRC state media, including Xinhua and Global Times, cited PLA Academy of Military Science (AMS) expert Tong Zhen who said that the exercise demonstrated the PLA’s ability to “strike all directions of the island without any blind spots,” pinning down Taiwan from all sides.[35] PLA National Defense University (NDU) Professor Major General Meng Xiangqing noted in an article in the English-language state newspaper China Daily that the Joint Sword 2024A exercises were larger in scale, number of troops, and area covered than previous exercises and made several “breakthroughs.” First, PLA ships reached the Taiwanese outlying islands of Wuqiu and Dongyin for the first time. Second, PLA ships and planes came “as close as ever” to the main island of Taiwan in their combat-readiness patrols. Third, the drill showed joint and integrated operations to seize “comprehensive control of the sea, land, and air,” including cooperation with the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and “many new forces” including “network forces, information support forces, and information systems.”[36] Lieutenant Colonel Zhang Chi of the NDU’s Centre of Strategic Studies wrote in the same article that the drills to the north, south, and east of Taiwan have specific meanings. The drills to the north send warning signals to “important political and military targets,” including the ruling DPP, based in Taiwan’s capital Taipei in northern Taiwan. The exercise to the south is a “political attack” and an “economic blockade” of the city of Kaohsiung, which is a DPP stronghold and Taiwan’s largest port as well as an important garrison for Taiwan’s maritime forces. The exercise to the east is aimed at blocking the “lifeline for Taiwan’s energy imports,” a possible escape route for Taiwan’s “independence forces,” and support lines for the United States and allies to aid Taiwan. All these lines rely mainly on the eastern Taiwanese port of Hualien.[37]

The exercises are comparable to the PLA’s large-scale exercises around Taiwan in August 2022 in response to then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and the Joint Sword exercises in April 2023 after then-Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met then-US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. The 2022 exercises featured a larger number of military assets and involved the firing of ballistic missiles over Taiwan. Those exercises initially lasted five days from August 4-7, with additional drills until August 10.[38] The 2023 exercises lasted three days, compared to the two days of Joint Sword 2024A. The Joint Sword 2024A exercise expanded the area of operation compared to previous joint exercises, however, operating in nine distinct areas including around Taiwan’s outlying islands compared to six areas not including outlying islands during 2022. Joint Sword 2024A also came closer to Taiwan’s east coast than previous exercises.[39]

The MND condemned the exercises and called them an “irrational provocation” that would destabilize regional peace and security.[40] Taiwan President Lai and representatives of the DPP, KMT, and TPP all condemned the PLA drills.[41]

PRC and ROC media cited analysts who said that the exercise’s name, Joint Sword 2024A, suggests that there may be additional exercises in the series later this year. Follow-on exercises would be named Joint Sword 2024B, Joint Sword 2024C, and so on.[42] The PLA held only one Joint Sword exercise in 2023, the first in the series.[43]

The Fujian branch of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) conducted “law enforcement” drills that entered restricted waters around the Taiwanese Wuqiu and Dongyin islands. The CCG coordinated the drills with the PLA Joint Sword exercises on May 23 and May 24. The CCG also carried out drills east of Taiwan on May 24. CCG spokesperson Gan Yu announced the drills on May 23 and said they were intended to test the Fujian CCG’s joint patrol, rapid response, and emergency handling capabilities. The CCG released maps that showed its patrol routes around the islands. The maps showed a route that passed within 2.8 nautical miles north of Wuqiu and another route that passed within 3.1 nautical miles east and south of Dongyin.[44] The routes entered the “restricted waters” around the islands but not the “prohibited waters.”[45] The CCG also conducted patrols in restricted waters around Wuqiu and Dongyin on May 24 but did not release a map that day.[46] Taiwan does not claim territorial waters around Wuqiu and Dongyin partly due to their proximity to the PRC. It instead designates “prohibited” and “restricted” waters around the islands, which it treats as equivalent to "territorial waters" and a "contiguous zone," respectively. The Fujian CCG has conducted similar patrols that intruded into prohibited and restricted waters around the Taiwanese island of Kinmen on multiple occasions since February 2024.[47] The PRC does not recognize any “restricted” or “prohibited” waters around Taiwan’s outlying islands.

The CCG also carried out law enforcement exercises in waters east of Taiwan on May 24. The exercises focused on training in verification, identification, warning, and expulsion and testing joint patrol and emergency response capabilities. It released photos of the exercises but no map.[48] It is not clear how close the CCG vessels came to Taiwan’s coast.

The PRC state-owned tabloid Global Times cited an unnamed “source close to the matter” who said this was the first time CCG vessels had entered the “restricted waters” around Dongyin and Wuqiu. The source said the exercise and the published maps sent a message of deterrence to Taiwan. The source said the PRC might replicate the “Kinmen model” if the Taiwan government remains “obstinate,” which could include entering the prohibited waters around the Wuqiu and Dongyin islands or boarding and inspecting Taiwanese vessels in the waters around the islands. The source said Wuqiu and Dongyin are of “high strategic importance” and military value because they are close to the mainland PRC, oversee key transportation routes in the Taiwan Strait, and are the front line for Taiwan’s defense operations. The same source also said the CCG patrols showed heightened coastguard-military coordination, as PLA forces concurrently carried out exercises around the islands.[49] PRC authorities did not release maps showing the precise movements of the PLA forces. NDU Professor Major General Meng Xiangqing noted in his China Daily article that PLA forces also approached the islands of Dongyin and Wuqiu for the first time during the Joint Sword 2024A exercises. He said the exercises near those islands sent a warning that if “‘Taiwan independence’ forces escalate their provocation, the PLA may enter the ‘prohibited waters to carry out inspections of Taiwan ships in the area and conduct combat-readiness patrols.”[50] There are no known instances of the PRC using military forces to inspect Taiwanese ships in this way.

Wuqiu and Dongyin are administratively part of Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu regions, respectively. The CCG’s patrols around Wuqiu and Dongyin mark the seventh and eighth CCG intrusions into the restricted waters of Kinmen or Matsu in May 2024.[51] The CCG has normalized patrols in restricted waters around the main islands of Kinmen since an incident on February 14 in which two PRC fishermen drowned while fleeing from a Taiwan Coast Guard pursuit.[52] These CCG patrols serve to erode Taiwan’s control over waters around its territory.

The PRC announced new sanctions on three US defense firms over arms sales to Taiwan. The PRC Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced that it was adding General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, General Dynamics Land Systems, and Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security unit to an “Unreliable Entity List” for selling arms to Taiwan. MOFCOM made the announcement on May 20, the same day Lai Ching-te was inaugurated as President of Taiwan. The PRC forbids entities on the Unreliable Entity List from conducting export and import business with the PRC and from making new investments in the PRC. The sanctions also ban senior managers of the companies from entering or staying in the PRC. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon’s Missile and Defense division have been on the Unreliable Entity List since February 2023.[53] The PRC previously froze the assets of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems held in the PRC in April 2024. It imposed sanctions on Boeing Defense, Space, and Security President and CEO Ted Colbert in September 2022 over Boeing’s sale of Harpoon missiles to Taiwan.[54]

The PRC opened an anti-dumping investigation against polyoxymethylene (POM) copolymers from the United States, European Union, Japan, and Taiwan. The PRC Ministry of Commerce launched the investigation on May 19 after six major PRC POM copolymer producers applied for the investigation on April 22.[55] POM copolymer, also known as polyformaldehyde copolymer or acetal copolymer, is a thermoplastic resin widely used in various industries ranging from auto parts to electronics.[56] Imports supplied nearly 45 percent of the PRC’s POM copolymer demand in 2022. The EU, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States were the third through sixth largest sources of the material, respectively, in the first quarter of 2024.[57]

PRC state-owned tabloid Global Times denied Western media speculation that the “regular and normal anti-dumping investigation” was retaliatory. It said the application to begin the investigation predated US President Joe Biden’s new tariffs on the PRC and that the broader anti-dumping investigation in this industry actually began in 2016, leading to duties on POM copolymer imports from South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia in 2017.[58] The article claimed that US media speculation that the investigation was retaliatory shows that the United States fears PRC countermeasures to the new tariffs.[59]

The PRC referenced statements from the UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures to bolster its opposition to unilateral Western sanctions. The special rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Alena Douhan, visited the PRC from May 6 to May 17. She met with government departments, enterprises, civil groups, and other entities in Beijing, Shenzhen, and Xinjiang to study the negative impact of unilateral sanctions on the PRC. Douhan concluded that unilateral sanctions against the PRC as well as the “over-compliance” of foreign businesses with those sanctions have harmed the human rights of “vulnerable groups” by increasing unemployment and causing other economic disruptions in affected regions like Xinjiang. She claimed that any “unilateral sanctions” that are not retaliatory and implemented without authorization of the UN Security Council are illegal. She further said that all secondary sanctions imposed on individuals and entities as punishment for circumventing sanctions regimes on third countries are illegal. She said that unilateral sanctions should not be used as a foreign policy tool and a means of economic coercion.[60]

The PRC is using Douhan’s credentials as a UN expert to strengthen its rhetoric against Western sanctions and human rights narratives. PRC Assistant Foreign Minister Miao Deyu, MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin, and state media such as Xinhua and Global Times publicized and echoed Douhan’s views that “unilateral coercive measures” against the PRC violate international law and human rights.[61] Wang urged “relevant countries” to immediately lift their “illegal unilateral sanctions.”[62]The claim that unilateral sanctions are illegal and the conflation of economic development with human rights, which are core premises in the special rapporteur’s mandate and reports, parallel longtime CCP rhetoric.[63]

The Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures is not an impartial expert or authority, however, and the PRC may have shaped the outcome of her study to support PRC narratives. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures in 2014 to study the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights and to work with UNHRC and other bodies to minimize the negative effects of unilateral coercive measures.[64] Iran introduced the mandate for the special rapporteur on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.[65] The United States and most of its allies opposed the mandate.[66] A Special Rapporteur is an unpaid independent expert that the UN Human Rights Council appoints to produce reports on a specific theme. Douhan is a professor of international law at Belarus State University who took up the post of Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights in 2020.[67] She has previously urged the lifting of unilateral sanctions on Qatar, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Syria.[68] A 2022 report by the nonprofit UN Watch found that Douhan received a $200,000 donation from the PRC government in 2021.[69]

The PRC used UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, which admitted the PRC to the UN as the sole representative of China and expelled the ROC from the UN in 1971, to block Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization’s 2024 annual assembly. PRC officials including the PRC ambassador to the United Nations and spokespeople for the MFA and TAO have claimed that the resolution confirms the “one China principle” in international law by definitively establishing the PRC as the only legal government of all of China, of which Taiwan is a part.[70] The MFA cited the resolution on May 13 and May 24 when explaining the PRC’s decision to block Taiwan from participating in the World Health Organization’s 2024 World Health Assembly (WHA), which begins on May 27. It argued that because Taiwan is part of China and the PRC is the sole legal representative of China, Taiwan cannot participate in international organizations without permission from the PRC's central government. It claimed that Taiwan’s DPP government has “stubbornly adhered to the separatist stance of ‘Taiwan independence’” since it took power in 2016 and thus invalidated the political basis for Taiwan’s participation in the WHO. [71] The PRC has repeatedly cited Resolution 2758 in its reasoning for blocking Taiwan’s participation in the WHO since 2017.[72] Taiwan participated as an observer in the WHA under the name “Chinese Taipei” during the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou from 2009-2016, however.[73]

PRC officials strongly criticized statements by US officials such as State Department China Coordinator Mark Lambert and various US senators which refuted the PRC’s interpretation of UNGA 2758.[74] An MFA spokesperson claimed on May 20 that “some people in the United States maliciously spread fallacies” in arguing that the UN resolution did not resolve Taiwan’s status and does not prevent Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. The spokesperson said such “absurd and dangerous” arguments “not only challenge China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also challenge “international justice and conscience” and the post-war international order.”[75] The same spokesperson claimed on May 15 that the US “distorting and slandering” of UNGA Resolution 2758 showed that the United States uses international law inconsistently to maintain its “hegemony.”[76]

Broader international acceptance of PRC arguments that interpret UNGA Resolution 2758 as an international legal consensus that Taiwan is part of the PRC would serve to further undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty. It would hamper Taiwan’s international participation, lend legitimacy to PRC coercive actions against Taiwan as a “domestic issue,” and lend credence to PRC arguments that the United States and other countries’ engagement with Taiwan without PRC consent is illegal.

The PRC’s use of UNGA 2758 in tandem with the 1992 Consensus to block Taiwan from participating in international organizations could also support its legal argument for its broader effort to legitimize the KMT over the DPP as a negotiating partner on behalf of Taiwan. It did not block Taiwan’s participation in the WHO during the KMT administration of Ma Ying-jeou because Ma and his party officially accept the “1992 Consensus” that Taiwan and mainland China are part of “one China.” The PRC may return to this more permissive policy under the next KMT administration in Taiwan, with the argument that the KMT recognizes the supposed “international legal consensus” of the One China principle and the DPP does not.

PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Foreign Minister’s Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The SCO is a Eurasian regional cooperation organization that the PRC and Russia established in 2001 with several central Asian countries. It now also includes India, Pakistan, and Iran.[77] The Foreign Minister’s meeting was primarily in preparation for a full SCO summit in July. Wang called on the SCO the bolster security cooperation, information sharing, joint operations, and personnel training. He accused “a few countries” of pursuing hegemony, forming “small circles,” interfering with and suppressing other countries, “decoupling,” and even fueling the “three forces” in the region with the aim of suppressing the strategic autonomy of the Global South.[78] The “three forces” is a reference to terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. Wang did not specify which countries he was talking about, but most of his rhetoric echoed criticisms the PRC commonly directs at the United States. Wang met individually with many other foreign ministers at the summit including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.[79] Lavrov confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping would meet again at the SCO meeting in Astana on July 3-4.[80]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) released new law enforcement procedures on May 15 likely as part of PRC efforts to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea. The CCG released the Coast Guard Administrative Law Enforcement Procedures (CGALEP), which states that the CCG can arrest and detain foreigners illegally entering or exiting PRC territorial boundaries for up to 30 days without trial. The CCG has the option to extend detentions up to 60 days in “complicated cases.”[81] The procedures will come into force on June 15.[82] The CCG announced the new procedures as the PRC is increasingly asserting its claims over disputed maritime features in the South China Sea, such as Scarborough and Second Thomas Shoal, amid heightened tensions with the Philippines. The PRC deployed research vessels and divers to the Sabina Shoal in May, potentially as part of a campaign to prevent the Philippines from defending its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal. This is a change from last month when the PRC deployed the Chinese Coast Guard to block Philippine ships from reaching Second Thomas Shoal and did not conduct efforts to reclaim Sabina Shoal.[83] The PRC also conducted its largest-ever blockade at Scarborough Shoal in May in an attempt to block a fleet of Philippine civilian ships from resupplying fishermen near Scarborough Shoal.[84]

The CCG could use the new law enforcement procedures to justify the arrest and detainment of non-PRC nationals and vessels, such as Philippine resupply ships or Filipino fishermen, within the boundaries of PRC territorial claims. The Philippine civilian group Atin Ito sent a convoy to resupply Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal from May 14 to May 16. An advance party of the Atin Ito convoy delivered 1,000 liters of fuel and 200 food packs near Scarborough Shoal on May 16.[85] The convoy leaders declared the mission accomplished on May 16 in light of this news and decided not to sail closer to Scarborough Shoal.[86] The CCG also fired water cannons and collided with Philippine ships in March while attempting to block a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal.[87] These confrontations show the situations in the South China Sea under which the CCG could detain Philippine nationals under the CGALEP. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned the CGALEP and called it “completely unacceptable to the Philippines” and pledged “to always protect our citizens.”[88]

The map below depicts the PRC's claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea islands within the “nine-dash line” maritime boundary with the 12-nautical mile territory boundary depicted around each of the maritime features that the PRC claims. The map does not depict contiguous zones, economic zones, and continental shelves that the PRC also claims because these do not constitute territorial waters.[89] These island groups include the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands), Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands), Pratas Island (Dongsha Islands), as well as Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal (Zhongsha Islands).[90] In addition to territorial waters within 12 nautical miles of each maritime feature, the PRC claims straight baselines around the Paracel Islands as a group, which means it considers waters between these islands to be its internal waters even when they are more than 12 nautical miles from any individual island. The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 that there is no legal basis for the PRC’s nine-dash line claims and that the PRC’s actions had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights.[91] The PRC rejected the ruling.[92]

Europe

The PRC threatened to impose retaliatory tariff controls on European agricultural goods in response to EU subsidy investigations into PRC firms. This threat is part of a PRC campaign to dissuade the European leaders from implementing more hawkish economic policies that run counter to the PRC’s interests. The China Chamber of Commerce to the EU stated on May 18 that it “was informed… if the EU continues its actions [subsidy investigations into PRC firms in the electronic vehicle, wind turbine, and security equipment sectors], the Chinese side will have no choice but to implement a series of retaliatory measures.” It also stated that “European wine and dairy products may find themselves caught in the crossfire.”[93] The PRC wine and dairy imports are less than three percent of all of the PRC’s imports from the EU.[94] EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski’s visit to the PRC in late April aimed to increase food exports to the PRC.[95] The PRC threat of agricultural tariffs is one means to oppose this EU policy goal and coerce it into eliminating investigations into PRC companies at minimal cost to the PRC. The PRC is the EU’s third largest export market for agricultural products, at six-point-four percent, however.[96]

Russia

United Kingdom Defense Minister Grant Shapps stated on May 22 that US and UK intelligence have evidence that the PRC “is now or will be” providing lethal military assistance to Russia, a statement that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan questioned.[97] Shapps stated that this evidence is a “significant development” as the PRC has previously presented itself as a “moderating influence” but did not provide further information about the supposed intelligence. Sullivan stated during a press conference that he has previously warned that the PRC may supply Russia with lethal military assistance but that the US has “not seen that to date.”[98] Sullivan stated that he will speak with his British counterparts to ensure that the US and UK have a “common operating picture” and to clarify Shapps' comment.

The PRC has provided non-lethal assistance to Russia to support its defense industrial base since at least 2023. Over 90 percent of Russian microelectronics imports came from the PRC in 2023, for example. These dual-use materials are key for manufacturing weapons.­­[99] The CCP also provided Russia with military assistance such as rifles and smokeless powder at varying points in 2023.[100] United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated in April and May 2024 that the PRC provided dual-use components, such as machine tools, to the PRC as part of “invaluable support to Russia’s defense industrial base.”[101]

 


China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 17, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: May 16 at Noon ET

Key Takeaways:  

  • The Fujian provincial government in the PRC launched a series of economic initiatives that aim to build political support in Taiwan for cross-strait integration. Promoting economic ties between Fujian and Taiwan’s outer islands furthers the PRC’s efforts to establish greater political influence over ROC municipalities.
  • The United States and PRC held their first bilateral government negotiations on artificial intelligence risks and governance in Geneva, Switzerland on May 14.
  • The PRC may make an upcoming PRC-South Korea summit conditional on South Korea not sending a delegation to Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te’s inauguration on May 20.
  • The PRC is increasingly asserting its claims over disputed maritime features in three areas of the South China Sea to signal its resolve amid heightened tensions with the Philippines.
  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping held a series of meetings with European and Russian leaders in April and May, after which he likely concluded that the PRC could maintain and deepen economic ties with Europe while continuing to support Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

The Fujian provincial government in the PRC launched a series of initiatives aimed at building political support in Taiwan for cross-strait integration.[1] Among the services that the Fujan provincial government announced on April 28 is the “Fuzhou-Matsu City Pass,” a 300 RMB benefits card that facilitates the travel and settlement of Matsu residents in Fuzhou. The card offers Matsu residents discounted rides on transportation and hotels in Fuzhou, free tours of Fuzhou's major cultural attractions, housing benefits, and dedicated hotline consultation for children's education, employment, and entrepreneurship.[2] The Fujian government also announced that it will promote the construction of transportation and industrial infrastructure, such as airports, high-speed rails, highways, and ports, to increase connectivity between Fuzhou and Matsu.

The Fujian government announced the new programs on the same day that Kuomintang (KMT) Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi met with Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Song Tao. The PRC’s announcement during Fu’s visit follows a pattern of showcasing cooperative policies to portray the KMT as a good faith partner that produces favorable outcomes for cross-strait relations.

Municipal offices in the Matsu Islands facilitated residents’ participation in the PRC initiatives. Municipal offices in Matsu (officially Lienchiang County) began assisting in the collection of the card applicants’ information in March after county Magistrate Wang Chung-ming met with Fuzhou Municipal Party Committee Secretary Lin Baojin.[3] The county Transportation and Tourism Bureau processed the information and forwarded it to the PRC for card printing.[4] Deputy Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chan Chih-hung stated at a press conference on May 9 that the MAC initially warned the Lienchiang County government about the possible illegality of cooperating with the PRC in processing applications and highlighted the danger of transferring citizens’ personal information.[5]

Promoting economic ties between Fujian and Taiwan’s outer islands furthers the PRC’s efforts to establish greater political influence over ROC municipalities. The purpose of intertwining the local economies and increased cross-strait interaction is to positively affect the livelihoods of residents in Taiwan’s outer islands and make decoupling a politically unpopular policy. Targeting Taiwan’s economically vulnerable and isolated outer islands enables the PRC to establish its influence at a local level without having to engage with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) central government, with which the PRC severed official communication in 2016.

The PRC has already made political inroads by promoting cross-strait travel links. The PRC and ROC islands of Kinmen and Matsu expanded links in transportation, trade, and postal services in 2008 after decades of lobbying by the PRC. The PRC refers to these services between the PRC and Taiwan's outer islands as the "Three Little Links."[6] The PRC’s promotion of cross-strait travel has resonated with Kinmen residents, especially with whom political support for a bridge to connect the island to the mainland is strong.[7] The PRC has capitalized on that political support to promote the development of the Fujian “demonstration zone for integrated cross-strait development.”[8]

The measures are part of a broader PRC program unveiled in September 2023 that seeks to cultivate Fujian province as a “demonstration zone” for cross-strait integration by promoting infrastructure linkages and economic incentives with Taiwan.[9] The sweeping initiative aims to make Fujian, a region that shares a cultural and linguistic heritage with Taiwan, into a hub for “merged development” by attracting Taiwanese people and businesses.[10] Other measures include establishing a service center to accommodate Taiwanese firms transitioning to Fujian, offering preferential loans to Taiwanese businesses, and providing professional training programs to increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for Taiwanese people in Fujian.[11] The initiative entails creating a “joint living circle” between Fuzhou and Matsu, which the PRC is promoting by popularizing programs such as the Fuzhou-Matsu City Pass. The Fuzhou city government announced an additional ten policies on May 16 at the Cross-Strait Economic and Trade Fair that aim to draw in Matsu residents and enterprises.[12]

The dominant parties in Taiwan—the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang (KMT)—voiced opposing stances on the PRC initiatives. Democratic Progressive Party Secretary-General Rosalia Wu labeled the program a tool of the PRC’s United Front political strategy to assimilate Taiwan and called on the Lienchiang County government to stop acting as an agent of the PRC’s political influence.[13] DPP legislator Lin Chu-yin questioned National Security Bureau (NSB) Deputy Director Hsu Hsi-hsiang on May 13 whether the Matsu government’s cooperation in submitting the applications constituted a violation of the Cross-Strait Act and enabled the PRC to spread its influence.[14] Hsu replied that the NSB would work with the MAC to determine whether the Matsu government’s cooperation with the program broke the law. Hsu mentioned that the program received approximately 3,000 applicants, almost a quarter of Lienchiang County’s population of 13,000. The Lienchiang County government suspended assistance in applying for the card in April.

Kuomintang (KMT) Secretary-General Hung Mong-kai stated at the same press conference that cross-strait tourism was an “olive branch” that could bring the two sides of the strait closer together. Fu announced that the KMT will propose a resolution in the Legislative Yuan to lift restrictions on cross-strait tourism and prioritize facilitating mainland tourists’ travel to Taiwan’s outer islands.[15]

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) condemned the United States for participating in joint naval exercises with Taiwan in the Pacific in April. Reuters reported on May 14 that Taiwan and the United States conducted unpublicized drills in the Western Pacific, according to unnamed sources. ROC Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Sun Li-fang responded to the claim on May 14, stating that the Taiwanese navy carried out routine exercises with the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, referring to a non-binding code that aims to prevent confrontations between different navies at sea.[16] The United States is a signatory to the agreement. Taiwan abides by the code even though it is not a signatory. MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized the United States in a press conference the same day, urging the US to “earnestly abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-U.S. joint communiqués, and stop the erroneous act of military collusion.”[17]

China

The United States and PRC held their first bilateral government negotiations on artificial intelligence (AI) risks and governance in Geneva, Switzerland on May 14. The meeting was the first under an intragovernmental dialogue on AI that US President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping agreed to launch during their meeting in San Francisco in November 2023.[18] The US delegation included officials from the White House, the State Department, and the Department of Commerce. The PRC delegation included officials from the MFA, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the CCP Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission. An unnamed US official told the South China Morning Post that the first round of talks was not intended to focus on deliverables but instead was an initial exchange of views about the technical risks of AI.[19]

A US readout said that the two sides “exchanged perspectives on their respective approaches to AI safety and risk management” in a “candid and constructive” discussion. The United States also raised concerns over the misuse of AI, including by the PRC.[20] The United States has made a declaration that only humans, and never AI, would make decisions about deploying nuclear weapons. It has urged the PRC to make a similar commitment.[21] The PRC has not responded to this US demand, however, and readouts from both sides of the May 14 talks did not mention military applications of AI.

A PRC readout said that the PRC supports strengthening the global governance of artificial intelligence with the United Nations as the main channel. It said it is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with the international community, including the United States, to form a global AI governance framework and standards with broad consensus. The PRC also expressed its “solemn stance” on the US restrictions and “suppression of China” in the field of AI.[22] An MFA spokesperson objected to a proposed US AI export control bill on May 10. He urged the United States not to “politicize” trade, science, and technology. He also called on the United States to stop protectionist practices, restrictions on PRC science and technology, and disruptions to the international economic order.[23]

The PRC condemned the US imposition of new tariffs on PRC goods. The US government announced on May 14 that it would further increase tariffs on PRC goods including electric vehicles, batteries, solar cells, minerals, semiconductors, steel and aluminum, cranes, and medical equipment.[24] A PRC Ministry of Commerce spokesperson claimed the United States was abusing the Section 301 tariff review process out of “domestic political considerations.” It said the tariffs violate WTO rules and US President Joe Biden’s commitment to not “seek to suppress and contain China’s development” and not to decouple from the PRC.[25] An MFA spokesperson said the United States was “compounding” its mistakes and that the tariffs would primarily hurt US consumers. Both spokespeople said the PRC would take unspecified measures to protect its interests.[26]

The PLA claimed it “expelled” the USS Halsey after the ship “illegally broke into” waters around the Paracel Islands. PLA Southern Theater Command spokesperson Colonel Tian Junli claimed PLA air and naval forces “monitored, warned, and expelled” the Halsey destroyer ship on May 10 after it “illegally” entered the “territorial waters” around the Paracel Islands without PRC permission. Tian claimed the US transit violated PRC sovereignty and security. He also claimed it was “ironclad evidence” that the United States is pursuing “navigational hegemony,” is militarizing the South China Sea, and is a “security risk creator.”[27] The US 7th Fleet said that the Halsey carried out a Freedom of Navigation Operation to challenge restrictions on innocent passage around the Paracel Islands by the PRC, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and to challenge the PRC’s claim to straight baselines around the islands. It did not mention any confrontation with PLA forces.[28] The PRC administers the Paracel Islands and calls them the “Xisha Islands.” Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the islands.

The PRC claims straight archipelagic baselines around the Paracel Islands, which means it considers all the water between the islands as its territorial waters. The PRC also requires foreign ships to get permission or provide advance notification when they sail through its territorial waters. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not permit countries to restrict “innocent passage” through their territorial waters. “Innocent passage” is uninterrupted transit through the waters without other activities such as fishing, research, intelligence collection, or military activities. UNCLOS also only permits designated archipelagic states to draw straight-baseline claims around their islands. Non-archipelagic states, such as the PRC, can only claim waters up to 12 nautical miles from their shores as their territorial sea.[29]

The PRC framed US-UK-Australia nuclear submarine cooperation as a threat to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime at a seminar in Vienna. The PRC permanent mission in Vienna hosted a seminar on May 10 entitled “AUKUS: A Case Study about the Development of IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards.” An MFA spokesperson claimed over 100 attendees from the missions of nearly 50 countries, think tanks, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) engaged in “heated discussions” about IAEA supervision of AUKUS, the US-UK-Australia security partnership. The spokesperson claimed that the nuclear submarine cooperation within AUKUS undermines regional security, provokes arms races and “confrontation between camps,” and has triggered “widespread concerns” about nuclear proliferation. He further claimed the trilateral cooperation undermines the effectiveness of the IAEA and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because existing institutional safeguards and oversight mechanisms cannot effectively supervise the transfer of nuclear reactors and large amounts of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium involved in the AUKUS submarine deal. He urged the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia to stop promoting nuclear submarine cooperation.[30]

The PRC reference to “nuclear submarine cooperation” refers to the AUKUS plan to build a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia, which includes at least three submarines from the United States and nuclear reactors constructed in the United Kingdom.[31] The NPT bans the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapons states, such as Australia, but permits the transfer of fissile material to non-nuclear states without IAEA inspection if the material is not for use in explosive devices.[32] The PRC has accused the United States and the United Kingdom of violating the “object and purpose” of the NPT by transferring fissile material to Australia, however.[33] The PRC seminar in Vienna came less than two weeks before an upcoming IAEA conference in Vienna from May 20-24.[34] The PRC may raise the issue of the AUKUS nuclear submarine deals at the conference or seek to include language about the issue in a joint ministerial declaration produced by ministers attending the conference.

Northeast Asia

South Korea

PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi acknowledged “difficulties and challenges” in the PRC-ROK relationship during talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul. The talks in Beijing on May 13 were the first bilateral foreign minister talks between the two countries since 2022. The two countries’ relations have been strained over South Korea’s increasingly close security and economic relationship with the United States.[35] The PRC readout of the meeting said Wang acknowledged the PRC-ROK relationship has faced “difficulties and challenges” lately but hoped the two countries could enhance mutual trust and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation on trade and development. Wang also urged South Korea to “abide by the one-China principle [and] properly and prudently handle Taiwan-related issues.”[36]  The readout did not elaborate on the “difficulties and challenges” Wang referred to. The ROK readout of the meeting said Cho also agreed the two countries should enhance mutual trust and strengthen economic cooperation. Cho also raised concerns about North Korea’s recent “provocations” and illicit military cooperation with Russia. He called on the PRC to strengthen its constructive role for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the denuclearization of North Korea and urged the PRC not to repatriate North Korean defectors against their will.[37] The PRC readout did not mention these issues.

The PRC may condition the holding of a future PRC-ROK summit on whether South Korea sends a delegation to Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te’s inauguration on May 20. President of the Seoul-based Korea-China Global Association Woo Su-yuen, whom Korean media described as a “longtime adviser to Chinese policymakers,” said PRC Premier Li Qiang would attend a PRC-South Korea-Japan trilateral summit at the end of May. The three countries have not announced an exact date for the summit, but media reports say it will likely take place on May 26-27. Woo also claimed top PRC State Council and CCP officials privately said during his visit to the PRC in April that Beijing would only agree to a separate bilateral PRC-ROK summit if South Korea honors its commitment not to send a delegation to the presidential inauguration of Lai Ching-te in Taiwan on May 20.[38]

Making bilateral talks contingent on South Korea's decision not to send a delegation to Lai’s inauguration is consistent with the PRC’s willingness to suspend dialogue to punish other countries for engaging with Taiwan. The PRC suspended military dialogue with the United States after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022 and did not resume the dialogue until after the Biden-Xi meeting in November 2023.[39]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC is increasingly asserting its claims over disputed maritime features in three areas of the South China Sea to signal its resolve amid heightened tensions with the Philippines. The PRC is deploying research vessels and divers to the Sabina Shoal, potentially as part of a campaign to prevent the Philippines from defending its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal. This is a change from last month when the PRC deployed the Chinese Coast Guard to block Philippine ships from reaching Second Thomas Shoal and did not conduct efforts to reclaim Sabina Shoal. The PRC also conducted its largest-ever blockade at Scarborough in an attempt to block a fleet of Philippine civilian ships from resupplying fishermen near Scarborough Shoal. The PRC asserts that the United States and the Philippines are driving tensions in the region, however, through joint exercises and by forming a coalition against the PRC.

The PRC deployed research vessels and divers to the Sabina Shoal, which may be part of a campaign to reclaim the island and prevent the Philippines from defending its claim to Second Thomas Shoal. Sabina Shoal is roughly 37 miles east of the Second Thomas Shoal and is the staging point for Philippine resupply missions to the Second Thomas Shoal. The resupply missions enabled the Philippines to maintain the Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War II-era naval ship that the Philippines ran aground at Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to serve as a military detachment.[40]

The PRC has sent an unspecified number of research vessels and divers to Sabina Shoal since early May, which prompted the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to deploy a ship near Sabina Shoal on May 11 in response.[41] PCG Spokesman Jay Tarriela expressed concern on May 11 about the PRC dumping crushed corals at Sabina Shoal, which he warned was a preparatory step to allow the PRC the option to build structures upon the shoal as part of a reclamation effort.[42] He also stated on May 13 that the PCG’s mission is to prevent the PRC from “carrying out a successful reclamation in Sabina Shoal.”[43] PRC MFA Spokesman Wang Wenbin denied Tarriela’s assertion and accused the Philippines of misleading the international community.[44]

A PRC-controlled Sabina Shoal would extend the PRC’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and improve the PRC’s ability to assert its claim over the Second Thomas Shoal. A PRC-controlled Sabina Shoal would also provide the PRC with the opportunity to build a military facility to the east of the Second Thomas Shoal. This would surround the Second Thomas Shoal with PRC military facilities, which would enhance the difficulty of Philippine resupply missions. The Filipino troops stationed on the Sierra Madre as well as the ship’s structural integrity depend on Philippine resupply missions. 

The malign PRC activities at the Sabina Shoal come as the PRC alleges that the Philippines has violated a series of secret and informal agreements about the Second Thomas Shoal since 2016. The PRC claims are part of a malign influence campaign to secure PRC control over the Second Thomas Shoal and frame the Philippines as the belligerent in the South China Sea. The PRC Embassy to the Philippines claimed on May 2, 2024, that Xi Jinping and then-Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte reached an unwritten “temporary special arrangement” in 2016 about the Philippines’ access to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal. The PRC alleged that they concluded the arrangement as a gentleman's agreement with two stipulations. First, Philippine fishing vessels would have access to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal. Philippine military and police ships needed to stay at least twelve nautical miles away from the shoal, however.[45] Second, the Philippines would not transport construction materials to repair the Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War II-era naval ship on Second Thomas Shoal that the Philippines deliberately ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military detachment.[46] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning clarified that if the Philippines needed to replenish the Sierra Madre with necessities for the personnel there, it must notify the PRC in advance, which will approve and supervise the process.[47]

PRC MFA Spokesman Lin Jian claimed on May 6, 2024, that the PRC reached another unspecified “gentleman’s agreement” in 2021 with the Philippine government under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. Lin claimed the Philippines violated this agreement in February 2023 without specifying the contents of the agreement or how the Philippines had failed to comply with it. Lin also claimed that the PRC negotiated a “new model” at “the beginning of this year [2024]” that received the approval of “all key officials in the Philippine chain of command, including the Secretary of National Defense and the National Security Advisor.”[48] Lin then stated that the Philippines carried out a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on February 2 before abandoning this “new model.” [49]

Philippine political leadership denies the existence of these alleged agreements. Duterte denied ever making a “gentleman’s agreement” with Xi, however, and claimed that the 2016 meeting helped keep the status quo of peace in the South China Sea. Duterte also claimed that Xi threatened to go to war if the Philippines exercised its economic rights in the South China Sea.[50] Current Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. deems the alleged agreement illegitimate since it was a “secret agreement” hidden from the public.[51] Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año denied agreeing to the PRC-alleged “new model” on May 5.[52] The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs also stated on May 5 that “no cabinet-level official of the administration has agreed to any Chinese proposal pertaining to Ayungin Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal].”[53]

Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels surrounding Scarborough Shoal failed to prevent a successful resupply mission to Filipino fishermen by the civilian group Atin Ito. At least 4 CCG and 26 CMM vessels are at Scarborough Shoal awaiting the Atin Ito convoy as of May 14.[54] 1 PLA Navy, 8 CCG, and 34 CMM vessels sailed to the east of Scarborough Shoal to prevent the Atin Ito convoy from reaching the shoal on May 15.[55] SeaLight Director Ray Powell noted this is the largest-ever blockade at Scarborough.[56] The Atin Ito convoy comprises 5 commercial fishing vessels and 100 small fishing boats that aim to deliver supplies such as food and fuel to the fisherman.[57] The Atin Ito convoy is independent of the Philippine government even though the BRP Bacagay is escorting the convoy.[58] An advance party of the Atin Ito convoy delivered 1,000 liters of fuel and 200 food packs near Scarborough Shoal on May 16.[59] The convoy leaders declared the mission accomplished on May 16 in light of this news and decided to not sail closer to Scarborough Shoal.[60]

The CCP English language propaganda outlet Global Times released articles and a video maligning the Philippines to portray the Philippines as irresponsible to the Atin Ito convoy. It claimed on May 13 that Atin Ito is using the fishermen as “human shields” and that the organization is a “hired gun” of the United States that has “continuously stirred up troubles” in the South China Sea.[61] Global Times also released an edited video showing Philippine fishermen polluting the environment by spitting, urinating, and dumping garbage at sea.[62]

A PLA Navy (PLAN) destroyer division carried out anti-missile and anti-submarine drills in the South China Sea. The PLA Southern Theater Command (STC) posted a video of the drill on May 10, the day the US-Philippine annual Balikatan military exercise in the South China Sea concluded.[63] The drill included the powerful Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Zunyi and other ships including the destroyer Haikou, destroyer Kunming, and frigate Xianning. The STC said the ships were deployed in “sea-strike tactical formation” for training that focused on sea warfare, air defense and anti-missile warfare, and submarine warfare. The drill also included simulated nighttime strikes on onshore targets and exercises involving buoys.[64] PRC state-owned media Global Times reported that PLAN task forces led by Type 055 destroyers conducted multiple exercises around the South China Sea over the past month, including four PLAN ships that traversed the Sibutu Strait near the southern Philippines on May 2.[65]

Europe

Xi held a series of meetings with European and Russian leaders in April and May, after which he likely concluded that the PRC could maintain and deepen economic ties with Europe while continuing to support Russia’s war against Ukraine. Xi emphasized the benefits of cooperation between Europe and the PRC and rejected concerns about Sino-Russian ties and support that the PRC is providing to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Xi said during his April meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 16 that PRC and German industrial and supply chains are “deeply embedded” in one another and claimed this is not a “risk” but a guarantee of future relations – a possible reference to the European Union’s “de-risking” policies toward the PRC. He stressed that the two countries have “huge potential” for “win-win cooperation,” including in green development, and said both sides should be wary of protectionism. He said that the PRC hopes for a “fair, open, and non-discriminatory German market.”[66] Xi also stressed cooperation during his May 5 meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. He said he hopes that “EU institutions… [will] formulate a positive policy towards China” and build “an industrial and supply chain partnership that is stable and mutually trustworthy.”[67] Xi’s statements aligned with a PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on April 27 in the leadup to Xi’s trip that emphasized the necessity of avoiding “confrontation between camps” and the desire for France to push the EU to “pursue a positive and pragmatic policy towards China.”[68]

Xi’s approach during these meetings aimed to dissuade the European Union from implementing more hawkish economic policies against the PRC’s interests. The European Commission and its president Ursula von der Leyen have called EU-PRC trade “critically unbalanced,” criticized the PRC’s preferential treatment of its domestic companies and overcapacity in its production, and called for “de-risking” policies to reduce Europe’s economic dependence on the PRC.[69] The European Commission’s Economic Security Strategy released in 2023 said “de-risking” policies are meant to mitigate risks to supply chain resilience, risks to critical infrastructure, risks related to leakage of sensitive technology, and risks of economic coercion by diversifying supply chains and restricting European companies’ ability to produce sensitive technologies overseas.[70] Scholz, Macron, and von der Leyen all urged Xi to pressure Russia to end its war against Ukraine.[71]

Xi focused on shared Sino-Russian geopolitical goals during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 16, however. Putin framed Russia and the PRC as both not willing to “accept Western attempts to impose an order based on lies, hypocrisy, and invented rules” in a written interview with CCP media outlet Xinhua on May 15.[72] Xi’s view in the aftermath of this meeting that the PRC and Russia should deepen their cooperation to produce a multi-polar world aligns with Putin’s view in the Xinhua interview.[73] PRC MFA Spokesman Wang Wenbin’s May 16 statements further demonstrate Xi’s view that the PRC can continue supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine with minimal consequences. He framed the US accusations of PRC support for Russia as an attempt to shift blame for the Russia-Ukraine War onto the PRC. Wang then reiterated the PRC claim that US accusations “against China’s normal trade with Russia” are unjustified. [74]

The PRC strongly denied and condemned the United Kingdom’s espionage charges against alleged agents from Hong Kong. UK police charged three men under the National Security Act for allegedly assisting Hong Kong’s intelligence service in spying on UK-based dissidents. The charges include aiding a hostile state and forcing entry into a UK address. One of the men is the office manager at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) in London and an alleged former classmate of Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee. The other two are a UK Border Force official and a former Royal Marines commando.[75] The UK summoned PRC ambassador Zheng Zeguang to lodge complaints about the spying.[76] Lee, the PRC Embassy in the UK, and the MFA all strongly denied the charges. An MFA spokesperson called the allegations “malicious slander” and “political manipulation” and expressed “serious concern” about the prosecution of PRC citizens.[77] PRC Ambassador Zheng also claimed the case was a fabrication to “smear and attack” the Hong Kong government. He accused the UK of wantonly harassing and detaining PRC citizens in the UK and warned it not to meddle in Hong Kong affairs. He said the PRC is “firmly resolved in fighting anti-China elements seeking to disrupt Hong Kong” and accused the UK of “harboring wanted criminals.”[78] The UK government previously charged two British nationals with spying for the PRC in April.[79]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 10, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Matthew Sperzel and Nils Peterson of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: May 9 at Noon ET

Key Takeaways

  • ­The Chinese Coast Guard has normalized patrols around Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island with a large military garrison roughly 3 km from the coast of the PRC.
  • Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party legislators in the Legislative Yuan rejected a Democratic Progressive Party draft amendment that would reduce the CCP’s ability to engage with the opposition.
  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on May 5 as part of a charm offensive to block the formation of a stricter EU policy on China.
  • The PRC alleges that the Philippines has violated a series of secret and informal agreements about the Second Thomas Shoal since 2016. The PRC claims are part of a malign influence campaign to secure PRC control over the shoal and frame the Philippines as the belligerent in the South China Sea.
  • The PRC announced that it will release an audio recording that it claims will prove that the Philippines had agreed to the terms of the secret deals.
  • The election of Jeremiah Manele as prime minister provides the PRC with an opportunity to continue expanding economic and infrastructure cooperation with the Solomon Islands.
  • The United States Intelligence Community warned of Sino-Russian military cooperation in East Asia.
  • Russia is starting the development of a joint Sino-Russian lunar nuclear power plant. The PRC and Russia are also collaborating on the development of surveillance space capabilities that threaten US access to space and space-based capabilities.

Cross-Strait Relations

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has normalized patrols around Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island with a large military garrison roughly 3 kilometers from the coast of the PRC. The CCG began patrols in Kinmen’s prohibited waters in February after two PRC fishermen drowned while fleeing from a Taiwanese Coast Guard pursuit on February 14. The PRC pledged after the incident to strengthen law enforcement activities around Kinmen. The PRC has increased the frequency of CCG patrols in Kinmen’s waters and the volume of ships per event since it began routine violations in late February.

The CCG announced on April 29 that it carried out law enforcement patrols in waters near Kinmen. The announcement stated that the CCG strengthened its law enforcement activities around Kinmen in April to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese fishermen, including Taiwan… and safeguard normal navigation in Kinmen-Xiamen waters.”[1] The CCG violated Taiwan’s maritime borders around Kinmen four times since the beginning of May under the pretense of legitimate law enforcement operations.[2] Five CCG ships and seven PRC fishery and maritime agency-affiliated official ships took part in the operations on May 9, marking the first time CCG ships and other official ships have sailed together in Taiwan’s waters.[3] The Taiwanese Coast Guard Administration (CGA) stated that three other PRC fishing vessels joined the formation, which CGA suspects conducted drills with the official ships in Taiwan’s contiguous zone around Kinmen.[4]

The CCG frequently announced its activities in the past week and illustrated its May 6 voyage through Taiwan’s prohibited waters with a publicly released map.[5] PRC state media has actively covered CCG patrols and highlighted their proximity to Kinmen.[6] The CCG and PRC state media’s publicization of CCG patrols in Kinmen waters serves as a public challenge to ROC sovereignty that surpasses the PRC’s rhetorical denial. Taiwan’s CGA has responded to each instance by deploying ships to and broadcasting warnings to the PRC vessels until they leave Taiwanese waters.[7]

Taiwan

Opposition parties in Taiwan’s legislature rejected a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) draft amendment that would reduce the CCP’s ability to engage with the opposition. DPP legislator Puma Shen spearheaded a proposal to amend the Cross-Strait Act, which regulates cross-strait travel for public officials. The Act, passed in 1992, currently prohibits central government officials, city mayors, county magistrates, and personnel of national security-related agencies, from traveling to the PRC without permission from the Ministry of Interior.[8] Shen’s amendment, if passed, would extend the scope of that law to include legislators and other elected officials such as city councilors. DPP legislator Puma Shen spearheaded an amendment proposal that would extend the scope of the law to include legislators and other elected officials.[9] Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) legislators voted down the proposal on May 6.[10] The proposal follows a high-level KMT delegation of lawmakers led by Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi to the mainland last week. Fu met with Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Song Tao and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Wang Huning on April 27.[11] Wang is the PRC’s top Taiwan policy setter after Xi Jinping.

Blocking DPP efforts to regulate cross-strait engagement is beneficial to the CCP. The CCP uses cross-strait engagement with legislators and lower-level officials to advance its political objectives in Taiwan. The CCP strategy rewards aims to legitimize the KMT as a good-faith steward of cross-strait relations that benefit Taiwan. For example, the CCP announced during a meeting with KMT Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi on April 26 that the PRC would lift its ban on the imports of Wendan pomelos and two types of fish from Taiwan.[12] The change in CCP policy signaled to Taiwan’s farmers and fishermen that they stand to benefit from the KMT’s cross-strait engagements and lose from the DPP’s. The PRC implemented the bans as a form of economic punishment after then-US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan in August 2022.[13]

The PRC’s ability to conduct cyber-enabled information operations against Taiwan at scale is increasing with the popularization of social media and artificial intelligence. Days before the presidential election in January, unnamed Taiwanese national security personnel told the media that hundreds of videos denigrating President Tsai Ing-wen appeared on YouTube. The videos were being spread by over 200 accounts and used AI generative technology.[14] The national security sources attributed the videos and other related content to an information operation by the PRC’s Ministry of State Security. The Taiwan Information Environment Research Center (IORG), a civil society organization that researches disinformation, found that about 23% of Taiwanese people use YouTube as their main source for intaking news.[15] The same study found that TikTok users were more agreeable to political narratives that aligned with CCP interests than non-users. Tsai acknowledged TikTok as a possible avenue for CCP information manipulation in 2023, noting Taiwan’s vulnerability due to lack of restrictions.[16]

The PRC is already inundating Taiwan with disinformation. Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) Director-General Tsai Ming-yen revealed on May 1 that the NSB identifies as many as 30,000 instances of online misinformation each week.[17] Tsai stated that the NSB reports around 6,000 of those posts to the Executive Yuan to decide how to respond. Although Tsai did not explicitly mention the PRC by name in his address to the Legislative Yuan, the PRC’s domination of Taiwan’s information threat landscape is known. The PRC’s political warfare against Taiwan features constant information operations that aim to degrade support for the DPP and suppress Taiwanese sovereignty and identity. Governments and threat intelligence organizations have called repeated attention to sprawling PRC disinformation operations in coordinated campaigns such as Spamouflage.[18]

A report from DoubleThink Labs, a Taiwanese firm that researches PRC influence operations, released a report in January that detailed the wide range of narratives that PRC threat actors propagate to negatively influence Taiwanese people’s perception of the DPP. The narratives opportunistically seize on topical controversies in Taiwanese politics to amplify criticism of the DPP government, including egg and pork import scandals, fraud cases related to Taiwan’s domestic submarine production, compulsory military service extensions, Indian migrant worker inflows, and false rumors about President-elect Lai Ching-te’s supposed illegitimate child.[19]

China

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on May 5 as part of a charm offensive to block the formation of a stricter EU policy on China. Macron emphasized trade disputes and urged the PRC to pressure Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine.[20] Von der Leyen also focused on trade by stating that the EU “cannot absorb massive over-production of Chinese industrial goods flooding its market” and said that Europe would protect its own market.[21] Xi stated his hope that “EU institutions… [will] formulate a positive policy towards China” and build “an industrial and supply chain partnership that is stable and mutually trustworthy.”[22] Xi rejected the assertion that the PRC has an “overcapacity problem.”[23] He inaccurately framed the PRC as not a party to the “Ukraine crisis,” while avoiding mentioning PRC support for Russia’s industrial base.

Xi’s statements align with a PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on April 27 in the leadup to Xi’s trip that emphasized the necessity of avoiding “confrontation between camps” and the desire for France to push the EU to “pursue a positive and pragmatic policy towards China.”[24] Bloomberg also reported on April 29 that the EU is considering additional restrictions on PRC companies for supporting Russia.[25] The PRC MFA readout of the meeting between Xi, Macron, and von der Leyen emphasizing the economy and only addressing the Ukraine War in the second to last paragraph indicates that CCP leadership is attempting to maintain access to Europe as an export market while simultaneously supporting Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

Xi visited and met with Serbian and Hungarian political leadership to conclude his European trip. His trip to Serbia resulted in the lifting of trade restrictions and the announcement that the China-Serbia Free Trade Agreement would come into effect on July 1.[26] Xi emphasized implementing the Belt and Road Initiative during his time in Hungary.[27] This will take the form of a 2.1 billion USD project to construct a Budapest-Belgrade railway.[28] Xi’s trip solidifies Serbia and Hungary as avenues for the party to exert influence in Europe, particularly Hungary due to its membership in the European Union.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

­The PRC alleges that the Philippines has violated a series of secret and informal agreements about the Second Thomas Shoal since 2016. The PRC claims are part of a malign influence campaign to secure PRC control over the shoal and frame the Philippines as the belligerent in the South China Sea. The PRC Embassy to the Philippines claimed on May 2, 2024, that Xi Jinping and then-Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte reached an unwritten “temporary special arrangement” in 2016 about the Philippines’ access to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal. The PRC alleged that they concluded the arrangement as a gentleman's agreement with two stipulations. First, Philippine fishing vessels would have access to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal. Philippine military and police ships needed to stay at least twelve nautical miles away from the shoal, however.[29] Second, the Philippines would not transport construction materials to repair the Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War II-era naval ship on Second Thomas Shoal that the Philippines deliberately ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military detachment.[30] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning clarified that if the Philippines needed to replenish the Sierra Madre with necessities for the personnel there, it must notify the PRC in advance, which will approve and supervise the process.[31]

PRC MFA Spokesman Lin Jian claimed on May 6, 2024, that the PRC reached another unspecified “gentleman’s agreement” in 2021 with the Philippine government under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. Lin claimed the Philippines violated this agreement in February 2023 without specifying the contents of the agreement or how the Philippines had failed to comply with it. Lin also claimed that the PRC negotiated a “new model” at “the beginning of this year [2024]” that received the approval of “all key officials in the Philippine chain of command, including the Secretary of National Defense and the National Security Advisor.”[32] Lin then stated that the Philippines carried out a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on February 2 before abandoning this “new model.” [33]

Philippine political leadership denies the existence of these alleged agreements. Duterte denied ever making a “gentleman’s agreement” with Xi, however, and claimed that the 2016 meeting helped keep the status quo of peace in the South China Sea. Duterte also claimed that Xi threatened to go to war if the Philippines exercised its economic rights in the South China Sea.[34] Current Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. deems the alleged agreement illegitimate since it was a “secret agreement” hidden from the public.[35] Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año denied agreeing to the PRC-alleged “new model” on May 5.[36] The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs also stated on May 5 that “no cabinet-level official of the administration has agreed to any Chinese proposal pertaining to Ayungin Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal].”[37]

The PRC announced that it will release an audio recording that it claims will prove that the Philippines had agreed to the terms of the secret deals. Bloomberg reported on May 7 that unspecified PRC officials are threatening to release audio of a purported call on January 3 with Philippine Western Command Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos to substantiate their allegations.[38] The PRC MFA declined to state on May 8 when the PRC would release the recording.[39] Philippines Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner denied that the recording is legitimate, noting that “transcripts can be easily fabricated, and audio recordings can be manufactured by using deep fakes.”[40]

The Manila Times reported the transcript of the alleged audio recording on May 8. Per the transcript, the PRC and Philippines agreed to each deploy “one plus one vessel,” which “most likely” would be a coast guard and civilian vessel. The Philippines would also notify the PRC of any resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal two days in advance, and those missions would “only transport food and water or humanitarian subsistence.” It also claims that Philippine Western Command Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, Philippines Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner, Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año all approved the agreement.[41]

Oceania

Solomon Islands

The election of Jeremiah Manele as prime minister provides the PRC with an opportunity to continue expanding economic and infrastructure cooperation with the Solomon Islands. Manele was the foreign minister in the prior Sogavare administration and traveled to the PRC in 2019 in that role to formalize the Solomon Island’s switch of diplomatic relations from Taiwan to the PRC.[42] PRC Premier Li Qiang congratulated Manele and said he looked forward to “strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation.”[43]

Manele called for a “more focused and aggressive approach” to address economic difficulties in the Solomon Islands during his victory speech and may look to the PRC for additional investment.[44] The Solomon Islands awarded Huawei a contract for an underwater telecommunication cable project that Australia jointly funded and secured a $66 million loan from the PRC for Huawei to build telecommunications towers that began in 2022.[45] Huawei’s ties to the CCP and PLA provide potential avenues for espionage.[46] The Solomon Islands and PRC also engaged in talks in April 2024 to negotiate a standard cooperation agreement before implementing further Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects.[47]

Russia

The United States Intelligence Community warned of Sino-Russian military cooperation in East Asia. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified on May 2, 2024, that "We see China and Russia for the first time exercising together in relation to Taiwan and recognizing that this is a place where China definitely wants Russia working with them and we see no reason why they wouldn't." She did not specify the forces, timing, or location of these exercises, however.[48] Haines’ comment responded to a question about the increasingly robust cooperation between the PRC and Russia and whether one initiating hostility with the United States and US allies would prompt the other to follow suit.

Sino-Russian military cooperation in East Asia supports Putin’s objective to portray Russia as an equal defense partner to the PRC in the Pacific. Putin portrayed Russia to the PRC as an equal defense partner in the Pacific since 2023.[49]

Russia is starting the development of a joint Sino-Russian lunar nuclear power plant. Russian space agency, Roscosmos, General Director Yuri Borisov stated on May 8 that the development of a nuclear power plant for the joint Russia-China lunar station project is underway.[50] Borisov previously stated on March 5 that the PRC and Russia were considering cooperation to build a nuclear power plant on the moon in the early 2030s.[51] This is a competing initiative to an ongoing NASA project to design a nuclear fission reactor on the moon.[52]

The PRC and Russia are also collaborating on the development of surveillance space capabilities that threaten US access to space and space-based capabilities. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) stated in late February that the PRC plans to construct a surveillance system around the in-progress International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). The surveillance system will use the Skynet mass surveillance system as a model.[53] Skynet is the PRC’s nationwide camera surveillance system that includes over 600 million cameras.[54] The ILRS is a multinational space station initiative that Russia and the PRC founded in 2021 that is scheduled for competition by the 2030s. CNSA did not specify how it would prioritize surveillance efforts in space. Borisov stated on May 8 that the ILRS will be launched in two stages between 2025 and 2035.[55]

Commander of United States Space Command General Stephen N. Whiting stated that these types of space-based systems compete with US interests during his February 29 testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services. He warned that the PRC “and the Russian Federation continued to field systems and engage in behavior that threaten US, Allied, and Partner access to space and space-based capabilities.”[56] 

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 3, 2024

click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: April 30 at 5pm ET

Key Takeaways

  • The PRC eased cross-strait trade and travel restrictions after hosting a Kuomintang delegation. The PRC ended the trade bans after hosting the KMT delegation as a form of economic coercion that aims to reduce domestic support for the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan.
  • President-elect Lai Ching-te announced his national security cabinet picks on April 25. The reshuffling of cabinet posts is telling of Lai’s intent to stay the course in cross-strait policy.
  • The CCP signaled during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the PRC the potential for cooperation in US-PRC relations while asserting that US actions—including economic measures against the PRC and support for Taiwan–risk competition and instability.
  • The Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia failed to block a Philippine Coast Guard resupply mission near Scarborough Shoal on April 30. This is the latest PRC effort to enforce the CCP’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping will visit France, Serbia, and Hungary from May 5 to 10 as part of a charm offensive to build ties with the European states and block the formation of a stricter EU policy on China.
  • The PRC hosted “reconciliation” talks between Fatah and Hamas in Beijing and endorsed the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority. Hosting the intra-Palestinian talks is a relatively low-cost, low-risk way for the PRC to bolster its diplomatic reputation and signal its intent to play an active diplomatic role in the Middle East.

Cross-Strait Relations

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) eased cross-strait trade and travel restrictions after hosting a Kuomintang (KMT) delegation. The PRC ended the trade bans after hosting the KMT delegation as a form of economic coercion that aims to reduce domestic support for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan. KMT Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi traveled to the PRC on April 26, where he met with CCP officials throughout the weekend. Fu met with General Administration of Customs Deputy Director Zhao Zenglian on April 28. Zhao announced during the meeting that the PRC would lift its ban on imports of Wendan pomelos and two types of fish from Taiwan.[1] The PRC implemented the bans as a form of economic punishment after then-US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan in August 2022.[2] The PRC’s import bans significantly reduced income for Taiwanese exporters, as the PRC is an important export market for the banned goods, especially Wendan pomelos. The PRC accounted for over two-thirds of Taiwan’s pomelo exports before the ban.[3] Director General of the Ruisui Township Farmers’ Association Huang Sheng-huang claimed that the PRC accounted for 90% of Wendan pomelo exports from Hualien County, Fu Kun- Chi’s district. [4]The change in CCP policy signals to farmers and fishermen in Taiwan that they stand to benefit from the KMT’s cross-strait engagements and lose from the DPP’s.

Fu also met with Ministry of Culture and Tourism Vice Minister Rao Quan the same day, during which Rao announced the PRC would allow Fujian residents to travel to Taiwan’s Matsu islands again.[5] The Matsu Islands make up an archipelago close to the PRC coast. Representatives from the agriculture and travel industries have called for the ROC government to reciprocate the PRC’s loosening. Chairman of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan Hsiao Bo-ren urged Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to respond in kind.[6] A program on the PRC state-run China Central Radio and Television posted on its WeChat on April 30, calling on the DPP to lift restrictions to allow tourism to return to normal and stop obstructing cross-strait exchanges.[7]

The PRC’s use of economic bargaining chips to influence Taiwan’s politics is not new. The PRC ended its suspension of Taiwanese grouper imports in December 2023, two weeks before the presidential election, citing action from the KMT to address quality concerns.[8] KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia, who has held numerous meetings with CCP officials since assuming his role in 2021, travelled to the mainland earlier that year to lobby for an end to the import suspension.[9] TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian accredited the successful negotiations to the CCP and KMT’s mutual recognition of the 1992 Consensus, which the DPP does not recognize. The 1992 Consensus states that both sides agree there is only one China, and that Taiwan is part of the only China. The CCP claims that China is the PRC, while the KMT simply acknowledges the differences in interpretations of “one China.”

Fu met with Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Song Tao and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Chairman Wang Huning on April 27. Wang stated that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the Chinese nation and expressed hope for greater cross-strait exchanges.[10] Fu echoed Wang’s sentiments and advocated for greater cooperation between the CCP and KMT on their “common political basis.”[11] Wang’s role as CPPCC chairman, which is a leading United Front organization, and as deputy leader of the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs make him one of the top CCP officials responsible for overseeing the PRC’s policy toward Taiwan. TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian also stated on April 27 that the PRC is willing to donate prefabricated houses to Hualien County, where a recent earthquake wrought extensive damage.[12]

Taiwan

President-elect Lai Ching-te announced his national security cabinet picks on April 25. Old hands from President Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet comprise the picks, although they will serve in different capacities. National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Wellington Koo will head Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) and current Foreign Minister Joseph Wu will replace Koo at the NSC. Lin Chia-lung, the current Secretary General to the President and former ambassador-at-large for Taiwan's digital New Southbound Policy initiatives, will head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Former deputy minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and current vice chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation Chiu Chui-cheng will become minister of the MAC. National Security Bureau (NSC) Director General Tsai Ming-yen will remain in his post.

The reshuffling of cabinet posts is telling of Lai’s intent to stay the course in cross-strait policy. During a presidential candidate debate in December, Lai praised Tsai In-wen’s diplomatic line and touted his qualifications to continue her policy, being her vice president.[13] The PRC regards the DPP as a separatist party that wants to pursue formal Taiwanese statehood (as opposed to the Republic of China) and suspended diplomatic communication with the DPP government in 2016. TAO Spokesperson Zhu Fenglian described Taiwan independence workers as “war makers” during the election season, referring to Lai.[14] The TAO responded to Lai’s victory in the January presidential election by condemning the DPP’s “separatist plots” and vowing to resist the DPP’s “independence provocations.”[15] Lai previously described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence” during his premiership in 2017, but later stated that there was no need to formally declare Taiwan’s independence from the ROC.[16]

China

The CCP signaled during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the PRC the potential for cooperation in US-PRC relations while asserting that US actions—including economic measures against the PRC and support for Taiwan–risk competition and instability. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi in separate meetings during his trip to the PRC on April 26. Xi’s comments in the PRC readout largely took a positive tone about US-PRC relations. Xi said the two countries should be partners, not rivals, and that they should engage in win-win cooperation and implement the “San Francisco Vision” of his and US President Joe Biden’s meeting in November 2023. Xi said the PRC is willing to cooperate, but cooperation must go both ways; that the PRC is not afraid of competition, but competition should be about common progress and not a zero-sum game; and that the PRC does not form alliances and the United States likewise should not form “small circles” – a reference to US-led multilateral regional partnerships that exclude and target the PRC.[17] Wang Yi also praised the San Francisco meeting and said that US-PRC relations have “generally stopped declining and stabilized.” His remarks focused far more than Xi’s on accumulating “negative factors” in the relationship, however. Wang urged the United States to stop arming Taiwan, refrain from sending “wrong signals” to Taiwan “separatists,” and not use Taiwan as a tool to contain China. Wang also criticized the United States for “endless measures to suppress China’s economy, trade, science and technology.” He said it should stop promoting the “false narrative” of PRC “overcapacity” and lift “illegal sanctions” and tariffs. Wang finally stressed that the Asia-Pacific should “not become a battleground for major powers.” He urged the United States to stop “forming small circles,” stop “coercing” countries in the region to choose sides and stop deploying intermediate-range missiles to the region.[18]

A PRC readout claimed that Wang and Blinken’s meeting produced a five-point consensus. The consensus included agreements to 1. Stabilize and develop US-PRC relations in accordance with the San Francisco “consensus;” 2. Maintain exchanges at all levels and in newly established consultation mechanisms in various fields, including military, drugs, climate change, and AI; 3. Hold a variety of dialogues including the first China-US Intragovernmental Dialogue on Artificial Intelligence, dialogues on Asia-Pacific Affairs, US-PRC military affairs, and consular consultations; 4. Embrace people-to-people and cultural exchanges; 5. Continue consultations on international and regional hotspot issues.[19] The US readout about the meeting did not reference any five-point consensus, however. It said Blinken and Wang discussed the next steps for advancing cooperation on counternarcotics, military-to-military communication, talks on artificial intelligence risks and safety, and facilitating people-to-people exchanges.[20]

The PRC responded to Blinken’s accusations that the PRC provided dual-use goods to Russia by accusing the United States of denigrating its “normal trade with Russia” and “aggravating the crisis” through aid to Ukraine. Blinken raised the issue of PRC provision to Russia of dual-use components and machine tools during his meetings with top PRC officials.[21] He said in an interview after his trip that the PRC is providing “invaluable support to Russia’s defense industrial base” which is helping Russia overcome the effects of sanctions and export controls.[22] An MFA spokesperson claimed the PRC has “never done anything to fan the flames or seek profit from the crisis.” He said the PRC’s “right to normal trade and economic exchanges” with countries including Russia should not be interfered with. He also noted US military aid to Ukraine and remarked that it is clear “who exactly is fueling the flame and aggravating the crisis.”[23] The PRC readouts of Blinken’s meetings with Xi Jinping and Wang Yi did not mention the issue of PRC support for Russia’s defense industry.[24]

The PRC expressed muted opposition following the passage of a US law to force the sale or ban of TikTok in the United States. US President Joe Biden signed a bill on April 24 to force TikTok’s PRC parent company ByteDance to fully divest from TikTok within 270 days or face a ban in the United States.[25] An MFA spokesperson responded to the ban on the day it passed by saying the MFA had already expressed its “principled position” on the issue.[26] The MFA previously expressed its strong opposition to a TikTok “divest or ban” bill on March 14. It accused the United States of overstretching the concept of “national security” to hinder foreign competition, said the attempt to force the sale of TikTok was based on “sheer robbers’ logic,” warned that the US moves would eventually backfire, and claimed the US government has never found evidence that TikTok poses a national security threat.[27] TikTok called the law unconstitutional and said it would fight the legislation in US courts.[28]

Northeast Asia

Japan

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) confronted a delegation of Japanese officials en route to inspect the Senkaku Islands on April 27. The PRC Embassy in Japan said on April 28 that the CCG carried out unspecified “law enforcement measures” and that the PRC lodged “stern representations” with the Japanese government.[29] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Linjian reiterated PRC claims on April 27 that the Japanese-administered Senkakus, what the PRC refers to as Diaoyu Dao, are PRC territory.[30] The delegation of Japanese officials included Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and a member of the Japanese Diet.[31]

The PRC did not increase the number of CCG vessels operating in the vicinity of the Senkakus to confront the Japanese delegation. Four CCG vessels operated in the Senkaku Islands on April 27.[32] This is consistent with the trend of CCG incursions of between two and four vessels occurring daily in Senkaku Island waters since April 2023. Up to eight CCG vessels routinely intrude into the Senkaku Island waters on the first of every month.[33] The intent of these incursions is to exert the PRC’s claims of sovereignty over the Senkakus.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) failed to block a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) resupply mission near Scarborough Shoal on April 30. This is the latest PRC effort to enforce the CCP’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.[34] The CCG deployed four ships, the CMM deployed six ships, and the PCG and BFAR deployed two ships.[35] The CCG and CMM vessels hit the PCG and BFAR vessels eight times with high-pressure water cannons and rammed the vessel three times. The PCG ship suffered damage to its superstructure while the BFAR suffered minimal hull and electrical damage.[36] The Philippines' resupply mission was successful, nonetheless.[37] The CCG also reinstalled a floating barrier covering the entrance of Scarborough Shoal on April 30 to prevent Philippine ships from accessing the shoal.[38] The CCG previously placed this barrier at Scarborough Shoal on September 20, 2023, and February 22, 2024, which the PCG then removed.[39]

The harassment is consistent with ongoing CCG actions to enforce PRC territorial claims inside the nine-dash line. The PRC rejected a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that declared the nine-dash line territorial claims unlawful.[40] The PRC has normalized CCG harassment of the PCG and supply ships near the Second Thomas Shoal, also a prominent feature inside the nine-dash line, since December 2023 to render the Philippines unable and unwilling to defend its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal. The CCG harassed the PCG and associated supply ships six times at the Second Thomas Shoal between November 2021 and November 2023.[41] The number of such incidents at the Second Thomas Shoal has nearly doubled since December 1, 2023. The methods of harassment that the CCG employs have remained constant during the past three years. The CCG shines military-grade lasers to blind the PCG crews, sprays water cannons to immobilize supply ships and injure Filipino sailors, and rams PCG ships.[42]

The CCP used a similar strategy in 2012 that resulted in the Philippines withdrawing from the Scarborough Shoal, indicating the party’s intent with CCG activity around disputed shoals is to gain and enforce control of that territory. The CCP engaged in negotiations with the Philippines in 2012 to end a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which Manilla administered at the time, while steadily increasing the number of Chinese Coast Guard ships near the shoal.[43] This resulted in the Philippines withdrawing its ships from the shoal in mid-June 2012 under a now-disputed agreement that the PRC would do the same.[44] The CCP subsequently kept its ships near the shoal and achieved its political objective of gaining de facto control of the Scarborough Shoal by July 2012.[45]

CCP-controlled media outlets portrayed the United States-Philippines Exercise Balikatan 2024 as a threat to regional stability. The exercise runs from April 22 to May 10 and will include test missions across all domains, including a Philippine-US-French trilateral naval exercise in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).[46] The naval exercises will occur in the Philippines’ EEZ rather than territorial waters because France and the Philippines have not yet completed a visiting forces agreement.[47] The party-controlled Xinhua and People’s Daily media outlets framed the exercise as a bellicose provocation that destabilizes the region.[48]

Europe

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping will visit France, Serbia, and Hungary from May 5 to 10 as part of a charm offensive to build ties with the European states and block the formation of a stricter EU policy on China. The Xi-Macron meetings will include discussions of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas War and Sino-French trade and scientific cooperation.[49] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement emphasized the necessity of avoiding “confrontation between camps” and the desire for France to push the EU to “pursue a positive and pragmatic policy towards China.”[50] Bloomberg also reported that the EU is considering additional restrictions on PRC companies for supporting Russia.[51]

The PRC claimed that European governments are manufacturing fears of a “China spy threat” after Germany and the United Kingdom arrested several individuals for spying for the PRC.[52] Germany arrested three German nationals on April 22 who prosecutors said are “strongly suspected of having worked for a Chinese secret service since an unspecified date before June 2022.” The prosecutors said that the individuals supplied the PRC Ministry of State Security (MSS) with information about military technology, including machine parts for the operation of powerful ship engines and a “special laser.”[53] Germany arrested an aide to far-right PRC-friendly German MEP Maximilian Krah on April 23 on suspicion of being an “employee of a Chinese secret service” and spying on “Chinese opposition figures” in Germany.[54] A PRC spokesperson on April 26 claimed Germany’s espionage cases were “completely fabricated.” The PRC summoned the German ambassador to lodge protests.[55] The UK also arrested two people it accused of spying for the PRC on April 26.[56] The PRC embassy in the UK called the UK spy cases “malicious slander” and “anti-China political manipulation.[57]

The PRC has used spies in Europe to monitor and influence European policy toward the PRC. An investigation by European media Der Spiegel, Financial Times, and Le Monde published in December 2023 found that an MSS agent named Daniel Woo directed former far-right Belgian MP Frank Creyelman from 2019 to 2022 to report on confidential meetings in the European Parliament, attack the reputations of “anti-China” politicians and activists, and spread pro-PRC narratives on issues such as Covid-19, the PRC repression of Uighurs, and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. European intelligence services also identified Woo as the PRC contact of other far-right and pro-Russia European politicians as well as a recruiter of spies in countries including Germany and Poland. [58]

Russia and Iran

PRC Defense Minister Dong Jun’s speech at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on April 26 called on member states to be a model for “unity and cooperation” amidst current instability in global governance. He emphasized the necessity of security so that member states may effectively develop in a stable environment.[59] Dong also engaged in a flurry of meetings at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting on April 26 in Astana, Kazakhstan. He met with defense ministers of Pakistan, Russia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to discuss the international security situation and unspecified “issues of common concern.”[60] Dong’s April 26 meeting with Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Ashtiani occurred after PRC Special Envoy for Middle Eastern Affairs Zhai Jun met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri on April 25 in Moscow to discuss “the situation in the Middle East.”[61]

Israel-Hamas War

The PRC hosted “reconciliation” talks between Fatah and Hamas in Beijing and endorsed the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority. The PRC invited representatives of Fatah and Hamas to Beijing on April 26 to negotiate “intra-Palestinian reconciliation” between the two major factions.[62] A PRC MFA spokesperson said on April 30 that the two sides “expressed their political will to achieve reconciliation through dialogue and consultation, discussed many specific issues and made positive progress, and unanimously agreed to continue this dialogue process and strive for the early realization of Palestinian unity and reunification.”[63] Another MFA spokesperson said on April 26 that the PRC supports strengthening the authority of the Palestinian Authority (PA).[64] PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi laid out the PRC position in an interview published the same day as the talks. Wang said the PRC supports an immediate ceasefire, unimpeded humanitarian assistance to Gaza, preventing regional escalation, and correcting “historical injustice” to the Palestinian people by promoting reconciliation between Palestinian factions and establishing an independent State of Palestine with UN membership.[65] The April 26 talks followed PRC MFA envoy Wang Kejian’s trip around the Middle East from March 10-17, which included meetings with PA and Israeli officials and the PRC’s first publicly acknowledged meeting with Hamas since its terror attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023.[66] The PRC has never directly criticized Hamas.

The PRC’s hosting of and statements about intra-Palestinian negotiations reflect its intent to play an active diplomatic role in the resolution of the Gaza war and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The talks also serve the propaganda purpose of portraying the PRC as an important and responsible mediator in the conflict in contrast to the United States. The PRC has repeatedly criticized Israel’s military operations in Gaza and US support for Israel while calling for an internationally mediated ceasefire.[67]

Hosting the intra-Palestinian talks is a relatively low-cost, low-risk way for the PRC to bolster its diplomatic reputation. A failure to bring about Fatah-Hamas reconciliation would amount to maintenance of the status quo and would not draw significant criticism of the PRC. A success in the negotiations, which is very unlikely, would present an opportunity for the PRC to embellish its reputation in a similar way to the Beijing-mediated Saudi Arabia-Iran rapprochement in March 2023. The PRC said after the Saudi-Iran negotiations that “China has no selfish interests in the Middle East, respects the status of the Middle East countries as its masters, and opposes geopolitical competition in the Middle East... China will continue to contribute Chinese wisdom and put forward Chinese suggestions to achieve peace and tranquility in the Middle East, and play its role as a responsible great power.”[68]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, April 26, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, Nils Peterson, and Mathilde Lemerle of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: April 25 at Noon ET

Key Takeaways  

  • The PRC unilaterally opened two eastbound connecting flight routes near Taiwanese airspace over the Kinmen and Matsu islands. The move is likely part of a CCP effort to strain Taiwan’s situational awareness around its airspace and put pressure on Taiwan’s incoming Lai Ching-te administration.
  • PRC tariffs on Taiwan’s polycarbonate exports may be part of a pressure campaign ahead of Lai Ching-te’s presidential inauguration on May 20.
  • Former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou met with Kuomintang Chairman Eric Chu on April 16 and discussed amending a law that counters PRC interference in Tawan’s politics.
  • The People’s Liberation Army dissolved the Strategic Support Force into three distinct arms to achieve “information dominance” and operational superiority through force integration.
  • The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the importance of addressing United States sanctions on PRC companies during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the PRC. The PRC framing of the visit indicates that the CCP aims to alleviate economic tension with the United States while maintaining commercial and defense industrial base assistance to Russia.
  • The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Lin Jian framed the United States Army deploying the Typhon ground-based cruise missile and air-defense missile launcher to the Philippine island of Luzon as part of the US-Philippine Salaknib 2024 military exercise as “provoking conflict.”

Cross-Strait Relations

The PRC unilaterally opened two eastbound connecting flight routes near Taiwanese airspace over the Kinmen and Matsu islands. The move is likely part of a CCP effort to strain Taiwan’s situational awareness around its airspace and put pressure on Taiwan’s incoming Lai Ching-te administration. 
The flight routes, W122 and W123, have been operational in the westbound direction since 2018 and connect the PRC cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen to the M503 north-south flight route, which goes down the middle of the Taiwan Strait. The W122 route flies close to the Matsu islands and the W123 route flies near the Kinmen Islands, two island groups near the PRC that Taiwan controls. The PRC Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) unilaterally canceled a 6 nautical mile “offset” of the M503 route in January 2024, which moved the route to within 4.2 nautical miles (5 miles or 7.8 kilometers) of the median line of the Taiwan Strait. It announced on the same day that it would permit eastbound flights along the W122 and W123 routes.[1] The CAAC finally launched the new eastbound flight routes on April 19. It claimed the new airspace “optimization” and the adjustment of the M503 route were needed to meet the “development needs” of air transportation between the Yangtze River Delta and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area and to ensure flight safety.[2]

Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration said both the establishment of the new flight routes and the “unilateral” adjustment of the M503 were a danger to air traffic in the area. It said it will request that aircraft turn around if they approach Taiwanese airspace without permission.[3] ROC Premier Chen Chien-jen condemned the new routes, called for them to be retracted, and directed the CAA to study possible response measures.[4] The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) denied that there were any security concerns about the new flight routes and also denied the existence of a median line in the Taiwan Strait.[5]

An unnamed “senior Taiwan official” told Reuters the PRC’s flight adjustments were part of a pattern of pressure on Taiwan ahead of ROC Vice President Lai Ching-te’s inauguration as President on May 20. The official said the CCP wants Taiwan to “cave in, make compromises, and change [its] behavior.”[6] The CCP considers Lai and his political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), to be separatists. The timing of the air route changes is consistent with political motives. The CAAC originally announced the routes and the shifting of the M503 route on January 30, not long after Taiwan’s January 13 election. It activated the new routes on April 19, almost one month before Lai’s inauguration. Increasing the volume of flights in the sensitive airspace near Kinmen, Matsu, and the Taiwan Strait median line serves to strain Taiwanese resources as Taiwan must monitor, assess, and prepare to respond to each flight as a potential airspace incursion.

PRC tariffs on Taiwan’s polycarbonate exports may be part of a pressure campaign ahead of Lai Ching-te’s presidential inauguration on May 20. The PRC Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced on April 19 that it would levy tariffs of up to 22.4% on Taiwan’s polycarbonate exports to the PRC. Polycarbonate is a material used in many fields such as electronic appliances, sheets and films, automobiles, optics, packaging, medical devices, and safety equipment.[7] The tariffs resulted from MOFCOM concluding an anti-dumping investigation into Taiwanese polycarbonate products. MOFCOM first announced the investigation in November 2022 and released preliminary findings announced in August 2023 which claimed Taiwanese “dumping” of polycarbonate products had “substantially” damaged the PRC’s polycarbonate industry. The findings released on April 19 confirmed the conclusions from August.

ROC Executive Yuan spokesperson Lin Tze-luen accused the PRC of using “political manipulation” to interfere with normal cross-strait trade relations.[8] The TAO spokesperson claimed on April 24 that the anti-dumping investigation reached its conclusion “fairly and impartially” and fully complied with relevant laws and World Trade Organization regulations. The spokesperson threatened further economic measures against Taiwan “if the DPP authorities continue to stubbornly adhere to the ‘Taiwan independence’ stance,” however.[9]

The TAO statement and the timing of the tariff announcement are consistent with a politically motivated pressure campaign against Taiwan and the incoming administration of Lai Ching-te. The tariffs took effect on April 20, exactly one month before Lai’s presidential inauguration. MOFCOM’s announcement of the tariffs on April 19 also coincided with the CAAC announcing its new flight routes near Kinmen and Matsu. The PRC previously imposed punitive economic measures against Taiwanese chemical and fishery products before Taiwan’s January 13 election. It also claimed Taiwan’s trade restrictions on the PRC violated the 2011 Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). ISW has assessed that these punitive economic measures may have been meant to influence Taiwan’s election.[10]

Taiwan

Former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou met with Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu on April 16 and discussed amending a law that counters PRC interference in Tawan’s political system. Ma, who is a member of the KMT, and the KMT leadership advocated amending some provisions of the law to prevent it from becoming a tool for DPP “manipulation” and to avoid “stifling the rights of Taiwanese people to exchange with the mainland.” They did not publicly specify what amendments they sought to make.[11] The Anti-Infiltration Act is a 2020 law that the DPP government passed to counter PRC interference in Taiwan’s elections and political system. It imposes criminal penalties for accepting funds from “hostile foreign forces” to make political donations and lobby the government. It also increases penalties for other election law violations if those violations are committed with funding from foreign forces.[12]

Ma and the KMT’s plans to propose amendments are consistent with their opposition to the law when originally passed. Ma at the time compared the law’s passage to a return to “martial law” in Taiwan, referring to the period of KMT authoritarian rule from 1949-1987 known as the “White Terror.”[13] The KMT boycotted the final vote on the law and criticized it as a ploy for the DPP to win votes shortly before the 2020 election. Some of the law’s critics said it was too broad and could be used to repress legitimate political activity and cross-strait exchanges.[14]

The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson on April 24 claimed the Anti-Infiltration Act is an “evil law” meant to suppress dissidents, create “Green Terror,” and seek the “selfish interests” of one party.[15] “Green Terror” is a term the CCP and other opponents of the DPP use to compare DPP policies with the repressive policies of the “White Terror.” Green is the DPP’s official color. The CCP’s rhetoric about the Anti-Infiltration Law is similar to that of Ma and some hardline KMT officials. The CCP prefers for the law to be abolished rather than amended, however.

The DPP said it would oppose former president Ma Ying-jeou and the Kuomintang’s proposed amendments to Taiwan’s Anti-Infiltration Act. ROC Vice President and President-elect Lai Ching-te said on April 17 that the KMT’s proposal appears to be harmful to Taiwan and regional stability. He said the Anti-Infiltration Act is designed to prevent malicious infiltration by foreign forces and does not hinder cross-strait exchanges.[16] DPP spokesperson Justin Wu said on April 23 that the DPP would oppose any loosening of the law. He raised suspicions about the timing of Ma and the KMT’s announcement, noting that it came shortly after Ma returned from his trip to the PRC on April 1-11. Wu also warned KMT legislative caucus whip Fu Kun-chi not to discuss domestic Taiwanese legislation during his planned trip to the PRC.[17] Fu will lead a KMT delegation to the PRC on April 25.[18]

The ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs is investigating the leak of government documents and whether the documents were altered overseas before their public disclosure. The leaked documents dating from March 15 included reportedly official communications between the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Keelung Customs Service, and the ROC National Treasury Administration approving a Hsiao Bi-khim request for the wine she imported for her personal consumption to be exempted from inspection. The documents were part of 4GB of data acquired by hackers.[19] The ROC MOFA did not confirm the authenticity of the leaked documents. It suspected the documents involved may have undergone “malicious overseas alteration” after being “sold on the dark web.”[20] The ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance stated that the transfer of Hsiao Bi Khim’s personal belongings back to Taiwan occurred legally. [21] ROC Premier Chen Chien-jen stated that the accusations against Hsiao Bi-khim were an act of cognitive warfare and called on the public to maintain vigilance. [22]

China

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dissolved the Strategic Support Force (SSF) into three distinct arms to pursue “information dominance” and operational superiority through force integration. Xi created the SSF in 2015 during comprehensive military reforms, tasking it with integrating military operations across the cyber, electronic, and aerospace domains.[23] Former PLA Navy Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo stated in 2016 that SSF responsibilities included target detection and reconnaissance, relaying target information, management of BeiDou [navigation] satellites and space reconnaissance means, and conducting operations in cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.[24] CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping announced the dissolution of the SSF and the inauguration of the Information Support Force (ISF) on April 19.[25] Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson Wu Qian stated that an Aerospace Force and Cyberspace Force also came into existence alongside the ISF as a part of the restructuring.[26]

The three new arms are organized in the same support capacity as the preexisting Joint Logistics Support Force (JLSF), whose task is to unify logistics to support the five theater commands. The four auxiliary arms are distinct from the PLA’s four armed services, which are the Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force, and Rocket Force.

Xi described the new ISF as a key support for coordinating the development and application of “network information systems,” referring to mechanisms to facilitate information sharing and strengthen information infrastructure across the military.[27] Xi’s introduction indicates that the ISF will assume one of the SSF’s primary responsibilities, which includes what former SSF Commander Gao Jin referred to as acting as an “information umbrella” for the military to integrate operational capabilities.[28] This entails forming a data link to enable information transmission, processing, and distribution that is critical to the cohesion of joint operations.[29] This is consistent with PRC military doctrine, which emphasizes the importance of network-centric “informatized” warfare that exploits information sharing to achieve synergy across warfighting domains.[30] The PLA defines information dominance as gaining “superiority over an adversary in terms of information acquisition, transmission, processing, utilization, and confrontation capabilities.”[31] Information offense and defense are inherent to information dominance in the PLA’s view, requiring a blend of kinetic and non-kinetic means to influence, interfere with, degrade, and destroy the enemy’s information systems.[32]

The Aerospace Force and Cyberspace Force will likely take on the responsibilities of the SSF’s two functional units, the Aerospace and Network Systems Departments.[33] PRC officials have not indicated where responsibilities under the SSF’s broad remit would be reallocated, such as collecting intelligence, technical reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures, and psychological warfare.

The SSF’s division into three distinct organizations demonstrates the CCP leadership’s aim to streamline its various missions into separate individual arms to improve efficacy. The creation of a standalone ISF suggests that the SSF was inadequate to meet Xi’s standards for centralizing informatization in PLA operations. Xi appointed SSF Deputy Commander Bi Yi as ISF Commander and SSF Political Commissar Li Wei ISF Political Commissar.[34] Retaining top leadership roles such as Bi and Li suggests that the reason for the SSF’s dissolution was primarily functional and not due to endemic performance or trust issues throughout the command. The ISF’s placement under the direct command of the Central Military Commission affirms the centrality of information in military operations and maintains CCP leadership’s close supervision over the information chain.

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the importance of addressing United States sanctions on PRC companies during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the PRC. The PRC framing of the visit indicates that the CCP aims to alleviate economic tension with the United States while maintaining commercial and defense industrial base assistance to Russia. Blinken met with party officials in Shanghai on April 24 before traveling to Beijing to meet with PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi on April 26.[35] The head of the MFA’s North America and Oceania Division Yang Tao announced the PRC’s main goals for Blinken’s visit during a briefing on April 23 are: 1) establishing the right perception; 2) strengthening dialogue; 3) effectively managing disagreements; 4) promoting mutually beneficial cooperation; and 5) jointly assume responsibilities as major countries. The establishment of right perception refers to making the United States not contest fundamental economic and political disagreements with the PRC over sensitive issues like CCP regime stability and Taiwan. Yang claimed that the United States has intensified measures to suppress the PRC’s economy, trade, science, and technology with sanctions. Yang denied the PRC’s responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine and urged the United States to immediately stop “indiscriminately imposing unilateral sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals.” Yang also noted “negative developments” regarding the United States’ security cooperation with the Philippines, Australia, and Japan. [36] 

A senior unnamed State Department official outlined the issues that Blinken will focus on during a briefing on April 19, which included US concerns about PRC businesses’ transfers of dual-use materials and weapons components to Russia that Russia is using to advance its military production. The State Department official stated the United States’ concern that through Chinese support, Russia has reconstituted its defense industrial base and is therefore reinforcing the threat to Ukraine on the battlefield and European security writ large. Blinken called the PRC the primary contributor to Russia’s defense industrial base on April 19 during the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy.[37]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Lin Jian framed the United States Army deploying the Typhon ground-based cruise missile and air-defense missile launcher to the Philippine island of Luzon as part of the US-Philippine Salaknib 2024 military exercise as “provoking conflict.” The United States Army stated this is the first time it deployed the Typhoon to the Philippines.[38] Lin claimed that the deployment “aggravated regional tensions” and urged the Philippines to be aware of the unspecified “serious consequences of catering to the US.”[39]

Russia

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) began implementing expanded cooperation with the Border Guard Bureau Service of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The CCG held working-level talks with the FSB in Vladivostok from April 16 to 18 for the first time since the signing of the April 2023 memorandum of understanding between the two services. The meetings involved tabletop exercises and seminars.[40] The April 2023 memorandum stated that the CCG and FSB would strengthen maritime law enforcement.[41]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, April 18, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, and Kaylin Nolan of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: April 16 at 5 pm ET

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update is a joint product from the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute. The update supports the ISW–AEI Coalition Defense of Taiwan project, which assesses Chinese campaigns against Taiwan, examines alternative strategies for the United States and its allies to deter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aggression, and—if necessary—defeat the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The update focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s paths to controlling Taiwan and cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways

  • ROC opposition parties advanced a bill in the Legislative Yuan (LY) that aims to strengthen the LY’s oversight of the government. Passing the bill could hamper the DPP-led government’s ability to implement its policies. Political feuding that impedes the DPP’s ability to govern is favorable to CCP interests.
  • PRC Minister of National Defense Dong Jun and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held the first US-PRC defense minister’s talk since November 2022. Dong dismissed US concerns about South China Sea tensions and claimed the situation was “generally stable.”
  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping promoted economic integration during a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Beijing.
  • The PRC claims that the Philippines is not upholding a 2016 “gentleman’s agreement” and driving tensions at Second Thomas Shoal.
  • Unnamed senior US officials said that the PRC is supplying Russia with equipment that Russia is using to rapidly increase military production for use in its war against Ukraine.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

ROC opposition parties advanced a bill in the Legislative Yuan (LY) that aims to strengthen the LY’s oversight of the government. Passing the bill could hamper the DPP-led government’s ability to implement its policies. Political feuding that impedes the DPP’s ability to govern is favorable to CCP interests. The reforms would grant the LY the ability to conduct inquiries and call on officials to testify before the LY, establish penalties for perceived non-compliance or dishonesty in responses, and confirm political appointments.[1] The bill would also impose penalties on members of the Executive Yuan, including up to a year of imprisonment for concealing information or providing false or misleading information.[2] The maximum sentence is three years for all other individuals. DPP Caucus Whip Ker Chien-ming articulated the threat that the bill poses to the executive branch, calling it a “limitless expansion of powers” and the “constitutional monster” whose purpose was to weaponize the legislature. Ker claimed that if the law is passed, the president will be immediately summoned on May 20 to answer inquiries from the Legislative Yuan and can even be imprisoned if found to be in contempt of the legislature.[3] The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) were able to advance the proposed bill through the LY Judiciary and Organic Laws Statutes Committee despite objections from the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) because they have a majority on the committee.

The bill entered a month-long “consultation period” after passing the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee. The KMT and TPP plan to bring the reform bill to the LY for a vote as early as May 17, before the change of government on May 20. KMT Caucus Whip stated the KMT’s intent to formally vote on the bill before President-elect Lai Ching-te’s inauguration on May 20.[4] TPP Caucus Whip Huang Kuo-chang declared the opposition’s goal to clear the bill from the committee on the day of the meeting.[5]

Collaboration between the KMT and the TPP on the proposals suggests that the reforms will pass with a majority in the LY, as the two opposition parties outnumber the DPP in the LY. The TPP and KMT have consistently stated that establishing a legislative investigative task force to strengthen oversight of the executive branch is at the top of their agenda.[6] KMT Caucus Deputy Secretary-General Lin Szu-ming, one of the main authors of the reform bills, earlier referred to the proposed reforms as a “great weapon” that the LY must use to supervise the government.[7]

The DPP will continue to oppose the legislative oversight bill. DPP Caucus Secretary-General Rosalia Wu stated on April 1 that the DPP will fight against the law with all its strength, and would request action from the justices of the Constitutional Court if the bill passed the LY.[8] Stopping the bill would require more than a quarter of legislators petitioning the Constitutional Court to issue a judgment declaring the bill unconstitutional.[9] The DPP holds 51 seats in the Legislative Yuan, exceeding the threshold to initiate a lawsuit.

The KMT approved of former President Ma Ying-jeou’s meeting with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. The party issued a press release that praised Ma’s articulation of the 1992 Consensus.[10] Ma described the 1992 Consensus as both sides agreeing to a "one China principle," with each side free to determine what "China" means.[11] The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China. The PRC has never publicly recognized the part of the “consensus” that acknowledges differing interpretations of “China” and did not include this part of Ma’s comments in its official readout of the meeting. KMT Chairman Eric Chu separately announced after Ma’s return that he had given Ma his “blessing” for his trip to the mainland.[12]

The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), chaired by DPP members, issued a press release expressing disappointment that Ma failed to convey to Xi the Taiwanese people’s insistence on safeguarding the sovereignty of the Republic of China (ROC) and its democratic system.[13] The MAC called the 1992 Consensus an attempt to undermine Taiwan’s sovereign status that left no room for the ROC’s survival.

China

PRC Minister of National Defense Dong Jun and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held the first US-PRC defense minister’s talk since November 2022. Dong dismissed US concerns about South China Sea tensions and claimed the situation was “generally stable.” The US readout of the virtual meeting on April 16 said Austin and Dong discussed US-PRC defense relations as well as regional and global security issues, including the South China Sea, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and North Korea. Austin underscored freedom of navigation, especially in the South China Sea, and re-iterated the US commitment to the One China Policy. He also stressed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication.[14] The PRC readout said Dong emphasized that Taiwan is at the core of the PRC’s core interests and that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will never let “‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities” and “external connivance and support” go unchecked. Dong also claimed the situation in the South China Sea is “generally stable” and that regional countries have the “willingness, wisdom, and capacity” to resolve issues. He urged the United States to respect the PRC’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the sea.[15]

This call was Austin’s first conversation with Dong since Dong became the PRC defense minister in December 2023. It was the first formal top-level military communication between the United States and PRC since November 2022.[16] The PRC cut off military talks with the United States after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. It agreed to resume them at the presidential summit between US President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November 2023. The CCP views military exchanges, at least in part, as a bargaining chip that it can use to influence US behavior to the party’s benefit.

Senior US and PRC diplomats met for three days to discuss various bilateral and regional issues. The PRC readout stressed PRC criticism of US-Japan-Philippines collaboration “against China” on South China Sea issues, US interference in PRC “internal affairs,” and US “suppression” of PRC companies. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and National Security Council Senior Director Sarah Beran led a delegation to the PRC from April 14-16 to meet PRC officials including Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu. US Ambassador to the PRC Nicholas Burns also joined a meeting on April 15. A US State Department readout said the two sides had “candid” and “constructive” discussions on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including the Middle East, PRC support for Russia’s defense industrial base, cross-Strait issues, the South China Sea, and North Korea.[17] A PRC readout said the PRC expressed its “solemn position” on the US promotion of its Indo-Pacific Strategy “against China” and about the United States trying to “cobble together a small circle” with Japan and the Philippines to “disrupt the situation in the South China Sea.” It urged the United States to not engage in “camp confrontation, “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, stop obstructing China’s development, stop unreasonable sanctions on Chinese companies, and stop suppressing China’s economy, trade, science and technology.”[18] US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit the PRC in the coming weeks.[19]

The PRC imposed sanctions on US defense firms General Atomics and General Dynamics for arms sales to Taiwan. The sanctions froze all assets of the two companies within the PRC and barred senior management employees from obtaining a visa to enter the country.[20] General Dynamics operates half a dozen Gulfstream and jet aviation services in the PRC and manufactures the Abrams tanks that Taiwan agreed to purchase in 2019. General Atomics is a drone manufacturer that signed a contract with Taiwan in 2020 to deliver MQ-9B drones.[21] The PRC previously sanctioned five other US defense companies in January 2024 in response to US arms sales to Taiwan and US sanctions on PRC companies and individuals.[22] A 2023 report by the German think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) found that the PRC has significantly increased its use of unilateral sanctions since 2018 against US individuals, groups, or companies it perceives to be interfering in its internal affairs.[23] The PRC has repeatedly expressed opposition to unilateral sanctions in general, however, including US sanctions against it and other countries such as Russia and Iran.[24]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC claims that the Philippines is not upholding a 2016 “gentleman’s agreement” and driving tensions at Second Thomas Shoal. Xi Jinping and then-Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte met in 2016 to discuss the South China Sea territorial disputes.[25] The PRC alleges that Duterte and Xi made a gentleman’s agreement to not transport construction materials to repair the Sierra Madre, which is a dilapidated World War II-era naval ship on Second Thomas Shoal that the Philippines deliberately ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military detachment.[26] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning clarified that if the Philippines needed to replenish the Sierra Madre with necessities for the personnel there, it must notify the PRC in advance, which will approve and supervise the process.[27] Duterte denied ever making a “gentleman’s agreement” with Xi, however, and claimed that the meeting helped keep the status quo of peace in the South China Sea. Duterte also claimed that Xi threatened to go to war if the Philippines exercised its economic rights in the South China Sea.[28] Current Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. views the alleged agreement as illegitimate since it was a “secret agreement” hidden from the public.[29] The spokesperson for the PRC Embassy in the Philippines responded that the agreement was not a secret, and the two sides operated in accordance with the agreement for a short time before the Philippines reneged.[30]

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel tailed two Philippine vessels conducting a hydrographic survey near Scarborough Shoal on April 15. The Philippine National Security Council refuted initial reports that the CCG vessel had blocked the Philippine ships for over eight hours as they crossed the “nine dash line” 35 nautical miles from the Philippine coast.[31] The CCG vessel in question, CCG 5303, was also present in a “swarm” of PRC ships around Scarborough Shoal on April 13, including two preexisting CCG ships and 25 militia vessels.[32] Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela rejected the PRC narrative that the Philippines is deliberately provoking the PRC in the South China Sea.[33]

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Mao Ning portrayed the United States, Japan, and the Philippines as stoking “bloc confrontation” tensions in the region in response to the trilateral meeting on April 11. The United States, Japan, and the Philippines issued a trilateral statement on April 12 that condemned the PRC’s coercive use of their coast guard and maritime militia in the South China Sea.[34] She accused the trilateral meeting of targeting the PRC and introducing “camp confrontation” into the region. Mao inaccurately claimed that PRC coercion in the South China Sea was “lawful [and] justified” while blaming “certain countries [an implicit reference to the United States] outside the region” for “fanning the flames and provoking confrontation.”[35]

Northeast Asia

North Korea

CCP Politburo Standing Committee member Zhao Leji led a delegation to visit North Korea from April 11-13. Zhao emphasized the PRC’s willingness to “intensify high-level exchanges [and] deepen mutually beneficial cooperation” with the DPRK throughout this year, which the CCP calls the “China-DPRK Friendship Year” in celebration of the 75th anniversary of ties between the two countries. [36]

Europe

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping promoted economic integration during a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Beijing. Xi said that PRC and German industrial and supply chains are “deeply embedded” in one another and claimed this is not a “risk” but a guarantee of future relations – a possible reference to the European Union’s “de-risking” policies toward the PRC. He stressed that the two countries have “huge potential” for “win-win cooperation,” including in green development, and said both sides should be wary of protectionism. He said that the PRC hopes for a “fair, open, and non-discriminatory German market.”[37] The two countries launched cooperation mechanisms on climate change and green transition, science and technology, and agriculture.[38] The PRC also lifted some restrictions on German agricultural imports after the meeting.[39] The PRC’s positive messaging on PRC-German free trade and economic cooperation comes as the European Union has taken a harsher stance on PRC trade practices, particularly focused on countering their damaging impact on European electric vehicles and green energy technology.[40] The PRC has repeatedly criticized “baseless” investigations into PRC firms and warned against “de-coupling” and “de-risking” policies.[41]

The PRC’s bilateral engagement with Germany is consistent with CCP efforts to undermine moves in the EU toward more hawkish policies against the PRC. The European Commission and its president Ursula von der Leyen have called EU-PRC trade “critically unbalanced,” criticized the PRC’s preferential treatment of its domestic companies and overcapacity in its production, and called for “de-risking” policies to reduce Europe’s economic dependence on the PRC.[42] The European Commission’s Economic Security Strategy released in 2023 said “de-risking” policies are meant to mitigate risks to supply chain resilience, risks to critical infrastructure, risks related to leakage of sensitive technology, and risks of economic coercion by diversifying supply chains and restricting European companies’ ability to produce sensitive technologies overseas.[43]

The PRC has promoted the strength of the PRC-Germany trade relationship to counter the broader European “de-risking” strategy.[44] PRC Ambassador to Germany Wu Ken claimed on March 26 that the resilience of PRC-Germany trade relations shows the “unpopularity” of the EU’s de-risking policy.[45] The overseas edition of the CCP’s official newspaper People’s Daily claimed after Scholz’s visit that Scholz signaled to other countries Germany’s opposition to “decoupling and breaking links” with the PRC despite the pressure of the EU’s de-risking strategy.[46]

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping presented four “principles” to peacefully end the Russia-Ukraine war during his meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Xi proposed “four dos and four don’ts” to “restore peace” in Ukraine — prioritize peace and stability and not “seek selfish gain,” cool down the situation and not “add fuel to the fire,” create the conditions for restoring peace and not aggravate the situation, and reduce the negative impact on the global economy and not undermine the stability of global industrial supply chains.[47] Xi’s vague and seemingly neutral language is consistent with the PRC’s portrayal of itself as an unbiased and fair “stabilizing force” in the war and its reticence to make the Sino-Russian partnership as deep as Russia desires, partially to maintain access to Western markets.[48] The PRC rhetorically aligns with the Russian framing of the war, however. It is critical of NATO, portrays the Western security order and arms sales to Ukraine as fueling the war, opposes sanctions on Russia, does not call the war a war, and calls for respect for Russia’s “legitimate security concerns. Xi’s four principles may therefore be read in this context as veiled criticisms of US and Western actions.

PRC state media has claimed Western military aid to Ukraine “adds fuel to the fire” in pursuit of profit for defense firms, for instance.[49] NATO and US officials have warned that China is helping to “prop up” the Russian defense industrial base and support Russia via microelectronics, optics, machine tools, and missile propellant deliveries.[50] Xi’s generally vague signaling to Scholz vis-a-vis Ukraine over the backdrop of reportedly intensifying Chinese support for Russia is therefore likely an attempt to secure PRC economic interests in Europe by garnering goodwill with Germany rather than a show of genuine interest in facilitating an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia

Unnamed senior US officials said that the PRC is supplying Russia with equipment that Russia is using to rapidly increase military production for use in its war against Ukraine. The officials said on April 12 that the PRC is selling Russia large quantities of machine tools, drone and turbojet engines, technology for cruise missiles, microelectronics, and nitrocellulose used in ammunition. They also said that PRC and Russian entities have been jointly developing drones in Russia and that the PRC has provided Russia with satellite imagery that aided its war effort. The officials said the PRC provided Russia with more than 70% of its nearly $900 million in machine tools imports in the last quarter of 2023, which Russia has likely used to build ballistic missiles. In 2023 the PRC also provided 90% of Russia’s microelectronics imports, which are essential for producing missiles, tanks, and aircraft. One official said PRC materials are filling critical gaps in Russia’s defense production cycle and claimed that Russia would “struggle to sustain its war effort without PRC input.” [51] The PRC embassy in the United States denied that the PRC provided weaponry to any party in the Ukraine war.[52] The PRC’s role as a lifeline for the Russian economy and military-industrial complex undermines its repeated claims to be a neutral and impartial promoter of peace between Russia and Ukraine. The PRC has rhetorically aligned with Russia’s narrative about the war, which it does not call a “war,” and refused to pressure Russia to end the war.

Iran

The PRC condemned Israel’s April 1 strike on the Iranian embassy complex in Syria but did not condemn Iran’s missile attack on Israel on April 13. Israel killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi on April 1 while he was at the Iranian embassy complex in Damascus.[53] On April 14, Chargé d'Affaires of the PRC Permanent Mission to the UN Dai Bing condemned “Israel’s aggression against its [Iran’s] diplomatic premises” in Syria.[54] The PRC MFA expressed “deep concern” on April 14 but did not condemn the Iranian missile attack on Israel.[55] On April 15, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned the attack on the Iranian embassy in Syria and stated that “China appreciates Iran’s emphasis on not targeting [other] regional countries.”[56] 


China-Taiwan Weekly Update, April 12, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Key Takeaways  

  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou on April 10 for the first time since 2015. The Xi-Ma meeting is consistent with a CCP effort to legitimize the KMT as its negotiating partner in Taiwan and to promote the Ma administration’s cross-strait policies as its preferred vision of cross-strait relations.
  • PRC civilian drones repeatedly approached islands of Taiwan’s Kinmen archipelago to film military facilities on the islands.
  • The PLA participated in the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) Working Group with their American counterparts in early April for the first time since December 2021.
  • The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) criticized the United States and Japan for expanding security relations to counter the PRC. The PRC perceives a deterioration in the threat environment from Japan’s deepening integration into the US-led regional security framework.
  • The PRC has normalized Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) harassment of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and supply ships near the Second Thomas Shoal since December 2023 to render the Philippines unable and unwilling to defend its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal.

Cross-Strait Relations

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou on April 10 for the first time since 2015. The Xi-Ma meeting is consistent with a CCP effort to legitimize the KMT as its negotiating partner in Taiwan and to promote the Ma administration’s cross-strait policies as its preferred vision of cross-strait relations. The two leaders met in Beijing near the end of Ma’s trip to the PRC, which spanned from April 1-11. Xi Jinping praised “Mr. Ma” for upholding the “1992 Consensus,” opposing Taiwanese independence, and promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and exchanges.[1] He claimed that “compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are all Chinese” and that “there is no grudge that cannot be resolved, no issue that cannot be discussed, and no force that can separate us.” Xi stressed that people on both sides must “protect the common home of the Chinese nation” by opposing Taiwanese “separatism” and external interference, work together for their long-term well-being, build a sense of community for the Chinese nation, and “realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” He also said that “we have realized the blueprint drawn by Dr. Sun Yat-sen” and “created many achievements that far exceed Dr. Sun Yat-sen's imagination.”[2] Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Republic of China and the Kuomintang, Ma’s political party.

Ma said that Chinese people on both sides of the strait have “made steps together toward Chinese revitalization” over the past 30 years. He acknowledged recent tensions but said that a cross-strait war would have "unbearably heavy" consequences. He urged both sides to adhere to the 1992 consensus, oppose Taiwan's independence, look for common ground while setting aside disputes, seek out "win-win" solutions, and pursue peaceful development. Ma described the 1992 consensus as both sides agreeing to a "one China principle," with each side free to determine what "China" means.[3] The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China. The PRC has never publicly recognized the part of the “consensus” that acknowledges differing interpretations of “China” and did not include this part of Ma’s comments in its official readout of the meeting.

Radio Free Asia and Taiwanese media reported that Ma’s meeting with Xi, which neither Ma nor the CCP confirmed in advance, was originally scheduled for April 8 but was postponed to April 10.[4] The April 10 date coincides with a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as well as the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act in the United States.[5] Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus speculated that in moving the meeting to April 10, the CCP has made Ma into a “pawn” in its confrontational “game” with the United States.[6]

Ma did not meet Xi in an official capacity, as he is no longer an official in Taiwan’s government or his party, the Kuomintang (KMT). The stated purpose of Ma’s trip, which he called a “journey of peace and friendship,” was to lead a delegation of Taiwanese students to participate in exchanges with mainland youth, visit cultural and historical sites, and promote cross-strait stability.[7] Ma claimed throughout his trip that Taiwanese people have a strong belief in Chinese culture and national identity. He stressed that disputes must be resolved peacefully.[8] Ma visited the Chinese People's Anti-Japanese War Memorial Hall and Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing on April 9, important sites representing the KMT and CCP’s joint resistance against Imperial Japan during World War II. Ma also visited the Forbidden City with TAO Director Song, where he stressed that “de-Sinicization” will not succeed.[9]

Ma last met Xi in Singapore in 2015, when Ma was the president of Taiwan. This was the first meeting between the leaders of the PRC and Taiwan. In March 2023, Ma became the first former Taiwanese president to visit the PRC, in a visit that overlapped with sitting president Tsai Ing-wen’s trip to the United States. Ma did not meet Xi on that visit, however.

TAO spokesperson Chen Binhua said on March 14 that Taiwan would be able to alleviate tensions and “sleep soundly” if it could relive the “peaceful development period across the Taiwan Strait from 2008-2016.” Chen’s statement refers to the years of Ma’s presidency.[10] The PRC cut off official exchanges with Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP became president of Taiwan in 2016. CCP officials have repeatedly met with KMT officials during this time. The CCP insists that all cross-strait negotiations must be on the mutual basis of the “1992 consensus,” which Ma and the KMT recognize but Tsai and the DPP do not.

Taiwan’s political parties were split in their reaction to Ma’s meeting with Xi. The incumbent DPP administration’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said it “deeply regrets” that Ma “failed to publicly convey to China the Taiwanese people's insistence on safeguarding the sovereignty of the Republic of China and its democratic and free system.” The MAC also urged the PRC to engage in dialogue without political preconditions, noting a poll that found nearly 80% of Taiwanese people did not agree with the CCP’s insistence that accepting the “1992 Consensus” is a precondition to cross-strait dialogue.[11] Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said that Taiwanese people are concerned about the PRC’s escalating military intimidation, diplomatic pressure, and economic coercion against Taiwan, rather than any “discussions that do not represent mainstream Taiwanese public opinion.”[12] The KMT legislative caucus, however, praised the Ma-Xi meeting as a break in the deadlock and antagonism between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. It said the meeting showed the PRC and the international community that Taiwan does not only have “anti-China” voices. It said opposition to Taiwanese independence is the international consensus, including among Taiwan-friendly countries like the United States and Japan. It also praised Ma for bringing up to Xi that the “1992 Consensus” includes differing interpretations of “China.”[13]

The PRC Taiwan Affairs Office said on the 45th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that the TRA and the United States’ “Six Assurances” to Taiwan are “completely wrong, illegal, and invalid.” TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian claimed the TRA and Six Assurances “seriously violate the one-China principle and the three communiques, violate the norms of international relations, and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs.”[14] The TRA and the Six Assurances to Taiwan form the basis of the modern US relationship with Taiwan. US President Jimmy Carter signed the TRA in 1979 to define the basis of US-Taiwan relations after the United States ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to form relations with the PRC. The law authorized the United States to maintain de facto relations with Taiwan through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). It also committed the United States to sell military equipment to Taiwan as necessary to allow Taiwan to maintain “sufficient self-defense capacity” and to allow the United States to “resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”[15] The Six Assurances are a series of clarifying statements that the United States released in 1982 to reassure Taiwan of its continued commitments after the United States switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC and issued three joint communiques with the PRC. The last joint communique said that the United States does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan and intends gradually to reduce them. The Six Assurances stated that the United States: 1) did not agree to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; 2) did not agree to consult with the PRC on arms sales to Taiwan; 3) will not mediate between Taipei and Beijing; 4) did not agree to revise the Taiwan Relations Act; 5) has not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan; and 6) will not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.[16]

The PRC deputy representative to the United Nations accepted condolences for the casualties of the earthquake in Taiwan on behalf of Taiwan. A 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Taiwan on April 3, killing at least 9 people and injuring at least 1,000. This was the strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan since 1999.[17] PRC Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Geng Shuang told the UN Security Council that day that the PRC expressed its condolences to “Taiwan compatriots” for the earthquake that occurred in “Taiwan, China,” was willing to provide disaster assistance, and was “grateful to the international community for their expressions of sympathy and concern.”[18] Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the PRC’s “shameless behavior of using the Taiwan earthquake to carry out cognitive warfare in the international community.” It said Geng’s statement demonstrated that the PRC only has “political calculations” against Taiwan and no goodwill.[19] ROC Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also strongly condemned Bolivia for expressing solidarity with the PRC after the earthquake. Wu said Bolivia “shouldn’t be the evil, expansionist PRC’s pathetic puppet that jumps when Beijing says jump. Just like Taiwan, Bolivia is NOT part of communist China. No more, no less.”[20] The ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Bolivia was “bewitched by the Chinese government” and spread false statements that belittled Taiwan’s sovereignty.[21]

PRC civilian drones repeatedly approached islands of Taiwan’s Kinmen archipelago to film military facilities on the islands. PRC aerial photography drones repeatedly flew over Taiwan’s Erdan and Dadan islands, part of the Kinmen Island group located 10 kilometers (around 6 miles) from the PRC mainland, and filmed footage that was later posted on the internet. Drones filmed Taiwan Army activities on the island of Erdan on March 30.[22] A video that circulated on the Internet on April 1 claimed to show Taiwanese soldiers on Erdan and Dadan being “scared away” by the drone filming them.[23] The Army’s Kinmen Defense Command said it used flares and jamming guns to drive away PRC civilian drones approaching Erdan and Menghu Island on April 8.[24] ROC Army Chief of Staff Chen Chien-yi said on April 3 that such drones constituted “gray zone intrusions” and “cognitive operations” by the PRC. He dismissed the possibility that “mainland civilian bloggers trying to gain popularity on the Internet” were responsible for the drone incursions and instead said it was part of PRC “cognitive warfare” to undermine Taiwanese and international confidence in Taiwan’s military. Chen said such drone incursions had happened before and would happen again in the future. He said it was standard policy to shoot down drones over military facilities if the drones are in range.[25]

Civilian drone incursions into Kinmen’s airspace may be part of a broader effort to test and erode Taiwan’s military readiness and control over Taiwan’s territory. The PRC has normalized daily air and naval activities around Taiwan, including near-daily aerial crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), since 2020.[26] It also normalized the use of high-altitude balloons that fly through Taiwan’s ADIZ near or directly over Taiwan, including near-daily balloon overflights in the weeks before and immediately after Taiwan’s election in January 2024. Taiwan does not scramble aircraft in response to all PRC ADIZ violations, but it does put military personnel on standby to respond quickly if needed. The high frequency of ADIZ violations drains Taiwan’s resources, exhausts military personnel, and degrades Taiwan’s threat awareness. The use of civilian assets such as photography drones and balloons in tandem with law enforcement and military incursions further wears down Taiwan’s response capability by making it more difficult for Taiwan to determine which air incursions constitute actual threats.

Taiwan

Czech media reported that a PRC military attaché tailed Taiwan vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim while she was in Prague in March. Hsiao visited the Czech Republic on March 17-19 at the invitation of Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil. Czech media Seznam Zpravy reported that Prague police stopped a PRC embassy staff member who ran a red light and almost caused a car accident while tailing Hsiao’s motorcade through Prague. The diplomat followed Hsiao to her hotel. The Czech foreign ministry summoned PRC Ambassador to Czechia Feng Biao for an explanation. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Libavsky said he was not satisfied with Feng’s explanation and did not consider the matter closed.[27] Members of the DPP condemned the incident.[28] The TAO reiterated on April 10 that the PRC has always opposed “any form of official exchanges between countries that have diplomatic relations with China and Taiwan.” It said that the DPP, Hsiao’s political party, was “colluding with external forces” but “cannot change the fact that Taiwan is part of China.”[29]

China

The PLA participated in the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) Working Group with their American counterparts in early April for the first time since December 2021.[30] President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping previously agreed to restart the MMCA during their meeting on November 15, 2023.[31] The United States views military-to-military talks as a means of escalation management to prevent and control crises. The CCP views these talks, at least in part, as a bargaining chip that it can use to influence US behavior to the party’s benefit, however. The CCP could end military-to-military dialogue in response to a US action it opposes, for example. The party previously did this by cutting off high-level military dialogue in the aftermath of then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.[32]

Northeast Asia

Japan

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) criticized the United States and Japan for expanding security relations to counter the PRC. The United States and Japan announced a series of measures to deepen their security and defense cooperation on April 10 during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s state visit to the United States. The White House announced that the two countries would modernize command and control structures and work towards improving interoperability between their militaries, in what President Biden called “the most significant upgrade to the US-Japan alliance” since its inception.[33] MFA spokesperson Mao Ning framed the Biden-Kishida meeting as representative of a “Cold War mentality” and labeled their cooperation as harmful to regional stability.[34] Mao centered the PRC’s disapproval around US-Japan interference in Taiwan after Biden commended Kishida for his support in maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. Kishida’s visit culminated in a trilateral summit with Philippines President Bongbong Marcos on April 11, during which the three heads of state advocated for “multilayered cooperation” in the interest of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.[35] Mao expressed the PRC’s disapproval of the trilateral summit, criticizing it for forming “exclusive small circles and camp confrontation.”[36]

PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning also criticized AUKUS for forming exclusive cliques and instigating an arms race in the Asia Pacific.[37] Japan is in talks to increase cooperation with AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership including the US, UK, and Australia. The AUKUS Defense Ministers issued a joint statement on April 8 signaling their intent to bolster collaboration with Japanese industry on developing military technologies.[38] Mao’s comments echo the PRC’s concerns that a US-led regional security network risks the formation of a united front to collectively deter Chinese aggression, carrying implications for the PRC’s irridentist claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The PRC is taking steps to discourage the formation of PRC-facing multilateral security cooperation. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command conducted joint naval and air exercises in the South China Sea on April 7-8, coinciding with joint exercises in between the US, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines in the latter’s exclusive economic zone.[39] The Southern Theater Command announced that military activities aimed at disrupting the South China Sea and creating “hot spots” were under control.[40] Mao called the exercises an act of hegemony and emphasized that the PRC would not be deterred from safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights.[41]

The national security advisors from the US, Japan, and the Philippines held a joint call in December, in which they reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen trilateral cooperation amidst escalating PRC provocations against the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea.[42] The three advisors previously agreed to enhance trilateral defense and security capabilities by leveraging mechanisms such as Japan’s technology and equipment-sharing policy and the QUAD’s Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) training and technology initiative.[43] Japan recently took steps to increase the transfer of military equipment to the Philippines, demonstrated by its sale of an advanced air surveillance radar system to the Philippines on December 20.[44] Japan is also in the process of finalizing a Reciprocal Access Agreement with the Philippines, which would enable the temporary stationing of troops to each other’s territory for exercises and patrols.[45] Japan finalized a Reciprocal Access Agreement with Australia in August 2023. [46]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC has normalized Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) harassment of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and supply ships near the Second Thomas Shoal since December 2023 to render the Philippines unable and unwilling to defend its claim to the Second Thomas Shoal. The CCG harassed the PCG and associated supply ships six times at the Second Thomas Shoal between November 2021 and November 2023.[47] The CCG has increased the rate of harassment at the Second Thomas Shoal by doing so 11 times since December 1, 2023. The methods of harassment that the CCG employs have remained constant during the past three years. The CCG shines military-grade lasers to blind the PCG crews, sprays water cannons to immobilize supply ships and injure Filipino sailors, and rams PCG ships.[48] CCG water cannons damaged the Unaizah Mae 4 supply ship twice in March. The Philippines stated that such actions aim to deter it “from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zines, including Ayungin Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal] which forms part of our EEZ and continental shelf.”[49] The PRC MFA also stated on April 3 that the Philippines is the “root cause” of the South China Sea dispute by “relying on the support of external forces… and repeatedly provoking China.” [50]  The harassment of PCG ships combined with the PRC MFA statement indicates that the CCP aims to degrade the Philippines’ willingness and capability to defend its presence on the shoal.

The CCP used a similar strategy in 2012 that resulted in the Philippines withdrawing from the Scarborough Shoal, indicating the party’s intent with CCG activity around disputed shoals is to gain control of that territory. The CCP engaged in negotiations with the Philippines in 2012 to end a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which Manilla administered at the time, while steadily increasing the number of Chinese Coast Guard ships near the shoal.[51] This resulted in the Philippines withdrawing its ships from the shoal in mid-June 2012 under a now-disputed agreement that the PRC would do the same.[52] The CCP subsequently kept its ships near the shoal and achieved its political objective of gaining de facto control of the Scarborough Shoal by July 2012.[53]

Oceania

Fiji

Fiji ordered PRC police to leave the country after choosing to maintain a Fiji-PRC policing agreement. Fiji decided on March 15 to uphold a Fiji-PRC police cooperation agreement signed in 2011 after putting the agreement on hold for a 12-month review.[54] Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka announced on March 27 that his government has removed PRC officers who were embedded with Fiji’s police force, however. Rabuka said Fiji had no need for the embedded PRC officers and expressed concern that the PRC’s growing presence in the Pacific could undermine democratic systems. Rabuka said senior Fiji police officers would continue training in the PRC.[55]

Tonga

Tonga is open to security cooperation with the PRC during the Pacific Islands Forum in August. Tonga Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said on April 4 that he is open to the PRC’s offer of security support when Tonga hosts leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in August if Tonga police deem it necessary. He said discussions with the PRC have focused on the PRC providing vehicles and training for Tongan police ahead of the forum. The PRC is not a member of the Pacific Islands Forum. The PRC has pursued security and policing cooperation with many South Pacific countries, including a controversial security pact with the Solomon Islands in 2022. The United States has urged countries in the region not to strike security pacts with the PRC over fears that the PRC could use such agreements to expand its influence and military involvement in the region.[56]

Tongan officials privately criticized Australia and New Zealand’s negative response to the PRC security agreement with the Solomon Islands. A leaked document from Tonga's Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed officials criticizing Australia and New Zealand’s “condescending” and “frantic” response to a controversial 2022 security agreement between the PRC and the Solomon Islands. The document characterized Australia and New Zealand’s views were that “only they (or the Pacific [region collectively]) can decide which countries Pacific states should align themselves with.” The document acknowledged that many Pacific Island states are facing "threats to strategic independence as a result of growing indebtedness to Beijing.” It stressed that the Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation and has the right to make decisions about its security, however.[57] A leaked draft of the PRC-Solomon Islands agreement included language granting the PRC access and replenishment rights to Solomon Islands ports, as well as the right to use its armed forces to protect Chinese projects and personnel in the Solomon Islands.[58] Australia, New Zealand, and the United States warned at the time that the broadly worded agreement could open the door for PRC troops or even a PRC military base on the Solomon Islands.[59]

Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on April 9 in the leadup to a Xi-Putin meeting in the unspecified future. Kremlin newswire TASS reported that Wang suggested that China and Russia engage in “dual counteraction” in response to alleged Western attempts at “dual containment” targeting Russia and China.[60] Xi reaffirmed his commitment to “intensify” bilateral collaboration with Russia and through international bodies to “promote the reform of the global governance system.”[61] Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to specify the date of Putin’s visit, but stated on April 9 that Lavrov’s visit “can be seen as preparation for upcoming contact at the highest level.”[62] Reuters reported on March 19 that Putin will travel to China in May to meet with Xi.[63]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, April 5, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, and Nils Peterson of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: April 3 at 5 pm ET

Key Takeaways

  • Former Republica of China (ROC) President Ma Ying-jeou met with the People's Republic of China's (PRC) Taiwan Affairs Office Director Song Tao in Shenzhen.
  • The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) proposed legislative reforms in response to the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party's (TPP) reforms that threaten to undermine the DPP's governance.
  • CCP Secretary General Xi Jinping emphasized Taiwan and economic issues in a phone call with US President Joe Biden. The PRC readout of the call did not mention the US key security concerns.
  • Top PRC officials met with US business and academic leaders to boost foreign investment.
  • A flotilla of PLA Southern Theater Command naval warships carried out live-fire drills in an unspecified area of the South China Sea on the weekend of March 30.

Former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou met with the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office Director Song Tao on April 1 in Shenzhen. Song repeated standard rhetoric expressing the PRC’s cross-strait policy, including urging adherence to the “1992 Consensus” and opposing Taiwanese independence and foreign interference. Ma echoed Song’s statements and advocated for stronger cross-strait cooperation and exchanges in all areas, especially between the youth.[1] Ma’s meeting with Song occurred on the first day of his trip to the PRC and did not appear on his public itinerary.[2] The stated purpose of Ma’s visit to the PRC is to lead a delegation of Taiwanese students to participate in exchanges with mainland youth and promote cross-strait stability from April 1-11.[3]

The CCP insists that all cross-strait negotiations must be on the mutual basis of the “1992 consensus,” which Ma and the Kuomintang (KMT) recognize but the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not. The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, however, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China. The CCP does not acknowledge that the KMT’s interpretation of the 1992 Consensus does not align with its own. The PRC severed official cross-strait contact in 2016 based on the DPP’s refusal to accept the 1992 Consensus.[4]

CEO of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation and former Ma aide Hsiao Hsu-tsen mentioned the possibility that Ma will meet with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping on April 8.[5] Ma last met Xi in Singapore in 2015, when Ma was ROC president. The 2015 meeting was the first between the leaders of the PRC and Taiwan. Ma became the first former Taiwanese president to visit the PRC in March 2023 during a visit that overlapped with sitting president Tsai Ing-wen’s trip to the United States. Ma did not meet Xi on that visit, however. PRC officials have repeatedly lauded the period during Ma’s presidency as a high point in cross-strait relations to portray relations as having failed under the DPP. The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Chen Binhua stated on March 13 that Taiwan should aim to relive the prosperity and peaceful development that cross-strait relations enjoyed from 2008 to 2016.[6]

Several senior KMT officials reacted positively to Ma’s trip. KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia, who has held numerous meetings with CCP officials since assuming his role in 2021, expressed confidence that Ma’s trip will have a placatory and stabilizing effect on cross-strait relations.[7] Legislative Yuan Deputy Speaker Johnny Chiang urged respect for Ma’s itinerary and advocated for “diverse and multi-level” cross-strait exchanges.[8] DPP members have been critical of Ma’s trip, however. DPP Caucus Whip Rosalia Wu expressed disapproval of Ma’s gracious attitude despite the CCP’s failure to acknowledge Ma as the former president. Wu warned Ma to be cautious with his words and actions during his trip.[9] Premier Chen Chien-jen called on Ma to assert that “Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country” in front of Xi Jinping if the two of them meet.[10]

Taiwan

The DPP proposed legislative reforms on April 3 in response to KMT-TPP reform plans that threaten to undermine the DPP's governance.[11] The KMT proposed a series of legislative reforms to increase the Legislative Yuan’s (LY) oversight of the government on March 6. The reforms call for the establishment of inquiry committees and hearing procedures to compel individuals— including the president— to testify before the LY, assert penalties for perceived non-compliance or dishonesty in responses, and empower the LY to confirm political appointments.[12] The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) released a similar draft on February 16.[13] The DPP’s recommended reforms do not include core elements of the opposition’s proposals, including the creation of special inquiry committees and the ability to hold testifiers in contempt.

The TPP and KMT have consistently stated that establishing a legislative investigative task force to intensify supervision of the executive branch is at the top of their agenda.[14] TPP Caucus Whip Huang Kuo-chang stated the TPP and KMT align in their reform direction, and the TPP’s support for the KMT in the LY will be aimed at achieving reform.[15]

The KMT has largely dismissed the DPP’s proposal as an attempt to water down necessary reforms and pledged to continue pursuing the reforms that it proposed. KMT legislator Luo Chih-chiang stated that the KMT would persist in defending the LY’s dignity and legislative reform.[16] KMT Caucus Secretary-General Hung Mong-kai claimed the DPP’s version would not achieve the goal of strengthening legislative oversight to increase the representation of public opinion in the LY.[17] KMT Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi, a leader of the reforms, has consistently urged for the need to impose checks and balances on the government to limit its power and expose corruption.[18]

DPP Caucus Whip Ker Chien-ming emphasized the constitutionality of the DPP’s proposed reforms and stated that they would never sow chaos in politics, unlike the reforms that the opposition parties put forth.[19] The DPP has consistently criticized the opposition’s dogged determination to pursue the legislative reforms. Ker stated that “the evil forces of Blue and White,” referring to the KMT and TPP, are taking advantage of their collective majority in the LY to expand their power and wage a new “White Terror” against the executive branch.[20] DPP General Secretary Rosalia Wu emphasized the unconstitutionality of the opposition’s proposals and stressed that the LY cannot directly interfere with the executive branch by subjecting the president to legislative oversight.[21]

The opposition’s plan to impose checks and balances on the DPP could significantly hamper the government’s ability to pass policy by miring it in defensive actions against accusations of overstepping authority or corruption. KMT Caucus Deputy Secretary-General Lin Tzu-ming earlier referred to the proposed reforms as a “great weapon” that the LY must use to supervise the government.[22] The KMT’s outspoken rejection of the DPP’s reform proposal indicates the two largest parties will not compromise on the DPP’s revised version. Collaboration between the KMT and the TPP to advance their reforms suggests their version will pass with a majority in the LY, as the TPP’s eight seats constitute a crucial swing vote. The opposition’s determination to derail the DPP government is favorable to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, especially if it hinders the government’s ability to implement its foreign and defense policy.

The LY’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee will review the DPP’s proposal under the KMT’s rotating chairmanship of the committee next week.[23]

China

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized cross-strait relations and economic issues in the US-PRC relationship during a phone call with US President Joe Biden on April 2. The PRC readout of the call did not address the US security concerns, including the PRC's support for Russia and heightened tensions in the South China Sea. Xi and Biden spoke by phone on April 2, in their first direct conversation since their meeting in San Francisco on November 15, 2023. According to the PRC readout of the call, Xi warned that the PRC considers the “Taiwan question” a “red line” and will act to counter Taiwanese “separatists” and external support for them. He also objected to US sanctions measures on PRC companies which he claimed are “suppress[ing] China’s trade and technology development,” saying the PRC welcomes mutually beneficial trade with the United States but will not “sit back and watch” if the United States seeks to “deprive China of its legitimate right to development.” Xi also said the three underlying principles of US-PRC relations in 2024 should be to value peace, to prioritize stability, and to uphold the credibility of commitments to each other.[24]

The PRC readout did not elaborate on many other issues the two discussed according to the White House readout, including freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, PRC support for Russia’s defense industrial base, and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.[25] The Xi-Biden call followed a call between US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and PRC Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu on March 27, which discussed similar issues.[26] The focus of the PRC readout shows the CCP is trying to portray trade issues and US support for Taiwan as the core disputes in an otherwise stable US-PRC relationship while downplaying US concerns about the PRC’s threats to regional and US national security.

The PRC used a series of high-profile meetings with US political, business, and academic leaders to boost foreign investment. The PRC invited top US business, academic, and strategic leaders to the PRC for the China Development Forum on March 25-26 and a meeting with Xi Jinping on March 27. Nearly all top PRC officials for economic affairs, including Premier Li Qiang, Vice Premiers Ding Xuexiang and He Lifeng, Vice President Han Zheng, and Xi Jinping’s Chief of Staff Cai Qi held high-level meetings with foreign business executives including Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon, and US-China Business Council president Craig Allen.[27] Academics, such as former Harvard Kennedy School dean Graham Allison, also attended meetings with Xi and other top officials, as did National Committee on US-China Relations (NCUSCR) Chairman Evan Greenberg.[28] The meetings and PRC state media reporting about them sought to boost foreign investor confidence in the PRC economy and signal “win-win opportunities” for investors.

Xi used the occasion to reiterate that US-China "incorrect perceptions" from the US side are a key cause of tensions in the US-China relationship.[29] PRC state media Xinhua ran a series of commentary articles promoting the development of healthy US-PRC relations.[30] Global Times published an interview with Allison in which he said the United States and PRC were “inseparable, conjoined Siamese twins” and praised PRC leaders for seeking to escape the “Thucydides Trap,” a term Allison coined to describe the historical tendency of rising powers and established great powers to go to war.[31] CCP meetings with US business leaders, academics, and PRC-friendly groups like NCUSCR and the US-China Business Council may offer avenues for the CCP to influence US policy and lend credence to CCP narratives, such as the narrative that problems in US-PRC relations are caused by “incorrect perceptions” in the United States and the promotion of investment opportunities in the PRC.

The PRC also promoted stabilizing relations and boosting investment in meetings with European officials, including Premier Li Qiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meetings with French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné on April 1.[32]

PRC officials expressed opposition to the expansion of the AUKUS security partnership. New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand expects the PRC to respect its right to explore joining AUKUS, a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. MFA spokesperson Lin Jian responded by expressing the PRC’s “strong concerns” about AUKUS and noting that the PRC opposes “camp confrontation” and forming “exclusive small circles.”[33] PRC Ministry of Defense (MOD) spokesperson Wu Qian criticized the expansion and upgrading of AUKUS as a “dangerous step in a more dangerous direction.” Wu was referring to an AU$4.6 billion agreement for the UK to build nuclear submarines for Australia and US plans to discuss Japan’s technical cooperation with AUKUS when Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets with US President Joe Biden in April.[34] CCP opposition to AUKUS is consistent with the CCP view that all US alliance structures are in alignment against the PRC. The MOD also expressed concerns about NATO’s “eastward march into the Asia-Pacific and the Taiwan issue” during the 8th China-NATO security policy dialogue held in mid-March.[35]

Northeast Asia

North Korea

The PRC abstained from voting for a United Nations Security Council resolution about extending a monitoring panel that tracks adherence to UN sanctions against North Korea. Russia vetoed the UNSC resolution on March 28.[36] The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted the annual renewal of the North Korean sanctions monitoring panel’s mandate since its inception in 2009.[37] The PRC Permanent Mission to the UN stated that the “sanctions should not be set in stone, nor should it be indefinite.” It instead called for “adjust[ing] the sanctions against the DPRK in the humanitarian and livelihood field.”[38] The PRC MFA Spokesman Lin Jian claimed on March 29 that there was “still time for consultations” when the UNSC “rushed" the resolution for a vote.[39]

Japan

Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels entered disputed waters around the Senkaku islands 101 days in a row as of April 1 in an ongoing effort to assert PRC sovereignty over the islands. The Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese, are an uninhabited archipelago about 120 miles northeast of Taiwan and 200 miles southwest of Japan's Okinawa Prefecture. Japan administers the islands, but the PRC and Taiwan also claim the islands.[40] The CCG has normalized daily incursions into the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands, which is between 12 and 24 nautical miles from the islands. The current string of consecutive daily CCG incursions into the islands’ adjacent waters began on December 22, 2023, the same day Japan’s Cabinet approved a record-high defense budget of 7.95 trillion yen ($48 billion) for 2024.[41] The PRC has repeatedly expressed opposition to Japan increasing its defense budget or taking a more active military role in the region.[42]

The CCG began near-daily incursions into the Senkaku Islands’ adjacent waters in 2012 and significantly increased the volume of these incursions in 2019. It has made 90-110 incursions in most months since April 2019 into the Senkaku Islands’ contiguous zone, as well as 4-12 incursions into the territorial waters within 12 nautical miles of the islands. CCG ships entered 121 times into the archipelago’s contiguous zone and 10 times into its territorial waters in March 2024.[43] There were only 10 days since April 1, 2023, without CCG incursions into the contiguous waters.

The PRC is framing growing US-Japan military cooperation as a threat to the PRC. The Japanese Parliament passed its record $48 billion defense budget on March 28 for the fiscal year beginning April 1. This is the same budget the Cabinet approved in December. MFA spokesperson Lin Jian said Japan’s annually increasing defense budget, relaxation of restrictions on arms exports, and breakthrough military developments raise “strong doubts” about whether Japan is sincerely focused on defense and peaceful development. He urged Japan to respect the security concerns of its neighbors, “deeply reflect on its history of aggression,” and avoid “further breaking the trust of its Asian neighbors.”[44] MOD spokesperson Wu Qian framed the possibility of Japanese technical cooperation with AUKUS as a “dangerous step in a more dangerous direction.”[45] Foreign Minister Wang Yi met former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and urged Japan to “do more things conducive to regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite.”[46] PRC state-owned tabloid Global Times claimed the US-Japan alliance is evolving into an “axis of evil” that threatens regional stability and cited scholars who claimed the US recruitment of Japan to participate in trilateral US-Philippines-Japan patrols in the South China Sea was part of a US attempt to “consume allies’ resources and weaken China.”[47] US President Joe Biden will host Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on April 10 to discuss enhanced military cooperation.[48]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

A flotilla of PLA Southern Theater Command naval warships carried out live-fire drills in an unspecified area of the South China Sea on the weekend of March 30. The drills included fire targeting an armed militia fishing boat and an enemy jet. The drills followed separate daytime and nighttime exercises in the South China Sea that the PLAN carried out on an unspecified date in early spring.[49] State-owned tabloid Global Times quoted PRC analysts who said the drills signaled that the PRC will be on “high alert” regardless of US, Philippine, or Japanese activities in the region.[50]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, March 28, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: March 26 at 5 pm ET

Key Takeaways

  • Taiwanese media reported that former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou will meet CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping during a “private” visit to the PRC in April. The CCP may use the meeting to advance its preferred vision of cross-strait relations and legitimize the KMT as a negotiating partner on behalf of Taiwan.
  • The Chinese Coast Guard has normalized patrols around Kinmen since February 14. Normalizing operations around Taiwan’s waters sets conditions for the PRC to apply further pressure on Taiwan in the future.
  • ROC President Tsai Ing-wen declined to visit Taiwan-controlled Itu Aba in the South China Sea before her term ends. The Tsai administration has cited regional and personal security concerns in explaining Tsai’s decision to not visit Itu Aba.
  • The United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand accused PRC-state-sponsored cyber threat actors of conducting malicious cyber operations against democratic institutions.
  • The Chinese Coast Guard is driving heightened tensions in the South China Sea while the PRC blames the Philippines and the United States for the crises.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwanese media reported that former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou will meet CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping during a planned “private” visit to the PRC in April. CEO of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation and former Ma aide Hsiao Hsu-tsen announced on March 25 that Ma will lead a delegation of students to the PRC on April 1-11 to visit sites in Guangdong, Shaanxi, and Beijing. When asked if Ma would meet with Xi, Hsiao did not confirm the meeting but hinted that Ma was hopeful to meet “an old friend” if PRC arrangements permit it.[1] PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Spokesperson Chen Binhua said that the PRC welcomed Ma to participate in cultural activities but did not mention any meetings with Xi or other CCP officials.[2] Taiwan’s Storm Media reported on March 26 that former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou will meet with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping on April 8 during his visit, however.[3]

Ma last met Xi in Singapore in 2015, when Ma was ROC president. This was the first meeting between the leaders of the PRC and Taiwan. In March 2023, Ma became the first former Taiwanese president to visit the PRC, in a visit that overlapped with sitting president Tsai Ing-wen’s trip to the United States. Ma did not meet Xi on that visit, however.

Ma is a member of the Kuomintang (KMT) political party and is known for his PRC-friendly views and controversial statements on Taiwan-PRC and Taiwan-US relations, especially after leaving office. Ma said in a January interview that Deutsche Welle posted several days before the ROC’s 2024 presidential election that Taiwan must trust Xi Jinping when it comes to cross-strait relations.[4] The comment drew condemnation from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and prompted KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih to politically distance himself from Ma, saying his views were “somewhat different.”[5] In a speech at New York University in October 2023, Ma said that the United States and other Taiwan-friendly Western countries should encourage Taiwanese leaders to engage in dialogue with the PRC rather than encouraging them “to move toward Taiwanese independence or even transforming Taiwan into a second Ukraine.”[6] Ma’s allegation that the United States is pushing Taiwan toward independence and risking war with the PRC aligns with CCP rhetoric on the US-Taiwan relationship.

The CCP may use a Xi-Ma meeting to advance its preferred vision of cross-strait relations and legitimize the KMT as a negotiating partner on behalf of Taiwan in contrast to the DPP. TAO spokesperson Chen Binhua said on March 14 that Taiwan would be able to alleviate tensions and “sleep soundly” if it could relive the “peaceful development period across the Taiwan Strait from 2008-2016.” Chen’s statement refers to the years of Ma’s presidency.[7] A meeting between Xi and Ma would also be consistent with the CCP’s effort to legitimize the KMT as a negotiating partner while not directly interacting with Taiwan's DPP-led government. The PRC cut off official exchanges with Taiwan after Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP became president of Taiwan in 2016. CCP officials have repeatedly met with KMT officials during this time. The CCP insists that all cross-strait negotiations must be on the mutual basis of the “1992 consensus,” which Ma and the KMT recognize but Tsai and the DPP do not. The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, however, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China. Although Ma no longer holds an official position in the KMT, KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia said the KMT would be glad if Ma meets Xi and hopes his trip can help stabilize cross-strait relations.[8]

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has normalized patrols around Kinmen since February 14. A PRC fishing boat in Taiwan’s prohibited waters near Kinmen capsized while fleeing from a legal Taiwanese Coast Guard pursuit on February 14. The capsizing resulted in the deaths of two of the four fishermen onboard. The CCG pledged on February 18 to strengthen law enforcement activities around Kinmen. The CCG has maintained a consistent presence around Kinmen and repeatedly violated Taiwan’s maritime boundaries since then. The CCG boarded a Taiwanese sightseeing ship on February 19, marking the first time a CCG ship conducted inspections in Taiwanese waters.[9] Five CCG marine surveillance ships entered Taiwan’s contiguous zone around Kinmen on February 26, including one that crossed into territorial waters.[10] The total number of CCG ships around Kinmen reached 11 on February 27, including two that entered Taiwan’s contiguous zone. Four CCG ships operated in Taiwan’s territorial waters around Kinmen Island for two consecutive days for the first time on March 15 and 16.[11] One of the ships was a converted naval corvette that conducted the passage with its gun covers removed.[12] The CCG’s removal of its gun covers during its passage through Taiwan’s waters illustrates its offensive posturing, indicating its actions are intended to intimidate the Taiwanese Coast Guard rather than uphold a safe maritime environment. CCG ships have previously used this tactic to intimidate rival law enforcement in contested waters, including the Philippines Coast Guard around Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.[13]

Normalizing operations around Taiwan’s waters sets conditions for the PRC to apply further pressure on Taiwan in the future. It provides the precedent for the PRC to justify future CCG around other offshore ROC islands, such as Matsu. The patrols near the offshore islands create domestic political pressure on the ROC government to negotiate with the PRC from a position of weakness to mitigate the frequency of patrols and defend ROC sovereignty.

The CCP has normalized the patrols around Kinmen while keeping the Kinmen incident and subsequent CCG incursions from escalating into a crisis. The use of the CCG rather than the PLA Navy is one way the CCP employs force to change the status quo without eliciting a foreign response because the former is not a military vessel. This activity is part of a trend of coercive actions that change the status quo in the PRC’s favor and do not reach the threshold of a ROC or third-party military response. The lower levels of PLA Air Force violations of Taiwan’s ADIZ in 2024 compared to 2023 demonstrate that the party has avoided pursuing opportunities to escalate tensions to the point of inciting a military response. Every month from January to November 2023 averaged over 100 ADIZ violations. No month in 2024 has yet reached 100 ADIZ violations.[14] This aligns with two unspecified Taiwanese security officials’ comments to Bloomberg on March 18 that the PLA activity around Taiwan has not increased in intensity since the January presidential election.[15]

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) delayed the release of a Taiwanese fisherman that it rescued near Kinmen for over a week on suspicion that he is a ROC soldier. The CCG rescued two Taiwanese fishermen early in the morning of March 18 after their boat ran out of fuel and drifted out of Taiwanese waters around Kinmen. It held the fishermen in Quanzhou, a PRC coastal city a short distance from Kinmen. The PRC planned to hand the fishermen over to Taiwanese authorities on March 19 but delayed the handover after claiming one of the fishermen tried to hide that he was an active member of the Taiwan military.[16] Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed on March 23 that the fisherman is part of the Kinmen garrison brigade.[17] The CCG finally released one of the fishermen and his boat on March 23 but continues to hold the soldier in custody.[18] The ROC Coast Guard, Kinmen County government, and KMT legislator Jessica Chen of Kinmen maintained communication with PRC authorities to secure the release of the fishermen and allow their families to visit them. Chen denied that the PRC was engaging in “hostage diplomacy.”[19]

Taiwan

ROC President Tsai Ing-wen declined to visit Taiwan-controlled Itu Aba in the South China Sea before her term ends. Itu Aba is the largest island in the Spratly archipelago and the only one that Taiwan controls. The PRC, the Philippines, and Vietnam also claim Itu Aba as their territory. The KMT has called on Tsai to visit Itu Aba, known in Chinese as Taiping Island, in the South China Sea to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty there before the end of her presidency on May 20.[20] Tsai’s predecessors Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT and Chen Shui-bian of the DPP both visited the island before leaving office.[21] KMT politicians criticized Tsai for not attending the inauguration ceremony for a newly renovated pier on Taiping Island on March 26.[22]

The Tsai administration has cited regional and personal security concerns in explaining Tsai’s decision to not visit Itu Aba. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and National Security Bureau (NSB) director Tsai Ming-yen advised President Tsai not to travel to Itu Aba due to high regional tensions and militarization of the South China Sea. Wu said the PRC has built “enormous” military bases on three islands surrounding Itu Aba – Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef – and has 20 warships patrolling the South China Sea daily. He also noted escalating tensions in the region between the Philippines and the PRC and said Taiwan should consider “peaceful means” to avoid aggravating the situation.[23] NSB Director Tsai said there were security risks to President Tsai’s flight if she visits the island. He said PRC forces have harassed aircraft and ships replenishing Taiwan’s base on Itu Aba.[24]

The KMT criticized Tsai for not visiting Itu Aba and organized a legislative delegation to visit the island on May 16 to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty. Ma Wen-chun, who is the co-chair of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee in the Legislative Yuan, said that her delegation would go to the island regardless of whether President Tsai went.[25] Ten KMT legislators including Ma, three TPP legislators, and one DPP legislator also have signed up for the trip. These include LY Deputy Speaker Johnny Chiang Chi-chen of the KMT, who is a member of the committee. LY Speaker Han Kuo-yu of the KMT, who is also on the committee, said he would not go due to political considerations, however.[26]

KMT Chairman Eric Chu dismissed the Tsai administration’s concerns about Tsai visiting Itu Aba as an “excuse,” noting that Taiwan has its own coast guard and military personnel on the island to protect the president’s flight and that past presidents visited despite similar concerns.[27] Former president Ma urged Tsai to visit the island to “safeguard national interests.”[28] Some KMT legislators alleged that the true reason for Tsai Ing-wen’s unwillingness to visit Itu Aba is related to her unwillingness to upset the United States.[29] This framing from the KMT implicitly criticizes US influence over Taiwan and frames Tsai as subordinate to US interests at the expense of Taiwanese sovereignty. The American Institute for Taiwan, the de-facto US embassy in Taiwan, said it was “disappointed” when Ma Ying-jeou announced plans to visit the island in 2016 because the trip could exacerbate tensions.[30]

China

The United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand accused PRC-state-sponsored cyber threat actors of conducting malicious cyber operations against democratic institutions. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice (DOJ) charged seven PRC nationals with cybercrimes on March 25. The cybercrimes were espionage and transnational repression in a far-reaching campaign that the PRC’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) directed.[31] The indictment accused the MSS-backed group, referred to as Advanced Persistent Threat 31 (APT 31), of malicious cyber activities focused on infiltrating government networks globally to collect sensitive data from public officials who criticized the PRC. The indictment alleges that APT31 embedded malware in over 10,000 emails that collected data on target recipients, including political candidates and campaign personnel. APT31 used the data to enable direct hacking operations against targets, including infiltrating home routers. The US indictment corresponds to earlier reports from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that revealed PRC cyber actor attempts to interfere with federal election infrastructure networks in 2020 and 2022.[32]

APT31’s hacking campaign has been going on for the past 14 years.[33] APT31 and its members have perpetrated numerous other malicious cyber campaigns in recent years, including spear-phishing operations targeting the United States Naval Academy, the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, and Hong Kong legislators and democracy advocates.[34]

The US charges coincide with similar accusations against the PRC from the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) assessed with high confidence on March 25 that APT31 conducted extensive cyber espionage on UK parliamentarians in 2021.[35] NCSC also officially attributed the compromise of Electoral Commission networks in 2021 to the PRC, which exfiltrated the data of over 40 million people from electoral registers.[36] The head of New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Judith Collins declared her country’s support for the UK’s condemnation of the PRC’s cyber operations. Collins announced on March 26 that GCSB also traced malicious cyber activity targeting parliamentary entities to PRC state-sponsored cyber group APT40.[37]

The US and UK jointly imposed sanctions on March 25 against two defendants and an entity they allege is an MSS front company that enables cyber operations.[38] The UK Foreign Office summoned the PRC chargé d’affaires on March 26 to express “unequivocal condemnation” of the PRC’s hacking activities.[39] UK political figures such as former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick are urging the government to take harsh punitive action against the PRC.[40]

The latest revelations about the PRC’s hacking activities highlight the PRC’s large-scale data theft and espionage against its adversaries. The MSS conducted a large-scale hacking operation from 2014 to 2015 against the Office of Personnel Management, the United States government’s chief human resources agency that manages federal employees’ records for security clearances. The MSS exfiltrated the background investigation data of over 22 million federal employees and contractors.[41] A PRC state-backed cyber actor related to APT40, known in open source as Hafnium, exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft email servers in 2021 to extract sensitive data from organizations around the globe, compromising 30,000 companies and entities in the US alone.[42] NCSC called the espionage-focused incident the largest cyber intrusion against the UK and its allies to date.[43] The alleged APT31 operation also targeted companies of “national economic importance,” including defense contractors who supply the US military and a “leading provider” of 5G network equipment.[44]

The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Lin Jian denied the allegations on March 26 and pointed to recent PRC reports of US government cyber operations against the PRC. Lin accused the United States of recruiting Five Eyes allies to spread disinformation and villainize the PRC.[45] The PRC’s counter accusations are consistent with its past reactions to reverse the narrative, portraying itself as a responsible actor in cyberspace and a victim of US transgressions.

Northeast Asia

North Korea

Top CCP officials met with a North Korean delegation led by Minister of the International Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Kim Sung-nam in Beijing to discuss bilateral relations.[46] Kim met separately with Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Chairman Wang Huning and Director of the CCP International Liaison Department Liu Jianchao on March 21.[47] Wang Huning stressed unwavering ties despite changes in the international situation, according to Pyeongyang’s official media.[48] Kim met with Secretary of the CCP Secretariat Cai Qi on March 22.[49] PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Kim met on March 23, during which Wang expressed the PRC’s will to maintain and develop its friendship with North Korea.[50] Kim declared North Korea’s support for the PRC in all Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang-related issues. This is Kim’s first overseas trip since assuming his position as the head of International Department of the WPK.[51]

PRC readouts of the meetings repeated expressions of goodwill between the two countries and pledges to strengthen bilateral cooperation. The PRC did not comment on North Korea’s aggressive behavior in the region, which is consistent with PRC actions since mid-December. The CCP has not publicly criticized North Korea for launching ballistic missiles, testing alleged underwater nuclear drones, or labeling South Korea as its “primary foe.” The CCP has instead called for dialogue to portray the party as a responsible regional stakeholder while avoiding steps to stop North Korea's provocations. The PRC MFA has messaged since mid-December that “trying to solve the problem [on the Korean Peninsula] through military deterrence and pressure will not work…[and] dialogue and consultation” are how to resolve the issue.[52] The CCP has also emphasized the PRC’s close relations with North Korea and plans to deepen “mutually beneficial cooperation” this year, which will be the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[53]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) is driving heightened tensions in the South China Sea while the PRC blames the Philippines and the United States for the crises. Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Spokesperson Jay Tarriela stated that Filipino marine scientists conducted research at Sandy Cay on March 21, two nautical miles from the Philippine-controlled Thitu Island, while the CCG and maritime militia harassed the researchers, including by helicopter.[54] Over 15 CCG vessels remained in the area between Sandy Cay and Thitu Island on March 22.[55] The CCG blamed the Philippines for “infringing on China’s territorial sovereignty,” since the PRC claims both Sandy Cay and Thitu Island as its own.[56]

The CCG also fired water cannons at a Philippine supply ship heading to the Second Thomas Shoal on March 23. The water cannons rendered the ship immobile and caused unspecified injuries to the Filipino crew. Two PCG ships towed the supply ship away while a motorboat successfully transported new soldiers and supplies to the Second Thomas Shoal.[57] The Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea which the Philippines and the PRC both claim. The Philippines controls the shoal with troops based on the grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre. Filipino Undersecretary for Bilaterial Relations and ASEAN Affairs Theresa Lazaro protested the CCG and maritime militia actions to PRC Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong via phone call on March 25.[58]

The CCG actions since March 21 are part of a coercive trend targeting the Philippines. A CCG vessel attempted to block and collided with a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel escorting a supply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on March 5, causing minor damage to the Philippine ship.[59] Two CCG ships also fired water cannons at a separate Philippine supply ship, injuring four Philippine personnel, and later collided with it.[60]

The CCG actions In the South China Sea support PRC claims of sovereignty over nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, through the “nine dash line” maritime boundary. The PRC rejects a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that declared the nine dash line claims are unlawful.[61] The PRC has constructed, seized, and attempted to seize many islands in the South China Sea so it can build a military presence throughout the critical waterway. The PRC has built military infrastructure on islands that it has seized control of or artificially constructed to expand its power projection capability, strengthen domain awareness, and increase its control over critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) through the South China Sea. Developing the capability to monitor or restrict ships through the South China Sea would support a future PRC effort to implement a blockade of Taiwan or block US and allied reinforcements from reaching the Taiwan Strait in wartime.

The PRC blames the Philippines and the United States for the regional tension. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gave an interview to Bloomberg on March 19 where he stated the Philippines is trying to keep relations with the PRC “on an even keel” but “since the threat [from the PRC] has grown, we must do more to defend our territory.”[62] The PRC MFA responded on March 20 that the Philippines is driving the crisis by alleged “maritime infringements” on South China Sea islands the PRC claims as its own.[63]

The PRC MFA is framing the planned United States-Japan-Philippines summit on April 11 as provocative toward the PRC.[64] PRC MFA Spokesman Wang Wenbin claimed on March 14 that the United States “traveled thousands of miles to China’s doorstep to … provoke trouble” as part of its “hegemonic activity.”[65] He then framed the revisionist PRC territorial aggression in the South China Sea as a protection of his country’s “territorial sovereignty.”[66] Wang’s rhetoric is consistent with previous PRC messaging about the US role in the region. The PRC MOD framed the United States as “creating bloc confrontations that escalate regional tension” after the June 2023 US-Japan-Philippines trilateral summit.[67] Wang’s comments exemplify the view of CCP leadership that the United States-led security architecture in East Asia is inherently aggressive rather than defensive in nature.

 

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, March 22, 2024
Click Here to Read the Full Report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: March 22 at 12pm ET

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

Key Takeaways  

  • The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) is expanding efforts to erode the Republic of China's (ROC) sovereignty around Kinmen Island.
  • The PRC Ministry of Defense (MOD) warned the United States was “playing with fire” in stationing Green Berets on the Kinmen and Penghu islands.
  • The PRC is framing the upcoming April 11 US-Japan-Philippines trilateral as a way for the United States to drive tension in the South China Sea.
  • The PRC MFA framed the United States–South Korea Freedom Shield military exercise as causing instability on the Korean Peninsula.
  • The PRC had its first public diplomatic meeting with a Hamas official and its first diplomatic visits to Israel and Palestine since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) expanded its efforts to erode the Republic of China's (ROC) sovereignty around Kinmen Island. Four CCG ships operated in Taiwan’s territorial waters around Kinmen Island for two consecutive days for the first time on March 15 and 16.[1] One of the ships was a converted naval corvette that conducted the passage with its gun covers removed.[2] The CCG framed its operations as legitimate law enforcement to safeguard Chinese fishermen, including those from Taiwan.[3] The CCG’s removal of its gun covers during its passage through Taiwan’s waters illustrates its offensive posturing, indicating its actions are intended to intimidate the Taiwanese Coast Guard rather than uphold a safe maritime environment. CCG ships have previously used this tactic to intimidate rival law enforcement in contested waters, including the Philippines Coast Guard around Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.[4]

Kinmen is a Taiwan-controlled island with a large military garrison roughly 3 kilometers from the coast of the PRC. The Taiwan Coast Guard Administration (CGA) enforces maritime laws around Kinmen and its lesser islands. The CCP does not accept Taiwan’s sovereignty over the waters around the island, however.[5]

The latest violations are part of a trend of CCG incursions following an incident on February 14 in which a PRC fishing boat in Taiwan’s prohibited waters near Kinmen capsized while fleeing from a legal Taiwanese Coast Guard pursuit. The capsizing resulted in the deaths of two of the four fishermen onboard. The CCG pledged on February 18 to strengthen law enforcement activities around Kinmen. The CCG has maintained a persistent presence around Kinmen and repeatedly violated Taiwan’s maritime boundaries since then. The CCG boarded a Taiwanese sightseeing ship on February 19, marking the first time a CCG ship conducted inspections in Taiwanese waters.[6] Five CCG marine surveillance ships entered Taiwan’s contiguous zone around Kinmen on February 26, including one that crossed into territorial waters.[7] The total number of CCG ships around Kinmen reached 11 on February 27, including two that entered Taiwan’s contiguous zone. Normalizing operations around Taiwan’s waters sets conditions for the PRC to apply further pressure on Taiwan in the future.

The rapid normalization of CCG operations in Kinmen’s waters in response to the incident suggests the PRC had pre-formulated reactions to this type of contingency. The PRC exploited the capsizing incident as a pretense to initiate a concerted coercion campaign that serves to incrementally challenge and erode the ROC’s sovereignty in its adjacent waters.

The PRC has shown that it is unwilling to return to the status quo before the Kinmen incident. The CCG and CGA cooperated on a joint search and rescue effort after a PRC fishing vessel capsized in PRC-controlled waters around Kinmen on March 14.[8] Both coast guards conducted search operations within their respective jurisdictions. CGA Director Chou Mei-wu framed the cooperation as a means to ease tensions with the PRC after the initial capsizing incident in February.[9] The CCG’s successive border violations on March 15 and 16 demonstrate the PRC’s rejection of opportunities to de-escalate tensions as it continues to erode ROC sovereignty around its outer islands.

The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) are pursuing political reforms that threaten to undermine the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) governance by expanding legislative oversight of the executive branch. The reforms aim to strengthen the Legislative Yuan’s (LY) investigation rights by granting it more power to conduct inquiries and call on officials to testify before the LY, establish penalties for perceived non-compliance or dishonesty in responses, and empower the LY to confirm political appointments.[10] The TPP and KMT have consistently stated that establishing a legislative investigative task force to strengthen oversight of the executive branch is at the top of their agenda.[11] KMT caucus Secretary-General Lin Tzu-ming earlier referred to the proposed mechanism as a “great weapon” that the LY must use to supervise the government.[12] Collaboration between the KMT and the TPP on the proposals suggests that the reforms will pass with a majority in the LY, as the two opposition parties outnumber the DPP in the LY. The opposition’s plan to impose checks and balances on the DPP could significantly hamper the government’s ability to pass policy by miring it in defensive actions against accusations of overstepping authority or corruption.

The reforms have passed the initial stage and are scheduled for review by the LY’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee. DPP Caucus Whip and LY Judicial Committee member Ker Chien-ming argued that the reforms are unconstitutional. Ker threatened a procedural objection that could delay the committee’s review process if the KMT did not arrange a public hearing to scrutinize the bill.[13] KMT Caucus Whip and LY Judicial Committee member Fu Kun-chi accused the DPP of obstruction and stated that “only checks and balances will prevent the DPP from falling into corruption.”[14]

The PRC Ministry of Defense (MOD) warned the United States was “playing with fire” in stationing Green Berets on the Kinmen and Penghu islands. US-based special operations-focused online publication SOFREP first reported on March 8 that US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) would be permanently stationed at the Taiwanese Army’s amphibious command centers on the outlying islands of Kinmen and Penghu.[15] ROC Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng responded to media inquiries about the permanent presence of US troops in Taiwan on March 14 without confirming the details of the SOFREP report. Chiu stated that interactions with friendly countries fall within the scope of exchange and cooperation, and help Taiwan’s armed forces recognize blind spots and shortcomings in military preparedness.[16] US service members have trained Taiwanese military personnel for decades in an arrangement that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen first acknowledged in 2021.[17] Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command John Aquilino said on March 20 that reports of US troops “permanently stationed” on Kinmen were inaccurate, however.[18]

PRC MOD spokesperson Zhang Xiaogang responded to the ROC claim on March 15 by stressing that the “Taiwan issue” is the first “insurmountable red line” in US-PRC relations. Zhang said that the US troop deployment and arms sales to Taiwan aimed to “weaken, hollow out, and distort” the one-China principle and warned that “those who connive at and support ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces will get burned for playing with fire and taste the bitter fruit of their own doing.” He said the PRC military will “resolutely smash ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities and external interfering attempts.”[19]

PRC officials strongly objected to Taiwan Vice President-Elect Hsiao Bi-khim’s visits to the United States and Czechia. Hsiao, Taiwan’s former envoy to the United States, began a low-profile “personal trip” to Washington DC during the week of March 12. Media reports said that US and Taiwanese officials tried to keep the trip a secret to avoid angering the PRC, but cited unnamed sources who said Hsiao would meet with unspecified US officials to discuss her incoming administration’s agenda.[20] Spokesperson for the PRC embassy in the United States Liu Penghu called Hsiao a “diehard Taiwan independence separatist” and expressed Beijing’s firm opposition to her trip.[21] Liu and MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin both stressed the PRC “firmly opposes” any official interaction between the United States and Taiwan.[22] Hsiao also visited Czechia on March 19 and met with Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil at a think tank event.[23] MFA spokesperson Lin Jian expressed opposition and warned Czechia to end its “bad behavior” of holding exchanges with Taiwan.[24]

China

The PRC signaled strong opposition to a US bill that would ban TikTok in the United States if TikTok’s PRC parent company does not sell its stake. TikTok is owned by the PRC technology firm Bytedance. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the United States of overstretching the concept of “national security” to hinder foreign competition, said the attempt to force the sale of TikTok was based on “sheer robbers’ logic,” and warned that the US moves would eventually backfire. Wang claimed the US government has never found evidence that TikTok poses a national security threat.[25] Wang also claimed the PRC’s bans on Facebook, Instagram, and other Western social media were “completely incomparable” to the US approach to TikTok because the PRC allegedly welcomes all foreign products and platforms “as long as they observe Chinese laws,” while the US government was discriminating against a specific company.[26]

TikTok has claimed it never shares US user data with the PRC, but the US government recommended that government employees avoid the app over concerns that it may allow PRC access to user data.[27] Former head of engineering for TikTok in the United States Yintao Yu claimed in 2023 that CCP officials could access US user data from the app.[28] TikTok’s parent Bytedance is a private company but has an internal CCP committee to regulate its “political direction,” like most large PRC firms.[29] The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) additionally stated that TikTok accounts run by a “PRC propaganda arm” targeted US Congressional candidates during the 2022 midterm elections.[30]

Northeast Asia

Japan

The PRC MOD framed the growth of Japan’s defense budget increase as unjustified and militaristic rather than a response to regional security issues, including PLA military coercion targeting Japan. The Japanese Cabinet approved a USD 55.9 billion defense budget for Fiscal Year 2024 in December 2023. The budget stipulates annual increases until it reaches USD 62.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2027.[31] The PRC MOD claimed on March 15 that this increase makes “the international community question whether Japan… adheres to the path of peaceful development.”[32] The Japanese defense budget increase comes in response to PRC aggression around the Japanese home islands. Japan’s Joint Staff noted in January 2024 that it scrambled fighters 555 times in the last nine months of 2023.[33] 98 percent of the scrambles responded to Chinese and Russian aircraft, and more than 50 percent occurred near Japan’s southwest airspace, which encompasses the Miyako Strait.[34]

North Korea

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko met with Chinese Special Representative on Korean Peninsula Affairs Liu Xiaoming in Moscow on March 19 to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula.[35] Rudenko and Liu accused the United States and its allies of threatening the military situation in northeastern Asia and warned the United States against the proliferation of Cold War-style “bloc thinking.”[36] The PRC MFA issued similar comments in framing the United States–South Korea Freedom Shield military exercise as causing instability on the Korean Peninsula.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC is framing the United States as a destabilizing force in the South China Sea ahead of the April 11 US-Japan-Philippines trilateral summit.[37] PRC MFA Spokesman Wang Wenbin remarked on March 14 to a question about the summit that the “US has traveled halfway around the world to China’s doorsteps to form exclusive circles, flex muscles and make provocations.”[38] United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated an “ironclad” commitment to the US-Philippine alliance on March 19 in the ongoing aftermath of PRC revisionism in the SCS.[39] PRC MFA Spokesman Lin Jian responded on March 19 that the United States is “not a party” to South China Sea issues and therefore has no right to “intervene” in Sino-Philippine disputes.[40] The MFA’s rhetoric is consistent with previous PRC messaging about the US role in the region. The PRC MOD framed the United States as “creating bloc confrontations that escalate regional tension” after the June 2023 US-Japan-Philippines trilateral summit.[41]

The messaging from the PRC MFA aims to deflect blame from the PRC for heightened tensions in the South China Sea, namely over the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal. Scarborough Shoal is a contested atoll that the PRC and the Philippines claim and that has been under de facto PRC control since 2012.[42] The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) erected a floating barrier and intercepted Philippine Coast Guard vessels in February to deny the Philippines access to the shoal.[43] The CCG has also disrupted Philippine Coast Guard missions to ensure the security of Filipino fishermen near the shoal. The Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea which the Philippines and the PRC both claim. The Philippines controls the shoal with troops based on the grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre. A CCG vessel attempted to block and collided with a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel escorting a supply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on March 5, causing minor damage to the Philippine ship.[44] Two CCG ships also fired water cannons at a separate Philippine supply ship, injuring four Philippine personnel, and later collided with it.[45]

The CCG actions In the South China Sea support PRC claims of sovereignty over nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, through the “nine dash line” maritime boundary. The PRC rejects a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that declared the nine dash line claims are unlawful.[46] The PRC has constructed, seized, and attempted to seize many islands in the South China Sea so it can build a military presence throughout the critical waterway. The PRC has built military infrastructure on islands that it has seized control of or artificially constructed to expand its power projection capability, strengthen domain awareness, and increase its control over critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) through the South China Sea. Developing the capability to monitor or restrict ships through the South China Sea would support a future PRC effort to implement a blockade of Taiwan or block US and allied reinforcements from reaching the Taiwan Strait in wartime.

Australia

PRC Foreign Minister Want Yi visited Australia and New Zealand between March 17 and 21. Wang’s meeting with New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters addressed implementing the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, as well as disagreements over New Zealand’s potential ascension into AUKUS.[47] The PRC MFA framed Wang’s separate meetings with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong as seeking common ground and opportunities for Sino-Australian collaboration.[48] Wang’s visit to Australia also included meetings with the Australian business community and former Prime Minister Paul Keating.[49] Keating is a prominent critic of AUKUS and a former board member of the CCP-run China Development Bank.[50] This is the first visit by a PRC foreign minister to Australia since 2017.[51]

Europe

Russia-Ukraine War

The PRC advocated for direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine without committing to the Ukraine-proposed “global peace summit” in Switzerland. PRC Ambassador to Switzerland Wang Shihting said in an interview on March 18 that the PRC supports direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine as soon as possible. He also stated that the PRC is “examining the possibility of taking part” in the Ukraine-proposed “global peace summit." [52] MFA spokesperson Lin Jian subsequently avoided directly answering whether the PRC would participate in the summit or whether it would push for Russia to participate.[53]

Wang Shihting’s comments do not signal a change in PRC policy toward the war in Ukraine. The PRC has consistently backed peace talks or negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, in abstract terms, and portrayed itself as an impartial and “stabilizing” force in pushing for a political settlement to end the war. It has not committed to any specific peace talk proposals, however. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed Ukraine’s proposal for peace talks in Switzerland on February 17 during the Munich Security Conference, stating that there were not “ripe conditions” for peace talks, in comments that were omitted from PRC readouts.[54] Wang Yi told the National People’s Congress on March 7 that the PRC supports holding “in due course” an international peace conference recognized by both Russia and Ukraine.[55] Russia has said it will not participate in the summit even if invited.[56]  PRC Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui reiterated PRC support for a “timely convening of an international peace conference” but acknowledged on March 22 that “there is a relatively big gap in [the Russian and Ukrainian] understanding of peace talks.” Li’s acknowledgement of differences in the two sides’ understanding of peace talks was absent from the PRC readout of his remarks.[57]

The PRC rhetorically aligns with Russian framing in criticizing NATO, portraying the Western security order and arms sales to Ukraine as fueling the war, opposing sanctions on Russia, and calling for respect for Russia’s “legitimate security concerns.”[58] The PRC has not shown any willingness to pressure Russia to end the war.

Middle East

Israel-Hamas War

The PRC had its first public diplomatic meeting with a Hamas official and its first diplomatic visits to Israel and the West Bank since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. PRC MFA envoy Wang Kejian met with the head of Hamas’ political bureau Ismail Haniyeh in Doha, Qatar on March 17. This was the first meeting between PRC and Hamas officials that the PRC has publicly acknowledged since the war in Gaza began in October 2023. Hamas claimed that Wang called Hamas “part of the Palestinian national fabric” and said the PRC is “keen on relations with it.”[59] The PRC readout simply said Wang and Haniyeh “exchanged views on the Gaza conflict.”[60] The PRC has not publicly criticized Hamas since the war began. MFA Spokesperson Lin Jian said on March 19 that the PRC supports the Palestinian Authority in governing all Palestinian territories and called for “internal reconciliation” among all political factions in Palestine, however.[61]

Wang, who is a former ambassador to Lebanon, has been in the Middle East since at least March 10 discussing the Gaza war with officials in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, and Qatar.[62] He led the PRC’s first diplomatic trip to Israel and Palestine since the war began, meeting with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al Maliki in the West Bank on March 13 and Israeli foreign ministry officials Hagai Shagrir and Rachel Feinmesser in Israel on March 14. The PRC readouts for the meetings in Israel and the West Bank said Wang reiterated the PRC support for a ceasefire in Gaza, humanitarian aid, and the promotion of a two-state solution, though these policy positions were absent from the readout of the Hamas meeting.[63] This has been the PRC’s consistent stance on the conflict, which broadly aligns with the view of Arab states and allows the PRC to portray itself as a responsible great power that is pushing for peace. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi endorsed Palestine becoming a full member of the UN on March 7.[64]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, March 15, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: March 14 at 5 pm ET

Key Takeaways

  • Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced that it redefined its criteria for a “first strike” against PRC military assets, which now include a “first move” by PLA aircraft and vessels across Taiwan’s territorial boundaries.
  • A PRC Taiwan Affairs official participated in the negotiations on Kinmen, which is inconsistent with the CCP policy of not holding official exchanges with Taiwan’s DPP government.
  • Taiwan’s Kuomintang is implementing party reforms to restrain the influence of a hardline faction and better appeal to young voters in future elections.
  • The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Chen Binhua stated that “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan remains the PRC’s policy despite the omission of the term “peaceful” from the Two Sessions government work report.
  • The PRC, Russia, and Iran held the joint Maritime Security Belt – 2024 naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman from March 11 to 15.
  • The People’s Liberation Army increased the number of military aircraft flights through the Miyako Strait in March, likely as part of an effort to normalize flights outside of the first island chain.
  • The PRC portrayed the Philippines as a provocateur rather than a partner for managing disputes in the South China Sea while the Chinese Coast Guard drives heightened tensions in the South China Sea.
  • The PRC defined its coastal baseline that extends its territorial waters and claims of sovereignty in the Gulf of Tonkin. The baseline is not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the PRC is a signatory.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that it redefined its criteria for a “first strike” against PRC military assets, which now include a “first move” by PLA aircraft and vessels across Taiwan’s territorial boundaries. ROC Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan that Taiwan reserves the right to take military countermeasures if enemy military planes or ships enter Taiwan’s territorial waters or airspace and Taiwan fails to expel them by interception, identification, and warning. He did not clarify if the “first strike” concept applies to Taiwan’s outlying islands. Chiu said that the MND adopted the concept of a “first move” in February 2021. It further developed the concept after the large-scale PLA air and naval exercises around Taiwan in August 2022, which the PRC launched in response to then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Chiu said the MND’s definition of an enemy “first strike” before the policy change specifically referred to enemy artillery or missile fire at Taiwan. The reason for changing the definition was to counter the PRC’s “gray zone” operations around Taiwan.[1] The CCP has not publicly commented on the policy change as of March 13.

Chiu also described the security situation in the Taiwan Strait to legislators and explained that it is “on the brink” of escalating to a heightened threat alert level. He referenced recent events that have contributed to escalating tensions, including the PRC’s explicit denial of the median line in the Taiwan Strait and the death of two PRC fishermen near Kinmen, whose boat capsized while they fled from Taiwan’s Coast Guard. Chiu also said that the PRC has increased the frequency of its air and naval missions near Taiwan and that these missions take place closer to Taiwan than before. He said he did not expect war to break out, however.[2]

The PRC is conducting dredging operations in the Liuwudian Channel near Taiwan’s Kinmen island group, possibly to facilitate the passage of PRC vessels. The Liuwudian Channel is located between Lieyu Island (known as Little Kinmen) and the islands of Dadan and Erdan, which are part of Taiwan’s Kinmen Island group. The ROC agreed in 2015 to let PRC ships pass through the Liuwudian Channel between Xiamen port on the PRC mainland and the sea even though the channel passes through Kinmen’s restricted and prohibited waters. The PRC did not make use of the channel after Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in 2016, however. Deputy Minister of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council Chou Mei-wu said that the dredging activities were routine operations on the PRC side of the Liuwudian channel, but that the dredgers sailed through restricted and prohibited waters around Kinmen.[3]

Retired ROC General Lee Cheng-chieh said the dredging of the channel means the PRC plans to use the waterway in the future. He said the PRC could use ships in the Liuwudian channel in the future to block military supply shipments to Taiwanese garrisons on Dadan and Erdan.[4] Lee is a frequent commentator on foreign and military affairs whose opinions are often covered by KMT-aligned media and PRC media.[5] ROC Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said dredging vessels operating in Kinmen’s restricted waters do not constitute a “first strike” under the MND policy which authorizes Taiwan to respond with military force to enemy military incursions into its territory.[6]

Dredging sand in Taiwan-controlled waters is one of a growing range of “gray zone” tactics the PRC uses to harass Taiwan, assert its territorial claims, and strain Taiwan’s resources and response capability.[7]

Thousands of PRC dredgers have illegally operated in and around Taiwan’s restricted waters, including around the Kinmen and Matsu islands, for at least a decade. The dredgers usually extract sand and gravel from the seabed for use in construction projects.[8] Taiwan’s CGA interpreted illegal dredging to be non-political profit-seeking behavior in 2020 and agreed to cooperate with the PRC to crack down on the activity.[9] Taiwanese media and scholars were openly describing dredging activities near Taiwanese territory as “gray zone warfare tactics,” as of late 2023, however. Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passed a law to allow Taiwan to confiscate any vessels caught illegally dredging sand in its waters.[10]

ROC National Security Bureau Director Tsai Ming-yen said the PRC’s "joint combat readiness patrols" around Taiwan are related to Taiwan’s exchanges with foreign countries. Tsai said the PRC patrols occur every 7–10 days on average and involve around 10 military aircraft and 3 to 4 naval ships. Tsai said that whenever other countries pass resolutions friendly to Taiwan, foreign vessels pass through the Taiwan Strait, or foreign dignitaries visit Taiwan, the PRC coordinates its existing regular patrols to coincide with these diplomatic events.

Tsai further said the PRC is likely to intensify its “push and pull” tactics against Taiwan before and after President-elect Lai Ching-te’s May 20 inauguration, including military and political intimidation combined with economic incentives for Taiwanese people to further the cause of “reunification.”[11] Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a report to the Legislative Yuan that the PRC has stepped up “multi-front saturated gray-zone tactics” around Taiwan, including balloons, drones, and civilian vessels, along with increased patrols of military ships and planes. The MND report said the PRC aimed to "increase burdens of [Taiwan’s] naval and air forces and to obscure the existence of the median line in the strait.[12] ISW has reported that some of “gray zone” tactics increased during Taiwan’s 2023-2024 election season in tandem with influence operations over local Taiwanese officials and businesspeople, as well as the PRC’s ongoing push for economic “cross-strait integration.”

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) denied media reports that ROC-PRC negotiations on the “Kinmen incident” broke down and said they would resume after Kinmen prosecutors finish investigating the incident. The Kinmen incident refers to the February 14 event in which a PRC fishing boat in Taiwan’s prohibited waters near Taiwan’s Kinmen Island, which is roughly 10 kilometers from the PRC city of Xiamen, capsized while fleeing from a legal Taiwanese Coast Guard pursuit. The capsizing resulted in the deaths of two of the four fishermen onboard. PRC and ROC representatives have held 15 rounds of negotiations on Kinmen to resolve disputes around the incident, including PRC demands that Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) apologize, reveal the truth of what happened, and return the capsized boat. Taiwanese media reported that the negotiations collapsed on March 6 because the two sides failed to reach a consensus and went home. The CGA claimed the negotiations broke down because the PRC demanded to interrogate CGA personnel and did not recognize Taiwan’s maritime boundaries or law enforcement rights.[13] The MAC denied that negotiations had “broken down,” however, and merely said the first phase of negotiations had ended. MAC officials said negotiations would resume after Taiwan’s judicial investigation into the incident concludes.[14] [15]

A PRC Taiwan Affairs official participated in the negotiations on Kinmen, which is inconsistent with the CCP policy of not holding official exchanges with Taiwan’s DPP government. Quanzhou Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) deputy director Li Zhaohui was one of three leaders of a PRC delegation to negotiate with Taiwanese authorities about the February 14 capsizing incident.[16] The other two were Jinjiang Red Cross chairman Cao Rongshan and Director of the Coordination Department of the China Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) Xu Weiwei.[17] Quanzhou and Jinjiang are PRC cities near the Kinmen islands. Although Li is a TAO official, PRC state media CGTN, Enlightenment Daily, and other PRC media described him as an associate or advisor to the Red Cross in articles about the negotiations.[18] The ROC side of the negotiations was led by CGA officials including Deputy Director-General Hsu Ching-chih and Fleet Branch Director Liao Te-cheng.[19]

The presence of a PRC government official at the negotiations is inconsistent with the CCP policy of not directly interacting with the Taiwanese government. This has been the CCP’s policy since Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party became president of Taiwan in 2016. The CCP insists that all cross-strait negotiations must be held on the mutual basis of the “1992 consensus,” which Tsai and the DPP do not recognize. The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, however, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China.

Li’s involvement in the negotiations also undermines the CCP's effort to legitimize the KMT as a negotiating partner on behalf of Taiwan in contrast with the DPP. KMT vice chairman Andrew Hsia traveled to the PRC and met with TAO director Song Tao on February 29 to discuss the Kinmen capsizing incident concurrently with the DPP government-led negotiations on Kinmen.

Taiwan

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and DPP-led government raised concerns that a KMT push to legalize absentee voting for overseas Taiwanese could enable CCP interference in Taiwan’s elections. Taiwanese voters are required to return to the city or county of their household registration to vote in elections.[20] Taiwan’s cabinet approved a bill in February 2024 that allows absentee voting for national referenda for Taiwanese nationals living in Taiwan. This means that voters can vote in person in the area where they live instead of having to return to their hometown. Premier Chen Chien-jen and Interior Minister Lin Yu-chang said the government has no plans to permit absentee voting for national elections, however.[21] The KMT has been pushing for legislation to legalize absentee voting in elections, including permitting mail-in ballots for Taiwanese people living overseas. DPP politicians including National Bureau Director Tsai Ming-yen raised concerns that permitting overseas absentee voting, especially for Taiwanese people living in the PRC, could create a security risk of PRC interference in Taiwan’s elections.[22] KMT politicians, including party chairman Eric Chu, pointed out that many countries, including the United States, have implemented absentee voting and accused the DPP of disenfranchising Taiwanese citizens under the pretense of national security.[23]

Taiwan’s Overseas Community Affairs Council estimates that around 2 million Taiwanese citizens live overseas, excluding the PRC.[24] Estimates of Taiwanese who live or work in the PRC range from around 160,000 according to the PRC’s 2021 census to over 1 million by other estimates.[25] The CCP frequently conducts outreach to Taiwanese businesspeople and other ROC nationals living in the PRC to influence them to vote for more PRC-friendly candidates.

Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) is implementing party reforms to restrain the influence of a hardline faction and better appeal to young voters in future elections. KMT Chairman Eric Chu announced on March 6 that the party would disband its historic Huang Fuxing branch and reorganize it into a “veterans service working committee.” Huang Fuxing is a powerful conservative branch of the party that older military veterans and their dependents dominate. It supports Taiwan’s eventual reunification with China. It is organized separately from local party branches and has around 80,000 members. Chu said the reform was part of an effort to improve the efficiency of party affairs, integrate with local governments to expand services to party members, and appeal to younger generations.[26] KMT vice chairman Sean Lien said the reorganization aims to better allocate party resources. He said that Huang Fuxing’s NT$60 million of annual expenditures amounted to the KMT’s largest expense and dwarfed spending on other departments including publicity, youth, and women’s party organizations.[27] Various Huang Fuxing members and other KMT politicians strongly objected to the reform, however, and said it could cost the KMT a crucial base of support in elections. Some hardliners called on Eric Chu to resign and threatened to leave the KMT or join third parties like the Taiwan People’s Party or the New Party to show their displeasure.[28]

The KMT’s dissolution of the Huang Fuxing branch shows an effort by the party's central leadership to constrain the influence of the older and more conservative deep-Blue faction in favor of appealing to younger voters. The reform was triggered by the KMT’s loss in the 2024 presidential election and the increasing unpopularity of PRC-friendly policies promoted by the deep-Blue wing of the party.

The reforms may lead the KMT to moderate its stance on cross-strait relations to be more in line with the Taiwanese public, which overwhelmingly embraces a Taiwanese (and not Chinese) identity and opposes unification with China. The reforms risk former members of Huang Fuxing leaving the KMT or defecting to other parties, however, which would split the pan-Blue vote in future elections and decrease the KMT’s chances of victory.

China

The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Chen Binhua stated that “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan remains the PRC’s policy despite the omission of the term “peaceful” from the Two Sessions government work report.[29] Premier Li Qiang’s work report to the National People’s Congress on March 5 omitted the word “peaceful” in the continuation of a trend of CCP officials using less restrained language about unification with Taiwan. Chen said the PRC is willing to “create a broad space for peaceful reunification” but will never renounce the right to use force or “all necessary measures” to achieve reunification. This language is consistent with the PRC’s standard messaging regarding Taiwan. The TAO is the primary agency responsible for cross-strait relations and conducting the PRC’s Taiwan policy.

The PRC’s recent measures to exert pressure on the ROC illustrate its adoption of a more aggressive approach to realizing unification, however. These measures include influence operations and the use of law enforcement to erode Taiwan’s territorial control. The PRC recently expanded its efforts to conceal its pressure campaigns. Deputy leader of the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs Wang Huning led an interagency meeting in December to coordinate and camouflage the CCP’s efforts to influence Taiwan’s elections, according to a Taiwanese intelligence leak of the top-secret meeting. Wang allegedly urged officials at the meeting to step up effectiveness to influence Taiwan’s public opinion and reduce the detectability of its tactics by “external parties.”[30] The PRC’s opportunistic exploitation of the Kinmen capsizing incident to increase pressure on Taiwan further illustrates its growing pressure on Taiwan. The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) pledged in February to strengthen law enforcement and conduct regular inspections in the waters around Kinmen, resulting in an unprecedented boarding of a Taiwanese civilian vessel in Kinmen’s waters.[31]

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s address during the Twentieth Party Congress in 2022 also signals the impetus for more intense efforts to pressure Taiwan. Xi called for cracking down on Taiwanese separatism and foreign interference in Taiwan and urged stronger efforts to realize unification.[32] Xi’s call to action serves to galvanize a more aggressive attitude in CCP policymakers, indicating the trend of escalation against Taiwan will continue.

Russia and Iran

The PRC, Russia, and Iran held the joint Maritime Security Belt – 2024 naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman from March 11 to 15.[33] Kremlin-affiliated outlet Izvestia reported on March 11 that a detachment of ships of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, including the Varyag Slava-class cruiser, arrived at Iran’s Chabahar Port to participate in Maritime Security Belt-2024 alongside Iranian and Chinese naval detachments.[34] The annual exercise began in 2019.[35] The Russian Marshal Shaposhnikov Udaloy-class destroyer; the Chinese Ürümqi destroyer, Linyi frigate, Dongpinghu replenishment ship; and 10 unnamed Iranian ships, boats, and supply vessels and three naval helicopters are taking part in the exercise.[36] Representatives of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Oman, India, and South Africa will observe the exercise.[37]

 Northeast Asia

Japan

The People’s Liberation Army increased the number of military aircraft flights through the Miyako Strait in March, likely as part of an effort to normalize flights outside of the first island chain. The PLA flew a Y-9 medium transport aircraft in the Miyako Strait on March 9 and 10.[38] It then flew a Y-9 and two H-6 bombers through the Miyako Strait on March 12.[39] Japan’s Joint Staff noted in January 2024 that it scrambled fighters 555 times in the last nine months of 2023.[40] 98 percent of the scrambles responded to Chinese and Russian aircraft and more than 50 percent occurred near Japan’s southwest airspace, which encompasses the Miyako Strait. [41] The concentration of the PLA component of these intrusions in the southwest indicates the PLA’s intent to operate outside the first island chain.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC portrayed the Philippines as a provocateur rather than a partner for managing disputes in the South China Sea while the Chinese Coast Guard drives heightened tensions in the South China Sea. The PRC sent 11 proposals for “managing the situation at sea and carrying our maritime cooperation” to the Philippines in April 2023.[42] PRC MFA Spokesman Wang Wenbing claimed on March 12, 2024, that “the Philippines has not yet responded to most of the proposals and made frequent infringements and provocations at sea.” [43] Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr stated on March 11, 2024 that “we have not rejected any proposals that China has made to us but the premise is something that we questioned…that premise that China has made is that their territory follows what is now described as a 10 dash line.”[44] The 10 dash line is the expansive PRC territorial claim over the South China Sea and Taiwan. The PRC’s nine-dash line precursor claimed the same territory but with one less dash around Taiwan.

Wang’s comments aim to deflect blame from the PRC to the Philippines for heightened tensions over the Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal. Scarborough Shoal is a contested atoll that the PRC and the Philippines claim and that has been under de facto PRC control since 2012. The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) erected a floating barrier and intercepted Philippine Coast Guard vessels in February to deny the Philippines access to the shoal. The CCG has also disrupted Philippine Coast Guard missions near the shoal to ensure the security of Filipino fishermen in the area. The Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea which the Philippines and the PRC both claim. The Philippines controls the shoal with troops based on the grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre. A CCG vessel attempted to block and collided with a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel escorting a supply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on March 5, causing minor damage to the Philippine ship. Two CCG ships also fired water cannons at a separate Philippine supply ship, injuring four Philippine personnel, and later collided with it.

The CCG actions in the South China Sea support PRC claims of sovereignty over nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, through the “nine dash line” maritime boundary. The PRC rejects a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that found the nine dash line claims are unlawful. The PRC has constructed, seized, and attempted to seize many islands in the South China Sea so it can build a military presence throughout the critical waterway. The PRC has built military infrastructure on islands that it has seized control of or artificially constructed to expand its power projection capability, strengthen domain awareness, and increase its ability to block critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) through the South China Sea. Developing the capability to monitor or restrict ships through the South China Sea would support a future PRC effort to implement a blockade of Taiwan or block US and allied reinforcements from reaching the Taiwan Strait in wartime.

The PRC and Philippines' bilateral diplomatic forums for managing tensions in the South China Sea are unlikely to change PRC behavior in the region. The CCP has a track record of engaging in dialogue while driving crises to achieve its political objective. In 2012 the party engaged in negotiations with the Philippines to end a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which Manilla administered at the time, while steadily increasing the number of Chinese Coast Guard ships near the shoal.[45] This resulted in the Philippines withdrawing its ships from the shoal in mid-June 2012 under a now-disputed agreement that the PRC would do the same.[46] The CCP subsequently kept its ships near the shoal and achieved its political objective of gaining de facto control of the Scarborough Shoal by July 2012.[47] In 2016 the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Arbitration Tribunal unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines by rejecting the legitimacy of PRC claims to territory inside of the nine dash line and land reclamation activities.[48] The CCP has ignored the ruling by continuing land reclamation efforts and maritime coercion in the South China Sea over the last eight years.

These PRC efforts continue despite PRC Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong and Philippine Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro co-chairing the eighth meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea in January 2024.[49] The PRC has continued its coercive behavior over the past decade in the South China Sea while not honoring prior diplomatic or international legal agreements.

Vietnam

The PRC defined its coastal baseline that extends its territorial waters and claims of sovereignty in the Gulf of Tonkin. The baseline is not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the PRC is a signatory. [50]A baseline is a conceptual line that a state uses to define its territorial waters, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and continental shelf. The PRC last issued a baseline in 1996 with the announcement of 49 points that stretch eastward from the island of Hainan to the Shandong peninsula on its eastern seaboard.[51] The 1996 baseline excluded the Gulf of Tonkin. The PRC and Vietnam signed the landmark Maritime Boundary Delimitation Agreement in 2000 that defined each country’s territorial waters and EEZs in the Gulf of Tonkin.[52] The new PRC baseline in the Gulf of Tonkin extends 24 nautical miles beyond where normal basepoints would be under the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.[53]

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pham Thu Hang urged that the PRC adhere to the UNCLOS when determining the baseline to measure territorial waters and “respect and comply with” the 2000 delimitation agreement. [54] The PRC claimed that the baseline is in accordance with its domestic laws, however.[55] The PRC’s Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs posted on WeChat that the new baseline in the Gulf of Tonkin “fills the gap of the westernmost part of the Chinese mainland’s territorial sea.”[56] The WeChat announcement framed the baseline necessary to exercise national sovereignty and jurisdiction in the territorial sea.

The PRC’s rationale for the new baseline is unclear. The baseline is consistent with PRC efforts to solidify its legal claims over maritime areas and features, however. The PRC has taken incremental steps over decades to consolidate control over its ambitious maritime territorial claims, which encompass the entirety of the South China Sea. This is evident in the PRC’s seizure of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974, its excessive baseline assertions around them in 1996, and subsequent militarization across the Paracels. The PRC’s gradual assertion of sovereignty over the Paracel Islands highlights a gradational strategy to increase control and legitimacy in the disputed territory over long periods. The PRC’s gradual delimitation of regional bodies of water serves to establish a basis for its territorial claims and ultimately advance its control over sensitive maritime areas.

Maritime territorial conflicts between the PRC and Vietnam stretch back decades, with each country claiming to have held sovereignty over contested areas for centuries. Past disputes include the Gulf of Tonkin, while unresolved claims over the resource-rich and strategically important areas encompassing the Paracel and Spratly Islands make for ongoing conflict.

The PRC conducts regular maritime patrols around Vietnam’s oil and gas fields, which receive less public attention than PRC engagements with other rival claimants such as the Philippines.[57]

The PRC and Vietnam have a long-standing record of maritime disputes in the South China Sea and engage in occasional high-profile confrontations over South China Sea territorial claims. The PRC instigated a tense standoff in 2014 by deploying an oil rig in disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam saw as a direct territorial provocation. The PRC sent approximately 40 Coast Guard vessels, 6 warships, a military aircraft, and dozens of logistical and fishing vessels to support the rig, prompting reciprocal military deployment from Vietnam.[58] The standoff ended when the PRC withdrew the oil rig after two months, claiming early completion of its work and denying any relevance to “external factors.”[59]

Oceania

The United States approved $7.1 billion in funding for the Compacts of Free Association, which are the financial assistance commitments that govern the US relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands and grant US military access throughout their territories. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a 20-year period in 2003.[60] The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May and the Marshall Islands in October and the US Congress approved them in March 2024.[61] [62] The $7.1 billion will cover the new 20-year COFAs that cover the period 2024 to 2043.[63]

 

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, March 7, 2024
Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: March 7 at 12:00pm ET

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

Key Takeaways

  • Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) claimed that three Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Taiwan’s contiguous zone off the east coast of the main island on February 27.
  • The Kuomintang (KMT) initiated a legislative inquiry into the Kinmen capsizing incident to determine the liability of Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration. This supports the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to vilify and undermine domestic Taiwanese support for the Democratic Progressive Party.
  • PRC Premier Li Qiang’s work report to the National People’s Congress continued a trend of CCP officials using more belligerent language about “reunification” with Taiwan but did not signal a major policy change.
  • Recent PRC diplomatic outreach in Europe may aim to advance the PRC’s September 2023 Proposal on the Reform and Development of Global Governance, which faults the West for the war in Ukraine.
  • Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships fired water cannons and collided with Philippine ships while attempting to block a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal.

 

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration claimed that three Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Taiwan’s contiguous zone off the east coast of the main island on February 27.[1] The contiguous zone around Taiwan and its closer islands constitutes the buffer between 12 and 24 nautical miles from the coast.[2] Taiwanese media reported that the presence of Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels in the waters along Taiwan’s east coast is rare, and the three vessels in question usually operate around the contested Senkaku Islands, which Japan controls.[3] The CCG vessels left without incident after the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) deployed to the location and demanded that they depart the area.[4] This incident coincides with a consistently higher presence of PRC ships in the waters around Kinmen since the capsizing incident. The Kinmen capsizing incident refers to the February 14 event in which a PRC fishing boat in Taiwan’s waters capsized while fleeing from a legal Taiwanese Coast Guard pursuit. The capsizing resulted in the deaths of two of the four fishermen onboard. CGA Director General Chou Mei-wu reported increased PRC vessel presence near Kinmen since the incident, with up to 11 vessels per day, including law enforcement and official ships.[5]

The presence of more CCG vessels around Taiwan’s water serves to incrementally challenge and erode the Republic of China's (ROC) sovereignty in its adjacent waters. Normalizing operations around Taiwan’s waters can set conditions for the PRC to apply further pressure on Taiwan in the future. The CCP does not accept Taiwan’s sovereignty over the waters. PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Zhu Fenglian denied the existence of Taiwan’s so-called prohibited and restricted waters on February 28.[6] The increase in the number of the CCG vessels illustrates the PRC’s opportunism as it capitalizes on heightened cross-strait tensions and political sensitivity stemming from the Kinmen capsizing incident.

The PRC’s intensified maritime activities complement its regular violations of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Retired ROC Air Force Lieutenant General Chang Yen-ting pointed out on February 29 that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) detected a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft as close as 23 nautical miles from Taiwan’s northern coast.[7] Chang highlighted the proximity to Taiwan’s airspace and the challenges to the military’s operational depth and early warning time. The ROC Air Force announced on March 6 that it would resume nighttime flight training.[8] Chang stated in an interview that the measure is a necessary response to the higher frequency of PLA aircraft harassing Taiwan in recent years.[9]

The Kuomintang initiated a legislative inquiry into the Kinmen capsizing incident to determine the liability of Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration. This supports the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to vilify and undermine domestic Taiwanese support for the Democratic Progressive Party. KMT-aligned independent legislator May Chin convened the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Affairs Committee on March 4, summoning Coast Guard and government officials to testify regarding the law enforcement process and subsequent handling of the incident. Chin favors closer relations with the PRC and has a history of meeting with CPP officials, prompting accusations from DPP members that she is under the CCP’s influence.[10] Ocean Affairs Council Minister and DPP member Kuan Bi-ling and CGA Director General Chou Mei-wu faced fierce questioning from Chin and KMT lawmakers about the cause of the incident and the liability of the CGA. Kuan and Chou pushed back against the notion that the CGA vessel’s collision with the mainland fishing boat caused it to capsize. Kuan and other DPP cabinet members stood by the Coast Guard’s actions as lawful and denied insinuations of guilt. DPP legislators disagreed with the KMT’s framing of the incident in a report, claiming it lent itself to the TAO’s position.[11] Kuan refuted allegations that she ordered the Coast Guard to open fire or that she was a hindrance to the reconciliation process. Kuan characterized the rumors as a cognitive warfare strategy by the CCP and emphasized the role of misinformation in shaping public perception of sensitive cross-strait issues.[12]

The KMT and CCP are urging the DPP to disclose the truth about the incident. The PRC blames the DPP and CGA for the deaths and failure of the reconciliation process.[13] The PRC has responded by repeatedly deploying CCG patrols into waters around Kinmen and Matsu, two Taiwan-controlled island groups that are close to the coast of the PRC.


China

The National People’s Congress announced a 5% GDP growth target and a 7.2% defense budget increase for 2024. PRC defense spending has outpaced the GDP growth target for over a decade.[14] Both figures are identical to growth targets announced at the 2023 National People’s Congress session.[15] Premier Li Qiang’s work report to the annual session of the NPC focused primarily on the PRC’s economic goals, including maintaining target growth rates, developing “new productive forces” to drive the economy, and furthering “reform and opening up” policies. Li said the economy was improving with a growth rate of 5.2% in 2023 but acknowledged that achieving the economic growth goals would not be easy.[16] The spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the PRC’s top advisory body which is having its annual session concurrently with the NPC, also signaled that the CPPCC was chiefly concerned about the economy.[17]

The PRC has the world’s second-largest defense budget after the United States and the budget is set to increase to 1.67 trillion yuan ($232 billion) in 2024. Although PRC defense spending has doubled since 2015, annual increases in defense spending have declined to single-digit percentages as economic growth has slowed. Official spending increases in defense have hovered around 7% each year since 2016.[18] The US Department of Defense estimated in 2021 that the PRC’s true spending on defense could be 1.1 to 2 times its official budget.[19] The PRC can likely sustain its military spending despite slowing economic growth, however. The state exerts considerable control over the country’s economy and the distribution of resources to various sectors. The PRC’s official defense spending is also much smaller than US defense spending as a percentage of GDP, equaling 1.6% of GDP in 2022 compared to 3.5% for the United States.[20]

PRC Premier Li Qiang’s work report to the National People’s Congress continued a trend of CCP officials using more belligerent language about “reunification” with Taiwan but did not signal a major policy change. Li stressed that the CCP must “resolutely oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ separatism and external interference.” Li’s predecessor Li Keqiang said in the 2023 work report that the CCP should “advance the process of the peaceful reunification of the motherland,” but Li Qiang dropped the word “peaceful” and called on the CCP to “unswervingly advance the great cause of the reunification of the motherland.” Li Qiang did say the CCP should promote the “peaceful development” of cross-strait relations, however.[21] State-owned media Global Times cited PRC scholars who said that the omission of the term “peaceful reunification” does not signal that the CCP has dropped this goal but rather signals that it considers fighting Taiwanese “secessionism” will be a more urgent task in 2024.[22] The change in the language of the report is consistent with the change of tone in CPPCC Chairman Wang Huning’s speech at the Taiwan Work Conference on February 23, which emphasized the need to “fight” (rather than merely “oppose”) Taiwanese independence and foreign interference.[23]

The premier’s government work report to the NPC also omitted the term “peaceful reunification” in 2016 and 2020, the years that ROC President Tsai Ing-wen won the presidential elections. That the report again dropped the term after the DPP won the 2024 presidential elections indicates that the change in rhetoric signals disapproval of the DPP presidency.[24]

CCP Central Military Commission (CMC) Vice Chairmen Zhang Youxia and He Weidong highlighted the need to improve the military’s preparation for “major missions” at the annual National People’s Congress. Zhang and He participated in deliberations by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Armed Police (PAP) delegations as they reviewed the government work report at the NPC. Zhang highlighted the need to implement the CMC Chairman responsibility system, step up troop training, strengthen coordination of preparations for “major missions”, accelerate construction and implementation of network-enabled information systems, integrate military and civilian resources, and improve the military's “ability to win.” He Weidong stressed the need to strengthen training in CCP theory in the military and deepen political “rectification” and anti-corruption efforts.[25] Zhang and He’s recommendations provide insight into the PLA’s priorities in improving its readiness for “major missions” such as operations against Taiwan. These priorities include strengthening centralized CCP control over the military, strengthening personnel training and political loyalty, deepening military-civil fusion, and constructing information systems to facilitate joint operations in “informationized” warfare.

Russia

Recent PRC diplomatic outreach in Europe may aim to advance the PRC’s September 2023 Proposal on the Reform and Development of Global Governance, which faults the West for the war in Ukraine. The proposal calls the root of the “Ukraine crisis” lying “in the problem of security governance in Europe.” The “parties concerned… [must] accommodate each other’s legitimate concerns… [and] abandon the Cold War mentality.”[26] These are thinly veiled references to accommodating Russian historical grievances at the price of NATO unity and Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. The alleged “stabilizing force” of any PRC-negotiated ceasefire along these lines would normalize the principle of revisionist international aggression. This principle would provide the CCP with a precedent for the party to falsely justify aggressive coercion aimed at Taiwan, with the eventual political objective of annexing Taiwan into the PRC.

PRC Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui traveled to Europe on March 2 for a round of visits to Russia, the EU, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, and France. PRC MFA Spokeswoman Mao Ning claimed that Li Hui would “pave the way for peace talks.”[27] Li’s comments align with Kremlin talking points, however. The South China Morning Post reported on March 6 that PRC Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui reiterated the Kremlin talking point that the discussion of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty could only occur when violence ceases. He also implied that the EU needs to stop sending weapons to Ukraine for this to happen.[28] Li’s claims align with PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s message at the Munich Security Conference in mid-February that the PRC is a “responsible major country” that would serve as a “stabilizing force” amid global turmoil. [29] Wang also repeated his claim on March 7 that the PRC “supports the timely convening of an international peace conference” during a press conference at the annual Two Sessions meeting.[30]  CCP leadership delivers policy guidance for the upcoming year to the party cadre at this annual meeting.

The PRC and Russia are collaborating on the development of surveillance and energy-related space capabilities that threaten US access to space and space-based capabilities. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) stated in late February that the PRC plans to construct a surveillance system around the in-progress International Lunar Research Station. The surveillance system will use the Skynet mass surveillance system as a model.[31] Skynet is the PRC’s nationwide camera surveillance system that includes over 600 million cameras.[32] The ILRS is a multinational space station initiative that Russia and the PRC founded in 2021 that is scheduled for competition by the 2030s. CNSA did not specify how it would prioritize surveillance efforts in space. The head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov also stated on March 5 that the PRC and Russia are considering cooperation to build a nuclear power plant on the moon in the early 2030s.[33] This is a competing initiative to an ongoing NASA project to design a nuclear fission reactor on the moon.[34]

Commander of United States Space Command General Stephen N. Whiting stated that these types of space-based systems compete with US interests during his February 29 testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services. He warned that the PRC “and the Russian Federation continued to field systems and engage in behavior that threaten U.S., Allied, and Partner access to space and space-based capabilities.”[35]

Southeast Asia

Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships fired water cannons and collided with Philippine ships while attempting to block a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal. A CCG vessel attempted to block and collided with a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel escorting a supply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on March 5, causing minor damage to the Philippine ship.[36] PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said that the CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia ships attempted “dangerous” blocking maneuvers against PCG vessels in an “unprovoked [act] of coercion.”[37] Two CCG ships also fired water cannons at a Philippine supply ship, injuring four Philippine personnel, and later collided with it. The supply ship returned to the Philippines under PCG escort. Another Philippine ship completed its mission of delivering supplies to personnel on the BRP Sierra Madre, a deliberately grounded derelict warship that serves as the Philippine base on Second Thomas Shoal.[38] The MFA claimed the Philippine supply mission was transporting construction materials.[39]

The CCG claimed that it took “control measures in accordance with the law” to stop the Philippines’ “illegal intrusion” and that a Philippine ship “deliberately rammed” a CCG ship.[40] A PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson accused the Philippines of violating its commitments to China to tow the Sierra Madre and violating the PRC’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights by “infringing, provoking and causing trouble” in the waters of Second Thomas Shoal, which the PRC calls “Ren’ai Reef” and the Philippines calls “Ayungin Shoal.”

Second Thomas Shoal is a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea which the Philippines and the PRC both claim. The Philippines controls the shoal with troops based on the grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre. It maintains its presence at the shoal with regular shipments of living supplies for its personnel and construction materials for repairing the World War II-era warship, which is in poor condition. The Philippines began “superficial repairs” on the ship in October 2023 to make it more livable for the roughly dozen Philippine military personnel stationed there.[41]

The PRC opposes these shipments and claims the Philippine military presence is illegal. The PRC claims sovereignty over nearly the entirety of the South China Sea including the Spratly Islands through its “Nine Dash Line” maritime boundary. It rejects a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that found the Nine Dash Line claims are unlawful. The PRC has constructed, seized, and attempted to seize many islands in the South China Sea so it can build a military presence throughout the critical waterway. The PRC has built military infrastructure on islands that it has seized control of or artificially constructed to expand its power projection capability, strengthen domain awareness, and increase its ability to block critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) through the South China Sea. Developing the capability to monitor or restrict ships through the South China Sea would support a future PRC effort to implement a blockade of Taiwan or block US and allied reinforcements from reaching the Taiwan Strait in wartime.

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs objected to the Philippines’ passage of the “Maritime Zones Act” that codifies Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea. The act is based on the 2016 Arbitration ruling, which found the PRC’s competing territorial claims in the region to be invalid. The Philippine Senate passed the Maritime Zones Act on February 26. The act establishes the Philippines’ archipelagic boundaries, internal waters, and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Ruling.[42] The 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that the PRC’s “Nine Dash Line” territorial claims to nearly the entire South China Sea, including many Philippine-claimed features, had no legal basis.[43] A PRC MFA spokesperson said on March 5 that the PRC “firmly opposes” the law. She reiterated the PRC stance that the PRC has sovereignty over many islands the Philippines claims, including the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. She also asserted that the treaties originally delineating Philippine territory did not include these islands, that the Philippines illegally occupied PRC territory in the South China Sea, and that the 2016 arbitration ruling is illegal under UNCLOS.[44]

The PRC’s use of legal arguments in tandem with maritime operations to assert territorial claims over most of the South China Sea serves to lay the groundwork for PRC military control over the South China Sea. PRC control over the sea could enable it to establish domain awareness or block passage through the waterway to support a blockade or military operations against Taiwan. The legal arguments about UNCLOS and the territorial boundaries of rival claimants are part of a CCP effort to legitimize PLA and CCG actions in the South China Sea. “Legal warfare” is one of the PLA’s “three warfares” strategies of non-kinetic warfare, which also include psychological and public opinion warfare.

Oceania

Compacts of Free Association

The House of Representatives voted to renew the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) on March 6.[45] The bill is now before the Senate for consideration. The COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while granting the United States military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May and the Marshall Islands in October.[46] [47] Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[48] That funding has now expired. The renewal of the COFAs in 2024 would replenish this funding at a total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements of roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[49]


China-Taiwan Weekly Update, February 29, 2024

Click here to read the full report.

Authors: Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, and Joseph Su of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: February 29 at 11am ET

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

Key Takeaways:

  • The PRC Coast Guard patrolled prohibited and restricted waters around Taiwan-controlled Kinmen, likely as part of a PRC strategy to assert sovereignty over the island.
  • The PRC has increased deployments of research vessels in Taiwan’s contiguous zone to assert its territorial claims over Taiwan.
  • The Kuomintang chose defense obstructionist Ma Wen-chun to co-chair the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan. Ma proposed 135 cuts or freezes to Taiwan’s defense budget during 2023.
  • CCP rhetoric regarding Taiwan signals a redoubling of efforts to exert pressure on the ROC under the DPP's renewed mandate.
  • The PRC’s recent national security policy initiatives reflect the CCP’s growing threat perception of security risks to classified and sensitive information in the fraught geopolitical climate.
  • The Chinese Coast Guard has continued efforts to assert control over Scarborough Shoal. It erected a floating barrier and intercepted vessels that belong to the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
  • The PRC is pursuing security cooperation with Kiribati to increase its security foothold in the Pacific Islands.

Cross-Strait Relations

The PRC Coast Guard entered and patrolled prohibited and restricted waters around Taiwan-controlled Kinmen, likely as part of a PRC strategy to assert sovereignty over the island. The Fujian branch of the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) announced that it had conducted law enforcement patrols around Kinmen on February 25.[1] PRC state media Global Times cited an “anonymous professional” who claimed the CCG entered the “restricted zone” around Kinmen island.[2] Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) did not confirm or deny the incursion.[3] ROC Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling stated that five CCG marine surveillance ships entered Kinmen’s “restricted zone” on February 26, however, including one that crossed into Kinmen’s “prohibited zone.” The total number of CCG ships around Kinmen increased to 11 on February 27, including two that entered Kinmen’s “restricted zone.”[4]

Taiwan does not claim any territorial waters around Kinmen partly due to its proximity to the PRC, but it designates “prohibited” and “restricted” waters around Kinmen which it treats as equivalent to territorial waters and a contiguous zone. Taiwan authorizes its coast guard to search and detain foreign vessels entering its prohibited waters. PRC authorities have said they do not recognize any “restricted” or “prohibited” waters around Kinmen because they claim that Kinmen, like all of Taiwan, is the territory of the PRC.[5] Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has said that the PRC has tacitly abided by Kinmen’s claimed maritime boundaries until now, however.[6]

The latest PRC incursions into waters around Kinmen are part of an ongoing dispute over an incident on February 14 in which a Taiwanese Coast Guard vessel collided with a PRC fishing boat while chasing the boat out of Kinmen’s prohibited waters, resulting in the deaths of two of the four fishermen. The PRC blamed Taiwan for the deaths and has responded by repeatedly deploying CCG patrols into waters around Kinmen and Matsu, two Taiwan-controlled island groups situated very close to the coast of the PRC.[7] The CCG detained and boarded a Taiwanese tourism vessel near Kinmen on February 19.[8] The PRC state-owned Global Times said the CCG activities signal the normalization of law enforcement patrols in the waters near Kinmen and Xiamen, the PRC city near Kinmen, and that Taiwan’s government has no right to intervene.[9]

The PRC is taking advantage of the crisis instigated by the deaths of the fishermen to assert sovereignty over Kinmen and Matsu through law enforcement activities in the adjacent waters. Its actions also represent an increased pressure campaign against Taiwan ahead of Lai Ching-te’s May 20 inauguration as president of Taiwan. The PRC’s law enforcement activities in Kinmen’s waters may embolden it to attempt such tactics around other Taiwanese offshore islands such as Matsu and Penghu.

ROC Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling said the ships on February 26 left after the CGA broadcast a warning. She called the incursion “a clearly politicized attempt to exert sovereignty claims.”[10] Kuan noted Taiwanese media speculation that the PRC intends to impose a “Diaoyu” model in the waters around Kinmen, a move that Kuan said was unacceptable.[11] The CCG regularly patrols in waters around the Japan-administered Diaoyu islands (called Senkaku in Japanese) to assert PRC sovereignty over the islands. Taiwan Minister of Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng said on the same day that Taiwan’s military would not consider CCG vessels in Kinmen’s restricted waters a threat as long as they do not approach too close to land forces.[12] The CGA said it would not adjust patrols around Kinmen and would not do anything to escalate the situation further.[13]

The PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson condemned Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government on February 28 for allegedly lying about and concealing the facts of the incident and for not apologizing.[14] She accused Kuan Bi-ling by name of handling the incident as a “personal political performance,” concealing the truth, shifting blame, telling lies, failing to apologize, and setting up “obstacles” in the aftermath.[15]

The Kinmen fishermen incident has become increasingly politicized in Taiwan as Kuomintang officials have criticized the CGA and DPP administration’s handling of the matter. Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers criticized the CGA for mishandling the incident on February 14, failing to record video footage of the event, and allegedly concealing the facts about the cause of the fishermen’s deaths.[16] The CGA confirmed that the capsizing of the PRC fishing boat was caused by a collision with a CGA vessel on February 22, over a week after the incident occurred, but denied that it was trying to conceal information.[17] The February 14 incident and resulting opposition criticism of the CGA promotes public perceptions that the CGA is incompetent and untrustworthy. The propagation of this narrative threatens to undermine Taiwanese confidence in Taiwan’s ability to control its waters, especially if Taiwanese people perceive that their government is unable or unwilling to repel CCG encroachment in Taiwan’s waters.

KMT Deputy Chairman Andrew Hsia’s visit to the PRC may legitimize a back channel for ROC-PRC negotiations as official negotiations on Kinmen have not reached a consensus. Taiwanese officials led by CGA deputy director-general Hsu Ching-chih conducted five days of closed-door negotiations on with a PRC delegation, including a Red Cross official and family members of the deceased fishermen. The PRC representatives demanded the CGA apologize, pay compensation, and reveal the full truth of what happened in the incident. The negotiations failed to produce results as of February 29, however.[18]

KMT Deputy Chairman Andrew Hsia began a seven-day trip to the PRC on February 26 with the stated purpose of visiting Taiwanese people living and working there. He said he would not pass up the opportunity to meet PRC officials if the opportunity arose, however. Hsia called for the DPP government to find a channel for dialogue with the PRC to deescalate tensions. He acknowledged that the KMT has its own channels for negotiation with the PRC, but said the party was not authorized to negotiate on behalf of Taiwan since it is not the ruling party.[19] Hsia met with TAO director Song Tao in Shanghai on February 29. He offered condolences for the deaths of the two fishermen and said he would urge the DPP to properly handle the issue. Song said the PRC will never tolerate the DPP’s “atrocious behavior” that ignores the safety of mainland fishermen’s lives. He said Beijing was willing to work with the KMT to “meet each other halfway,” promote cross-strait relations, oppose Taiwanese independence, and promote “national reunification.” Song and Hsia both said they were willing to maintain dialogue on the common basis of the 1992 Consensus and opposition to Taiwanese independence.[20] Hsia is a former director of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. He has repeatedly traveled to the PRC and met top PRC Taiwan Affairs officials in his capacity as the KMT’s deputy chairman, including during Taiwan’s 2024 election.[21]

Hsia’s visit to the PRC amid unsuccessful DPP-led negotiations in Kinmen may enable the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to further legitimize the KMT in contrast with the DPP as a negotiator on Taiwan’s behalf. The CCP cut off formal contacts with Taiwan’s government when ROC President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016. The party refuses to have a dialogue with the DPP directly because the DPP does not recognize the “1992 Consensus.”[22] This is why the PRC side of the Kinmen negotiation is represented by a Red Cross official. The 1992 Consensus is an alleged verbal agreement between semi-official representatives of the PRC and the then KMT-ruled ROC following negotiations in 1992. It states that both sides agree there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The CCP interprets this “one China” to be the People’s Republic of China, however, while the KMT interprets it to be the Republic of China.

The PRC has increased deployments of research vessels in Taiwan’s contiguous zone to assert its territorial claims over Taiwan. The Financial Times published a report based on ship tracking data that the PRC has sent nine research vessels to waters within 24 nautical miles of Taiwan since September 2023. There were only two such incursions during each of the past three years. One research vessel, the unmanned drone carrier Zhu Hai Yun which the PRC began operating in January 2023, sailed the full length of Taiwan’s east coast in November 2023. The US-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that the Zhu Hai Yun has ties to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and that the unmanned surface, undersea, and aerial vehicles it carries can be used to conduct military reconnaissance in addition to scientific marine surveys. The Da Yang, another PRC research vessel, operated off Taiwan’s east coast on February 15-17.[23]

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) grants each country the right to restrict transit within its territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles from its coast. It further defines a contiguous zone between 12 and 24 nm from the coast, within which each country can exert the control needed to prevent or punish the infringement of its laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea.[24] The PRC considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and denies that Taiwan’s government has legitimate control over any adjacent waters. However, the deployment of scientific and other non-military vessels within Taiwan’s contiguous zone is a means of testing Taiwan’s response and gradually normalizing PRC presence around Taiwan. The PRC uses such tactics in tandem with near-daily air and naval violations of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), Chinese Coast Guard patrols near Kinmen and Matsu, adjustment of civilian flight routes to fly closer to Taiwan, and balloon flights through Taiwan’s airspace to wear down Taiwan’s threat awareness and resources, forcing it to be selective in which perceived incursions it chooses to respond to. Blurring the lines between military and civilian activities also has the effect of making it more difficult for Taiwan to determine which activities are potential threats.

The CCP will add two additional flights along a sensitive civil air route over the Taiwan Strait likely to further strain Taiwan’s resources and air defense response time. The TAO spokesperson confirmed on February 28 that the PRC would add two new civilian flights connecting to route M503, which flies a few kilometers from the median line of the Taiwan Strait.[25] The PRC unilaterally adjusted route M503 on February 1 to fly closer to the median line. Taiwan at the time decried the move as unsafe and responded by canceling plans to resume Taiwanese group tours to the PRC on March 1.[26] The new flight paths will increase PRC air traffic near the median line.

The PRC has stated that it does not recognize the existence of any “median line” in the Taiwan Strait. Chieh Chung, a senior analyst at the KMT-affiliated National Policy Foundation, said that moving flight routes closer to the median line will allow PRC aircraft to more quickly change course to cross the median line, shortening Taiwan’s air defense response time. He also said military planes may fly along the same routes. Increasing the volume of both civilian and military flights in the sensitive area likewise serves to strain Taiwanese resources as Taiwan must monitor, assess, and prepare to respond to each potential incursion.[27]

CCP rhetoric regarding Taiwan signals a redoubling of efforts to exert pressure on the ROC under the DPP's renewed mandate. Top Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning called for the need to “fight” so-called Taiwanese independence and contain foreign interference during the annual Taiwan Work Conference on February 23.[28] Wang’s speech took on a distinctly bellicose tone compared to last year’s conference, which used relatively modest language urging “opposition” to Taiwanese separatism.[29] Wang’s speech this year also made more references to unification compared to previous years, illustrating the CCP’s hardening resolve to take possession of Taiwan. Wang is Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a foremost United Front work organization, as well as deputy leader of the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs. These roles make him one of the top CCP officials responsible for overseeing the PRC’s policy toward Taiwan. He is also a leading CCP ideological theorist and policy architect who has accrued significant influence as a trusted advisor to CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. Wang led an interagency meeting in December to coordinate and camouflage the PRC’s efforts to influence Taiwan’s elections, according to a Taiwanese intelligence leak of the top-secret meeting.[30] President-elect Lai Ching-te’s victory in Taiwan’s January elections represents a failure of the PRC’s influence operations. Lai’s election is a logical impetus for Wang’s stronger language, galvanizing a defiant response from CCP leadership. Wang’s rhetoric indicates the PRC will intensify efforts to erode Taiwan’s sovereignty and curb international support to help Taiwan resist pressure.

Taiwan

The Kuomintang (KMT) chose defense obstructionist Ma Wen-chun to co-chair the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan. The Foreign and National Defense Committee is the legislative standing committee responsible for legislation related to Taiwan’s policies and spending on defense and foreign affairs.[31] Standing committees have the authority to conduct budget reviews, make recommendations to the Legislative Yuan (LY) based on reviews of draft legislation, and summon officials from relevant agencies to respond to inquiries. Ma Wen-chun is a KMT legislator who has served in the LY since 2009. She is known as one of the biggest obstructionists of Taiwan’s defense spending in the LY, having proposed 135 cuts or freezes to the defense budget during 2023, including to Taiwan’s Haikun submarine program.[32] Ma is under criminal investigation due to a scandal in 2023 when several legislators publicly accused her of leaking classified information about the submarine program to South Korea and the PRC to hinder the submarine’s completion.[33]

The KMT’s selection of Ma to co-chair the legislative committee in charge of defense spending indicates its intent to obstruct what they view as “excessive” defense spending in the new legislative session. The KMT and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hold divergent views on defense policy, with the former advocating for a comparatively modest approach that seeks to de-escalate tensions with the PRC. The KMT has consistently criticized President Tsai Ing-wen’s DPP administration for excessive defense spending.

DPP legislator Wang Ting-yu will serve as the other co-chair of the 13-member Foreign and National Defense Committee. The allocation of committee membership is proportional based on each party’s overall representation in the LY. The KMT and DPP are nearly tied in the LY with 52 and 51 seats, respectively. KMT Speaker of the LY Han Kuo-yu and Deputy Speaker Johnny Chiang will also be part of the Foreign and National Defense Committee. The minority Taiwan People’s Party, which holds eight seats in the legislature, voted for Ma and the KMT’s other candidates for co-chair in all eight standing committees.[34]

China

The PRC’s recent national security policy initiatives reflect the CCP’s growing threat perception of security risks to classified and sensitive information in the fraught geopolitical climate. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted a revised State Secrets Law on February 27 that broadens the scope of information that will be treated as confidential.[35] The law strengthens the confidentiality of so-called “work secrets,” privileged information that is not explicitly designated as a state secret but could undermine national security if leaked, especially information related to sensitive technology.[36] The law also restricts government employees with access to classified information from traveling overseas without prior approval. The unnamed head of the PRC’s National Administration of State Secret Protection spoke to reporters on February 28 about the revised law. The official stressed the importance of the CCP’s leadership in governing “confidentiality work,” and stated the revised law will help the CCP leverage its political and organizational advantages in managing confidential information.[37]

The PRC’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) separately unveiled a three-year plan to strengthen the industrial sector’s data security on February 26. The plan will apply protective measures to over 45,000 companies, including enhanced risk assessment, ransomware simulations, and integration of data security products and services.[38] Both policies are designed to strengthen national security by safeguarding political integrity and maintaining tight control over sensitive information. The PRC’s new policy actions are the CCP’s response to a perceived hostile external environment, which Xi Jinping characterized as demanding defiance against foreign containment at the 20th Party Congress in 2022.[39] These measures are rooted in Xi’s comprehensive national security doctrine, which encourages heightened vigilance and robust safeguarding against anything that could threaten the CCP’s legitimacy. This approach entails a strategic application of the doctrine across various segments of society, aiming to fortify ideological, economic, and military security in the face of Western resistance to the PRC’s ascent.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has continued efforts to assert control over Scarborough Shoal by erecting a floating barrier and intercepting vessels that belong to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). On February 22, the PCG reported that the CCG placed a floating barrier at the entrance to the Scarborough Shoal lagoon to prevent Philippine fishing vessels from entering.[40] The PRC first erected a similar barrier on September 20, 2023, which the PCG removed on September 25, 2023, following strong condemnation from the PCG and BFAR.[41] On February 26, a spokesperson for the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Philippines has taken a “series of actions infringing on China’s sovereignty in the waters off Scarborough Shoal” and affirmed that the PRC would take necessary measures to guard its sovereignty, maritime rights, and interests.[42]

From February 22-23, the PCG and BFAR vessel BRP Datu Sanday conducted a resupply mission of 44 fishing vessels in the waters near Scarborough Shoal.[43] The PRC accused the Philippines of “illegally intruding” into Chinese territory. PCG Spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela refuted the accusation by saying that the Philippine vessels are “actively ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen” in the area.[44] A CCG ship positioned itself horizontally in front of the bow of the BRP Datu Sanday during the resupply mission in an attempt to deny access to waters adjacent to the Shoal. The CCG also conducted electronic jamming of the BRP Datu Sanday’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) to prevent the transmission of positional information that may conflict with the CCP narrative.[45] The PCG Spokesperson reported three PRC Navy vessels shadowed the BRP Datu Sanday 25 nautical miles outside of the Shoal and deployed a helicopter to observe the Philippine vessels.[46] [47]

Scarborough Shoal is a contested atoll that the PRC and the Philippines claim and that has been under de facto PRC control since 2012. The atoll falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which gives the Philippines sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The PRC claims the shoal under its nine-dash line, which the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected in a 2016 ruling. The PRC rejected the court’s ruling.[48] The PRC has sought to control Scarborough Shoal, most of the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and many other islands and features in the South China Sea that are disputed with other regional states. The CCP has built military infrastructure on islands it has seized control of or artificially constructed to expand its power projection capability, strengthen domain awareness, and increase its ability to block critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) through the South China Sea. The PRC has built military infrastructure on islands it has seized control of or artificially constructed to expand its power projection capability, strengthen domain awareness, and increase its ability to block critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) through the South China Sea. Developing the capability to monitor or restrict ships through the South China Sea can support a future PRC effort to implement a blockade of Taiwan or block US and allied reinforcements from reaching the Taiwan Strait in wartime. The PRC has not built any infrastructure on Scarborough Shoal, however, because Philippine vessels continue to actively contest its control of the territory.

Oceania

Kiribati

The PRC is pursuing security cooperation with Kiribati to increase its security foothold in the Pacific Islands. Kiribati's acting police commissioner Eeri Aritiera told Reuters on February 23 that uniformed PRC police officers are operating in the country to assist local law enforcement with a community policing program and managing a crime database program.[49] Kiribati has not publicly announced a security agreement with the PRC. The PRC’s policing cooperation efforts with Kiribati serve to enhance its security influence in the Pacific. Expanding the agreement to military cooperation could provide the PRC with access to strategic locations for potential military use in exchange for assisting island nations with internal security. The significance of these agreements lies in their contribution to the PRC’s broader geopolitical ambitions, including countering Western influence and establishing a more favorable balance of power in the region.

The PRC’s ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian denied that the PRC harbors military-related ambitions as part of its cooperation with the Pacific Islands. Xiao stated on January 17 that security is a component of the PRC’s relationship with Pacific Island countries, and the purpose of security partnerships is to help maintain “social stability and basic order.”[50] Xiao’s comments came days after the PRC won formal diplomatic recognition from Nauru at Taiwan’s expense. Kiribati cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of the PRC in 2019.

The PRC has pursued similar security cooperation with other Pacific Island nations. Former Solomon Islands provincial leader Daniel Suidani leaked a draft security agreement between the PRC and Solomon Islands in March 2022. Suidani was an outspoken critic of the government’s decision to switch recognition from Taiwan to the PRC in 2019.[51] The leaked document included language granting the PRC access and replenishment rights to Solomon Islands ports, as well as the right to use its armed forces to protect Chinese projects and personnel in the Solomon Islands. Australian state media verified the authenticity of the document.[52] A former Solomon Islands prime minister and confidante of the incumbent stated that the final agreement, which was signed a month later, is “very close” to the leaked draft.[53] The PRC began supplying the Solomon Islands with police training and riot control equipment later that year. [54] The PRC’s Ministry of Defense denied rumors that the PRC is pursuing a naval base on the Solomon Islands.[55] The two countries upgraded their security cooperation again in July 2023 with a pact that recommitted the PRC’s provision of law enforcement support to the Solomon Islands as a part of their “comprehensive strategic partnership.”[56]

Tuvalu

Tuvalu’s newly elected prime minister assuaged fears that Tuvalu would cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Tuvalu’s parliament unanimously elected Feleti Teo as its new prime minister on February 26. Teo is Tuvalu’s former attorney general and a former regional fisheries official. His victory thwarted the prime ministerial ambitions of former finance minister and newly elected legislator Seve Paeniu, who said he would review Tuvalu’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan if he became prime minister.[57] Taiwan’s ambassador to Tuvalu Andrew Lin said he had received assurances from Teo and other Tuvaluan members of parliament that the Tuvalu-Taiwan relationship was “rock solid” and “everlasting.”[58] Tuvalu's new government formally released a Statement of Priorities on February 28 reaffirming its relationship with Taiwan.[59] Tuvalu is one of 12 countries that maintains diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) rather than the PRC. The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to “stand on the right side of history” by recognizing the “one-China principle.”[60]

Compacts of Free Association

The loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands risks United States control of key sea lines of communication (SLOC) in East Asia. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[61] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[62] Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[63] That funding has now expired. The newly re-signed COFA agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration in the form of H.J.Res.96 and S.J.Res.48.[64] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[65]

The loss of funding also threatens the continuation of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in Micronesia, the Department of Defense high-frequency radar system under construction in Palau, as well as the opportunity for the United States Air Force Agile Combat Employment operations to take place in Micronesia.[66]

The loss of COFA funding also threatens the security of key SLOCs for the United States that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. The United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) defines SLOCs as “the principal maritime routes between ports, as used for trade, military, or other purposes.”[67]

The loss of Compact of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands presents opportunities for the People’s Republic of China to fill the gap in funding to threaten the SLOCs. COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of Palau’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023 and $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands’ annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[68],[69] The Presidents of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands sent a letter to the leaders of the United States Senate on February 6 stating that they “cannot overstate the importance to all of our nations of final approval [of COFA funding] by the U.S. Congress” and that its delay “has resulted in undesirable opportunities for economic exploitation by competitive political actors active in the Pacific.”[70] “Competitive political actors” is a veiled reference to the Chinese Communist Party.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, February 23, 2024

click here to read the full report with maps

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: February 21 at 5pm ET

Key Takeaways

  • The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) pledged to begin conducting regular maritime inspections around Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island. Normalizing PRC maritime enforcement around the island will erode Taiwan’s control over its territorial waters and risk confrontations between the PRC and Taiwan’s maritime law enforcement.
  • The CCP is engaging in global cyberattacks to degrade regional countries’ capacity to engage in military action against the PRC during a crisis. The cyberattacks could also facilitate actions against individuals who oppose the CCP.
  • CCP International Department Head Liu Jianchao and PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave conflicting stances on global governance and the Russia-Ukraine War at the “For Freedom of Nations” forum in Russia and the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
  • Three of the PRC’s “Big Four” state banks stopped accepting payments from Western-sanctioned Russian financial institutions.
  • The PRC deployed a People’s Liberation Army detachment to monitor a joint US-Philippines air force patrol over the South China Sea.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) pledged to begin conducting regular maritime inspections around Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island. Normalizing PRC maritime enforcement around the island will erode Taiwan’s control over its territorial waters and risk confrontations between the PRC and Taiwan’s maritime law enforcement. Kinmen is a Taiwan-controlled island with a large military garrison roughly 3 kilometers from the coast of the PRC. The Taiwan Coast Guard Administration (CGA) enforces maritime laws around Kinmen and its lesser islands. An incident on February 14 that resulted in the death of two PRC nationals prompted the CCG to defy Taiwan’s sovereignty in the waters around its outer islands. A four-man PRC fishing boat intruded almost a mile into Taiwan’s territorial waters around Kinmen and capsized after colliding with a CGA ship while fleeing from a CGA inspection.[1][2] The CGA was able to rescue only two of the fishermen, who returned to the PRC on February 20. CCG Spokesperson Gan Yu stated on February 18 that the CCG will strengthen law enforcement and conduct regular inspections in the waters around Kinmen and Xiamen, the nearby PRC city.[3] PRC Taiwan Affairs Office Spokesperson Zhu Fenglian refuted the existence of Taiwan’s territorial or restricted waters and stated that the PRC has the right to take “further measures,” and that Taiwan will “bear the consequences.”[4] Zhu also condemned Taiwan for its “brutal treatment of mainland fishermen” and disregard for human life.[5]

The CCG conducted its first maritime inspection in the Taiwan-controlled waters around Kinmen Island on February 19. CCG personnel boarded a Taiwanese sightseeing ship off the coast of the island. The personnel remained onboard for about 30 minutes, during which they inspected the ship’s voyage plan and registration. The CGA commented that this was the first CCG boarding of a Taiwanese vessel in Taiwan-controlled waters.[6] A CCG maritime surveillance ship entered Taiwan’s territorial waters south of Kinmen on February 20 and left an hour later.[7]

The CCG’s assertive behavior also extends to Taiwan’s other outer islands near the mainland. Three CCG ships entered the territorial waters around the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands on February 21.[8] The Matsu Islands are 10 kilometers off the mainland coast at their closest point and roughly 240 kilometers northeast of Kinmen Island.

A ROC official warned that the CCG may expand its operations into other Taiwan-controlled waters as well. KMT legislator Alex Tsai Cheng-yuan speculated on February 21 whether the Penghu Islands would be the next target for the CCG.[9] The Penghu Islands are located on the east side of the median line in the strait between the PRC and Taiwan, roughly 140 kilometers southeast of Kinmen Island. The islands hold strategic significance due to Taiwan’s robust military presence there and their ability to enable early detection and response to PRC military activities. The location of the islands in the Taiwan Strait makes them a valuable potential staging ground for the PRC to launch a future invasion of Taiwan.

The Kuomintang appointed two key legislators to oversee foreign and defense policy, which signals its determination to oppose the Democratic Progressive Party’s political agenda in these areas. Kuomintang (KMT) Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi announced the party’s designation of Legislative Yuan Speaker Han Kuo-yu and Deputy Speaker Johnny Chiang Chi-chen to serve on the Foreign and National Defense Committee on February 21.[10] The Foreign and National Defense Committee is a legislative committee with the authority to conduct budget reviews, make recommendations to the Legislative Yuan (LY) based on its review of draft legislation, and summon officials from relevant agencies to respond to inquiries. The KMT and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hold divergent views on defense policy, with the former advocating for a comparatively modest approach that seeks to de-escalate tensions with Beijing. The KMT has consistently criticized President Tsai Ing-wen’s DPP administration for excessive defense spending.[11] The KMT’s appointment of its leading legislators to the committee suggests the party will focus considerable resources on shaping foreign and defense policy, making it one of the primary areas of competition in the LY. The KMT likely seeks to wield its influence in the committee to obstruct the DPP’s defense agenda, such as freezing budget appropriations and shaping policy proposals.

Fu declared in his announcement that there is nothing more important than imposing checks and balances on the DPP and stated that “Taiwan would not be well until the DPP falls.”[12] The KMT’s adversarial approach carries negative implications for President-elect Lai Ching-te, whose policy platform emphasizes stronger international relationships and national defense. The KMT's determination to block the DPP’s political agenda is favorable to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, especially if it hinders the government’s ability to implement its foreign and defense policy.

The Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party are pursuing political reforms that threaten to undermine the Democratic Progressive Party’s governance by entangling the party in defensive struggles. KMT and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) party leaders discussed a joint proposal for “legislative and judicial reforms” in the Legislative Yuan on February 22.[13] TPP Caucus Whip Huang Kuo-chang stated that the two opposition parties maintain a close consensus on the issue.[14] The TPP and KMT have consistently stated that establishing a legislative investigative task force to strengthen oversight of the executive branch is at the top of their agenda.[15] KMT caucus Secretary-General Lin Tzu-ming earlier referred to the proposed mechanism as a “great weapon” that the Legislative Yuan must use to supervise the government.[16] Collaboration between the KMT and the TPP to introduce the proposals suggests the reforms will pass with a majority in the LY, as the TPP’s eight seats constitute a crucial swing vote. The opposition’s plan to impose checks and balances on the DPP could significantly hamper the government’s ability to pass policy by miring it in defensive actions against accusations of overstepping authority or corruption.

China

The CCP is engaging in global cyberattacks to degrade regional countries’ capacity to engage in military action against the PRC during a crisis. The cyberattacks could also facilitate actions against individuals who oppose the CCP. US and foreign partner cybersecurity and intelligence agencies confirmed in a joint advisory on February 7 that a PRC state-sponsored cyber threat actor known as Volt Typhoon infiltrated critical infrastructure organizations in the continental United States and US territories.[17] The authoring agencies assessed with high confidence that Volt Typhoon’s goal was to develop the capability to disrupt key operational technology functions in the event of a conflict with the United States by leveraging its access to informational technology environments. The cyber company I-Soon, which has contracts with the PRC Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security, and People’s Liberation Army, subsequently leaked documents in late February that revealed additional CCP cyber operations. The targets of the operations include NATO, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and India.[18] I-Soon also hacks X (formerly Twitter) accounts to uncover user identities.[19]

A February 13 report from the US security firm Trellix also shows a significant increase in cyberattacks against Taiwan during the 24 hours before its January 13 presidential election.[20] The report stated that the cyberattacks targeted a myriad of institutions such as governmental offices, police departments, and finance entities.[21] Trellix is reviewing the data but posited that PRC threat actors may have been responsible.[22]

The CCP refuted that it is responsible for the cyberattacks. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Mao Ning refuted US FBI Director Christopher Wray’s statement that Chinese offensive malware is at an unprecedented high. Mao falsely claimed on February 22 that “China firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyberattacks.”[23]

United States and Europe

CCP International Department Head Liu Jianchao and PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave conflicting stances on global governance and the Russia-Ukraine War at the “For Freedom of Nations” forum in Russia and the Munich Security Conference in Germany. “For Freedom of Nations” is a Russian forum of international political parties against “neo-colonialism” that Russia’s United Russia ruling party organized for the first time on February 15–16. It overlapped with the Munich Security Conference, which ran from February 16–18. Liu told the primarily Russian and Global South participants including former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev that the PRC advocated “reforming the global governance system,” among other things. [24] A joint statement claiming to represent the forum’s over 400 participants denounced “modern practices of neo-colonialism,” “selective application” of international law and a “rules-based world order,” and interference in other countries’ internal affairs.[25] These were thinly veiled attacks on the Western-led international order, which has been highly critical of both Russia and the PRC. Wang Yi presented an opposing view of PRC policies to the Western audience in Munich. He stated that the PRC is a “responsible major country” that would serve as a “stabilizing force” amid global turmoil. He said the PRC wished to “strengthen” global governance by upholding the authority of the United Nations and enhancing the voice of the Global South. Wang also portrayed the PRC as a stabilizing force in promoting cooperation between major world powers and in dealing with “hot issues” such as the “Ukraine crisis.” [26] Wang’s core message to European powers is part of a broader “charm offensive” toward Europe as the PRC seeks to boost Western trade and investment to revitalize its troubled economy.

Liu’s endorsement of “reforming” global governance to a primarily non-Western audience contrasts with Wang’s claim to European leaders that the PRC supports “strengthening” global governance. The PRC aims to use existing organs of global governance and new international mechanisms to promote an alternative PRC-led world order that advances PRC interests. It is simultaneously trying to reassure Western powers that it is not a threat and is a reliable partner, however. Liu did not comment on Ukraine in publicly available statements, but his attendance at a Russia-hosted “anti-neocolonialist” forum concurrent with the Munich Security Conference undermines Wang Yi’s message that the PRC can be relied upon as an impartial interlocutor and promoter of peace in Ukraine.

The CCP also issued conflicting perspectives on ending the Russian war in Ukraine. Wang claimed to European leaders and in a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that the PRC did not “sit back and watch” the “Ukraine crisis” but instead has stayed committed to promoting peace talks. He did not call the Russia-Ukraine war a war. He stressed that “the earlier peace talks resume, the less damage for all sides.”[27] Bloomberg reported that Wang rejected Ukraine’s proposal for high-level peace talks in March, however, claiming that conditions were not ripe for parties to go back to the negotiating table. This comment was absent from the official PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) readout of his statements and contradicts Wang’s statement that peace talks should resume as early as possible.[28]

The PRC’s conflicting messaging about the Russia-Ukraine War reflects a strategy to balance support for Russia with attracting Western investment while avoiding Western sanctions. Wang Yi falsely stated about the “Ukraine crisis” that the PRC “did not sit back and watch, let alone take advantage of the opportunity to make profits.”[29] This is exactly what the PRC has done by selling military or dual-use products to Russia and buying Russian fuel at cheap prices during the war.[30] Wang warned world leaders that “de-Sinicizing” in the name of economic “de-risking” would be a “historic mistake.”[31] His economic messaging to incentivize Western investment in the PRC plays on his inaccurate security message to the West that the PRC is a necessary “responsible major country” that implicitly has leverage over the Russians it would willingly use. The PRC MFA readouts of Wang’s meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as subsequent visits to Spain and France after the conference all align with this message by portraying the PRC as desiring economic exchanges with each of these countries.[32] The PRC has lifted travel barriers with several European countries and urged Western countries to stop sanctions and “de-risking” measures against PRC companies.[33]

Three of the PRC’s “Big Four” state banks stopped accepting payments from Western-sanctioned Russian financial institutions. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), and Bank of China have rejected payments from sanctioned Russian banks since the start of 2024. Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that the PRC banks began introducing restrictions in December 2023 after the European Union imposed its 12th sanctions package against Russia and the United States authorized secondary sanctions on financial institutions that helped Russia evade sanctions. An unnamed Russian source told Izvestia that ICBC and CCB were rejecting the payments regardless of which system they went through: Europe’s SWIFT, Russia’s SPFS, or the PRC’s CIPS. Other PRC banks have also tightened compliance checks.[34] Zhejiang Chouzhou Commercial Bank, the main PRC bank used by Russian importers, suspended all business with Russian and Belarusian clients including those not under sanctions. The Russian business newspaper Vedomosti reported that Russian businesses feared a “logistics collapse.”[35]

Southeast Asia

The PRC deployed a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) detachment to monitor a joint US-Philippines air force patrol over the South China Sea. The PRC’s Southern Theater Command accused the Philippines of “enlisting foreign countries” to create trouble in the South China Sea and stated that it sent air and naval forces to “closely monitor the situation.”[36] The Philippines Air Force stated that the patrol occurred within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 90 nautical miles west of its largest island Luzon.[37] The PRC’s actions belong to a trend of increasingly confrontational posture in the South China Sea to undermine the Philippines’ sovereignty over the waters immediately west of its territory.

The CCG twice claimed that it expelled Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels from the waters around Scarborough Shoal on February 15 and 22.[38] The Philippines denied both claims, stating that the ships in question continued to patrol the area to ensure the security of Filipino fishermen.[39] The Philippines regularly deploys BFAR vessels alongside the Philippines Coast Guard to deliver food and supplies to Filipino fishermen around contested features in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands. The PRC’s claims resemble earlier CCG statements that it “allowed” the Philippines to airdrop supplies to Filipino troops on Second Thomas Shoal on January 21. The Philippines denied that it required anyone’s permission to conduct its activities on the shoal.[40] The PRC regularly attempts to intercept and prevent the Philippines’ resupply missions to the Second Thomas Shoal.

Oceania

Compacts of Free Association

The loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands risks United States control of key sea lines of communication (SLOC) in East Asia. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[41] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[42] Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[43] That funding has now expired. The newly re-signed COFA agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration in the form of H.J.Res.96 and S.J.Res.48.[44] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[45]

The loss of funding also threatens the continuation of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in Micronesia, the Department of Defense high-frequency radar system under construction in Palau, as well as the opportunity for the United States Air Force Agile Combat Employment operations to take place in Micronesia.[46]

The loss of COFA funding also threatens the security of key SLOCs for the United States that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. The United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) defines SLOCs as “the principal maritime routes between ports, as used for trade, military, or other purposes.”[47]

The loss of Compact of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands presents opportunities for the People’s Republic of China to fill the gap in funding to threaten the SLOCs. COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of Palau’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023 and $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands’ annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[48],[49] The Presidents of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands sent a letter to the leaders of the United States Senate on February 6 stating that they “cannot overstate the importance to all of our nations of final approval [of COFA funding] by the U.S. Congress” and that its delay “has resulted in undesirable opportunities for economic exploitation by competitive political actors active in the Pacific.”[50] “Competitive political actors” is a veiled reference to the Chinese Communist Party.

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is considering reviewing its diplomatic ties with Taiwan after electing its new prime minister.[52] The sixteen representatives elected on January 26, 2024, who comprise the Parliament of Tuvalu, planned to choose a prime minister the week of February 5. Poor weather conditions continue to delay the vote, however, by preventing four elected members of parliament from reaching the capital Funafuti.[53] Tuvalu has not set a new date for the election of the new prime minister.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, February 15, 2024

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: February 13 at 5pm EST

Key Takeaways

  • Taiwan’s Tourism Administration canceled plans to resume group tours to the PRC on March 1 in response to the CCP changing a commercial flight route over the Taiwan Strait.
  • Eight PRC high-altitude balloons that crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait two days in a row on February 9 and 10 are likely part of a campaign to test and erode Taiwan’s military readiness.
  • US and foreign partner cybersecurity and intelligence agencies confirmed in a joint advisory on February 7 that a PRC state-sponsored cyber threat actor infiltrated critical infrastructure organizations in the continental United States and US territories.
  • Philippines Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. called for a stronger Philippines military presence in the northern Batanes Islands on February 6. The People’s Liberation Army routinely sends naval ships through the Bashi channel between the Batanes and Taiwan.
  • The loss of Compact of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands presents opportunities for the People’s Republic of China to fill the gap in funding.
  • The PRC and Russia held “interagency consultations” on February 1 to discuss military applications of artificial intelligence (AI).

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

Taiwan’s Tourism Administration canceled plans to resume group tours to the PRC on March 1 in response to the CCP changing a commercial flight route over the Taiwan Strait. The PRC’s Civil Aviation Administration unilaterally changed the M503 domestic north-south flight route to fly within 7.8 kilometers of the median line in the Taiwan Strait. The median line serves as a de facto boundary between the PRC and Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not recognize the median line and denies its existence.[1] The change took effect on February 1 without consulting Taiwan’s government.[2] The CCP’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) claimed that the move will alleviate air traffic congestion. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said that the move posed safety risks and accused the CCP of using commercial air travel to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, however.[3] Taiwan’s Tourism Administration responded on February 7 by telling travel agencies to stop organizing group tours to the PRC. The Tourism Administration had planned to resume group tours from Taiwan to the PRC on March 1 for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020. Taiwan’s government will permit tours already organized from March 1 to May 31 to proceed, however.[4] Taiwan Vice President and President-elect Lai Ching-te said that the PRC had not shown the requisite goodwill necessary to conduct friendly tourism exchanges.[5]

Taiwanese tour operator associations visited the Kuomintang (KMT) headquarters on February 8 to express their opposition to the cancellation of group tours because it harms their business. The tour operators said they may stage protests at Lai Ching-te’s inauguration on May 20 if the government does not change the policy. About one-third of the annual 17 million overseas trips by Taiwanese nationals were to the PRC before the pandemic. Group tours accounted for approximately half of those trips.[6]

The KMT and CCP have seized on this policy to criticize the DPP. Former KMT vice presidential candidate Jaw Shaw-kong accused Lai and the DPP of breaking pre-election promises to reopen group travel to the PRC and of unfairly harming the local travel sector.[7] TAO spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said that the resumption of the ban on group tours was an instance of the DPP’s “political manipulation of tourism,” would harm the economic interests of both sides of the strait, and would lead to popular dissatisfaction with the DPP in Taiwan.[8]

Eight PRC high-altitude balloons that crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait two days in a row on February 9 and 10 are likely part of a campaign to test and erode Taiwan’s military readiness. At least two of the eight balloons on February 9 and at least six of the eight balloons on February 10 flew directly over the island of Taiwan.[9] Eight balloons crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait in one day is a record high since Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) started publicly tracking such balloons in December 2023. Six balloons flying directly over Taiwan in one day is also a record high. The balloons flew at altitudes ranging from 12,000 to 38,000 feet.[10]

The spike in the number of balloons passing over the median line on February 9 and 10 coincided with the beginning of the Lunar New Year celebrations in Taiwan and the PRC. The CCP may be using increased balloon incursions during the holiday to further strain Taiwan’s resources. The balloon activities are consistent with ISW’s assessment that the CCP is trying to normalize using balloons in tandem with other aerial and naval violations of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) as part of a broader effort to wear down Taiwan’s resources and threat awareness.[11]

The CCP’s Taiwan Affairs Office claimed on January 31 that such balloons were “mostly” launched by private enterprises and “mostly” for “livelihood purposes such as meteorological monitoring.”[12] Retired Taiwanese Air Force General Chang Yen-ting warned that even standard meteorological balloons could provide useful data about conditions around Taiwan to help plan air and naval operations against Taiwan, however.[13]

China

US and foreign partner cybersecurity and intelligence agencies confirmed in a joint advisory on February 7 that a PRC state-sponsored cyber threat actor infiltrated critical infrastructure organizations in the continental United States and US territories.[14] The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA), and Five Eyes cybersecurity agencies co-authored the report, which detailed the PRC state-sponsered cyber threat actor known as Volt Typhoon's extensive penetration of critical infrastructure organizations. The authoring agencies assessed with high confidence that Volt Typhoon’s goal was to develop the capability to disrupt key operational technology (OT) functions in the event of a conflict with the United States by leveraging its access to informational technology (IT) environments. OT systems are made up of software and hardware that control physical equipment and processes. The advisory did not specify the compromised targets but stated that CISA, FBI, and NSA observed compromises in the IT networks of organizations spanning sectors such as communications, energy, transportation, and water management systems. The advisory highlighted Volt Typhoon’s focus on gathering intelligence to facilitate access to OT assets, which can be leveraged to conduct follow-on offensive operations with physical impacts. The advisory revealed that Volt Typhoon potentially gained access to files that interact with critical infrastructure facilities, including an electrical substation and water treatment plants. The advisory divulged that Volt Typhoon may have maintained access to some targets for at least five years.

Microsoft also released a report in May 2023, in which it assessed Volt Typhoon was pursuing the capability to disrupt “critical communications infrastructure” between the US and the Asia region in a potential crisis.[15] Volt Typhoon’s infiltration of networks in Guam supports the notion that sabotage is a primary motive for the PRC’s hacking. Guam is strategically positioned between the continental US and Southeast Asia and is home to several military bases whose forces would play a significant role in a potential conflict with the PRC. A disruption of communication would significantly degrade the US military’s ability to respond to a crisis in Asia and deploy its forces to the region.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

Philippines Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. called for a stronger Philippines military presence in the northern Batanes Islands on February 6. The Batanes are the northernmost Philippines islands and are less than 125 miles from Taiwan. The Bashi Channel between the Batanes and Taiwan is a strategically important bottleneck that funnels maritime traffic between the South China Sea and the Western Pacific. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) routinely sends naval ships through the channel and aircraft over it to exert military pressure on Taiwan. The PLA’s Shandong aircraft carrier strike group sailed through the Bashi Channel at least four times in the last 12 months during deployments to and from the Western Pacific, for example.[16] Teodoro called for the development of more structures on the Batanes, calling the islands the “spearhead” of the Philippines’ northern baseline.[17] He also announced that the “operational tempo” for the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will be higher in 2024. Teodoro made the comments while visiting the Batanes’ naval detachment, where he also observed the ongoing construction of the Naval Forward Operating Base Mahatao.

Teodoro’s comments sparked criticism from the PRC. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated on February 8 that the Philippines needs to understand that the “Taiwan question… is a red line that must not be crossed,” and urged the Philippines to “tread carefully and not play with fire.”[18] The PRC’s response underscores that the CCP views the Philippines' military presence on the island as a provocation that threatens its military’s operability around Taiwan. The Philippines Department of National Defense responded to Wang’s statements, declaring that “China should refrain from engaging in provocative rhetoric and activities if it truly wants to earn widespread trust and respect that it is trying so hard to gain but has, so far, been unable to.”[19]

The PRC’s China Coast Guard (CCG) spokesperson Gan Yu stated that a Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) vessel “intruded” into the waters around Scarborough Shoal from February 2–9.[20] Gan stated that the CCG intercepted and forcibly expelled the PCG vessel from the waters around the shoal. Gan claimed that the CCG’s actions were a lawful and justified response to uphold the PRC’s maritime rights and sovereignty. The Scarborough Shoal is a maritime feature in the South China Sea that the Philippines, the PRC, and Taiwan separately claim. The PRC has controlled the Scarborough Shoal since 2012 when it stationed a persistent Coast Guard presence there after instigating a maritime standoff with the Philippines.[21] The PCG published a statement saying that it monitored the presence of CCG and four Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels near Scarborough Shoal during a nine-day patrol to deliver food to Filipino fishermen.[22] The statement claimed the CCG vessels shadowed the PCG vessel on more than 40 occasions and performed blocking maneuvers by crossing the bow of the PCG vessel. PCG commander and spokesperson Jay Tarriela posted videos of the CCG blocking maneuvers on X.[23] Tarriela reiterated the Philippines’ sovereignty over the shoal and its surrounding waters per the 2016 arbitration by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

A contingent of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command is participating in the multinational “Cobra Gold 2024” military exercise from February 10 to March 8 in Thailand. Cobra Gold is the world’s longest-running international military training program and one of the Indo-Pacific region’s largest combined military exercises. Troops from the seven main participants — the United States, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan — will join combat rehearsals at five locations, including amphibious landings, strategic parachute jumps, ground and air live-fire drills, and cyber warfare. 2024 is the 11th consecutive year that the PLA will participate in the exercise. The PLA will not take part in combat drills but will join civic action missions with India.[24] Chinese military personnel will engage in activities such as engineering assistance, humanitarian rescue, disaster relief table-top exercises, high-level forums, as well as live drills in personnel search and rescue, water and fire rescue, chemical spill handling, and medical emergency aid. The PRC’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said its participation aims to facilitate the exchange of experiences in rescue and disaster response among the participating militaries and further promote practical cooperation in related fields.[25]

Oceania

Compacts of Free Association

The loss of Compact of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands presents opportunities for the People’s Republic of China to fill the gap in funding. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[26] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[27] Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[28] That funding has now expired. The newly re-signed COFA agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration in the form of H.J.Res.96 and S.J.Res.48.[29] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period of 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[30]

The loss of COFA funding prompted political leadership from Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands to warn of PRC opportunities to gain influence in their countries. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[31] Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine also stated that the PRC is targeting her country: “A proposal to develop one of our atoll municipalities – if it were granted autonomy from our national government – that I opposed generated an effort to topple my government in our parliament.”[32] Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. stated that “every day it [COFA] is not approved plays into the hands of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] and the leaders here (some of whom have done ‘business’ with the PRC) who want to accept its seemingly attractive economic offers – at the cost of shifting alliances, beginning with sacrificing Taiwan.”[33]

COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of Palau’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023 and $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands’ annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[34],[35]  The Presidents of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands sent a letter to the leaders of the United States Senate on February 6 stating that they “cannot overstate the importance to all of our nations of final approval [of COFA funding] by the U.S. Congress” and that its delay “has resulted in undesirable opportunities for economic exploitation by competitive political actors active in the Pacific.”[36]

COFA Funding as Share of Government Revenue in Freely Associated States[37]

The loss of COFA funding threatens the security of a key sea line of communication for the United States that provides a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. The loss of funding also threatens the continuation of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in Micronesia, the Department of Defense high-frequency radar system under construction in Palau, as well as the opportunity for the United States Air Force Agile Combat Employment operations to take place in Micronesia.[38]

The opportunity for the CCP to gain economic leverage over the COFA countries also threatens US efforts to preserve the sovereignty of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Palau and the Marshall Islands are also 2 of the 12 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[39] The maintenance of official diplomatic recognition is a key means for Taiwan to demonstrate its international sovereignty separate from the People’s Republic of China. Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr also stated that “the PRC has already offered to ‘fill every hotel room’ in our tourism-based private sector – ‘and more if more are built – and $20 million a year for two acres for a ‘call center.’”[40] The uptick in flights from the PRC to Palau and the CCP encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in the country suggests that the party seeks economic influence over Palau to coerce it into switching diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC. The number of flights from the PRC to Palau increased from one to eight per month last year to almost daily as of this month.[41],[42] This change is a reversal in the CCP policy that cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[43]

The CCP has a history of using economic incentives to convince Pacific Island countries to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC. The PRC offered incentives such as a commercial aircraft to Kiribati or USD 8.5 million to the Solomon Islands, both in 2019, to successfully incentivize them to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC.[44] Australia evacuated the refugees that it paid Nauru to host, which led to a budget shortfall.[45] The CCP then reportedly offered Nauru USD 100 million per year in 2024 to successfully switch recognition from the PRC to the ROC, according to a Reuters report that cited an unspecified senior Taiwanese official.[46]

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is considering reviewing its diplomatic ties with Taiwan after electing its new prime minister.[47] The sixteen representatives elected on January 26, 2024, who comprise the Parliament of Tuvalu, planned to choose a prime minister the week of February 5. Poor weather conditions have delayed the vote, however, by preventing four elected members of parliament from reaching the capital Funafuti.[48] Tuvalu has not set a new date for the election of the new prime minister.

Papua New Guinea

Australia successfully countered the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s offer of internal security assistance to Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea received an offer of security assistance from the PRC in September 2023. Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko stated during the week of January 29 that the offer of internal security assistance from the PRC is still under consideration without specifying the details of the offer.[49]

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also announced on February 8 that Australia would fund AUD 100 million to the Australia-Papua New Guinea Law and Justice Partnership, which has a focus on internal security.[50] This made the PRC offer less attractive while also buttressing Marape’s chances of political survival. This announcement of Australian security assistance is a necessary political lifeline for Marape as he is set to face a vote of no confidence in at least a week due to the deadly riots in January that occurred amidst a police strike.[51]

Europe

Russia

The PRC and Russia held “interagency consultations” on February 1 to discuss military applications of artificial intelligence (AI). The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the meeting highlighted the alignment of Russian and Chinese approaches to the military application of AI.[52] The South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese readout from the meeting did not mention the military application of AI, only “outer space security, biosecurity, and artificial intelligence.”[53] ISW has not been able to independently verify the PRC readout.

PRC-Russian cooperation in emerging AI technology is already materializing. Russian tech company Soft-Logic signed a distribution contract with PRC AI microchip manufacturer SophGo in early February. Soft-Logic CEO Denis Loginov stated that the company plans to develop and produce Russian artificial intelligence infrastructure using Chinese processors.[54] SophGo is developing a new high-performance chip based on designs from the US company SiFive, which incorporates an open-source chip architecture known as RISC-V. US Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner encouraged the Biden administration in October to broaden export controls to include open-source semiconductor designs to prevent the PRC from surpassing US companies.[55]

Middle East

Iran

PRC Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani discussed the Red Sea and the Iranian nuclear issue. Their meeting occurred on February 8. Ma framed the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea as a spillover from the “Gaza conflict,” which is a narrative that absolves Iranian partners and proxy groups of blame for instigating regional tensions.[56] Ma’s comments are consistent with previous PRC rhetoric insofar as they do not condemn Houthi aggression or call on the Houthis to stop their attacks on maritime shipping.

The PRC and Iranian readouts of the meeting both emphasized the resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue through political and diplomatic channels.[57] The PRC avoided condemning or approving the increasing Iranian stockpile of 60 percent highly enriched uranium. This stockpile continues to increase even as Iran adjusts the rate of its 60 percent highly enriched uranium as tensions with the United States ebb and flow. [58]This level of highly enriched uranium can be used as fuel for a nuclear explosive device. The PRC position is consistent with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s February statement after a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi that emphasized diplomacy as a means to resolve the Iran nuclear issue.[59]

Africa

Gabon and Equatorial Guinea

The CCP seeks port access in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for military purposes, which would enhance the People’s Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN’s) power projection capacity. The Wall Street Journal reported on February 10 that the CCP is attempting to convince leadership in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to grant it military access to ports.[60] The CCP has targeted Equatorial Guinea as a potential military port to gain access to since at least 2021.[61] This CCP effort led then-Commander United States Africa Command Stephen Townsend to state to a House Armed Service Committee hearing in March 2022 that “the thing I think I’m most worried about is this military base on the Atlantic coast, and where they [the CCP] have the most traction for that today is in Equatorial Guinea.”[62] A PLAN port in either of these countries on the Atlantic would enhance the PLAN’s power projection capacity.

Latin America

Guatemala

Guatemala is considering trade relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) while attempting to maintain formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan).[63] Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo stated on February 8 that he does not intend to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC.[64] PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin’s February 6 statement that Guatemala would need to recognize the one-China principle to “conduct cooperation” between the two countries underscores the difficulty Arévalo will face holding that position.[65] The one-China principle is the People’s Republic of China’s position that it is the sole legitimate representative of China and that Taiwan is a part of China. Guatemala accepting the PRC’s one-China principle would mean breaking its relations with Taiwan.

Guatemala and Belize are the only countries in Central America that recognize the Republic of China. The other five Central American countries broke relations with the Republic of China between 2007 and 2023. Guatemala and Belize are also 2 of the 12 countries, including Vatican City, that recognize the ROC.

The CCP’s efforts to diplomatically isolate the ROC are part of a campaign to degrade the ROC’s legitimacy on the international stage. The loss of full diplomatic relations for the ROC supports the CCP’s attempts to increase pressure on Taiwan 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-Taiwan Weekly Update, February 8, 2024

Click here to read the full report 

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: February 6 at 5pm ET

Key Takeaways  

  • The Kuomintang (KMT) will present a series of policy proposals to the Legislative Yuan on February 20 that aim to expand legislative oversight over the presidency. The proposals presage what will likely be a contentious dynamic between the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party in the legislature.
  • The CCP denied allegations that it carried out cyberattacks against the United States, Japan, the Philippines, and the Netherlands.
  • The New York Times reported on February 4 that the rapid growth of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping reflects a shift in the party’s thinking on nuclear deterrence.
  • The PRC is intensifying its information operations to support its claims in the South China Sea.
  • The loss of Compact of Free Association funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands presents opportunities for the CCP to expand its influence in each country. The CCP may leverage revenue shortfalls in Palau and the Marshall Islands to incentivize them to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC.
  • CCP and Russian officials held collaboration talks on the military application of artificial intelligence (AI) in early February.
  • The People’s Liberation Army Navy is providing security escorts to PRC cargo ships near the Red Sea amid ongoing Houthi missile attacks on shipping in the region.

Cross-Strait Relations

Taiwan

The Kuomintang (KMT) will present a series of policy proposals to the Legislative Yuan (LY) when the new session begins on February 20. The proposals center around empowering the LY to confirm the appointment of cabinet ministers and the creation of an oversight mechanism in the LY to impose checks and balances on the executive branch. Strengthening the LY's confirmation power over political appointments risks opposition parties rejecting Lai's cabinet picks, which could degrade the Lai administration's ability to carry out policies. Using such political oversight to restrain the DPP’s power could also exacerbate polarization and erode public trust in the government.

The KMT’s proposals presage what will likely be a contentious dynamic between the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during Lai Ching-te’s presidency. KMT caucus members have indicated that their party will aggressively attempt to restrain the DPP’s power. KMT caucus Secretary-General Lin Tzu-ming accused the DPP of corruption during the last eight years of Tsai’s presidency and emphasized the futility of bringing cases to the Ministry of Justice or the Control Yuan, which is the Taiwanese government’s supervisory branch. Lin referred to the future oversight mechanism as a “great weapon” that the Legislative Yuan must use to supervise the government.[1] KMT Legislator Wu Tsung-hsien also stressed the importance of LY confirmation for ministerial positions and other high-level posts, potentially posing a threat to Lai’s administration before his inauguration on May 20.[2]

DPP-led restorative justice initiatives are in part responsible for the fraught KMT-DPP relationship. The DPP, under President Tsai Ing-wen, focused on rectifying misconduct and crimes during Taiwan’s KMT-imposed authoritarian rule from 1945 to 1992. The DPP-majority legislature established the temporary Transitional Justice Commission to increase public access to political archives, redress judicial injustices, and dismantle symbols of authoritarianism.[3] The commission operated from 2018 to 2022. The KMT regarded the commission as a tool of political persecution and power expansion.[4] The KMT strengthened its criticism of the commission after revelations the then-vice chairman of the commission, a DPP member, sought to use its authority to eliminate officials who held positions of power during KMT authoritarian rule, such as then-New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-ih.[5] The scandal fueled KMT accusations that the DPP weaponized government institutions against political opponents, including the Central Election Commission and the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee.[6] The latter oversaw the confiscation of a large share of KMT assets since its inception in 2016.[7] KMT Deputy Secretary-General Lo Chih-chiang stated that the proposed investigative task force would not discriminate between parties, indicating the KMT did not intend to exact retribution against the DPP.[8]

The KMT’s apparent inclination to impose checks on the DPP aligns with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) desire to foment disarray during Lai’s presidency and undermine the DPP. Constraints on Lai and the DPP will curb the government’s efficiency and degrade the DPP’s ability to implement its policy agenda, which centers around resisting PRC efforts to undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman Ko Wen-je announced that he will sue DPP spokesperson Justin Wu Cheng for spreading misinformation about his proposed TPP-DPP collusion in the election of the LY speaker. Wu circulated claims on February 2 that Ko contacted a DPP affiliate the night before the election to negotiate with Lai Ching-te. He said that Ko sought the DPP’s support for TPP LY speaker candidate Vivian Huang, in exchange for the TPP’s support for the DPP’s deputy speaker candidate.[9] The TPP nominated Huang in a surprise move earlier that day, which ultimately enabled KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu to secure victory in the second round of voting for the LY speaker. Independence activist and former DPP politician Chen Yung-hsing published an open letter after Wu’s statements revealing that he received the call from Ko, which confirms that the DPP convened to discuss the proposal but ultimately rejected it.[10] Ko has persisted in his accusations of misinformation against Wu.[11]

Acrimony between the TPP and DPP risks cooperation between the TPP and KMT in the Legislative Yuan. The TPP caucus announced a series of priority bills on February 5 that similarly proposed to strengthen the LY’s oversight authority, indicating the TPP will back KMT legislation to establish a task force.[12] The TPP’s eight seats in the LY position the party to be the crucial swing vote and could further complicate the passage of DPP policies. The TPP’s eight seats will make its votes the deciding factor for some legislation. TPP-KMT cooperation against the DPP in the LY aligns with the CCP’s interest in a weaker DPP.

DPP legislators are rushing to secure influence over the Legislative Yuan’s international engagement activities by signing up for diplomatic “friendship associations.” There were 73 friendship associations during the previous LY session that conducted parliamentary relations between Taiwan and other countries.[13] Some of the associations focus on specific issues of interest between Taiwan and foreign legislators and engage with international organizations.[14] The LY dissolves the associations at the end of each legislative session and forms new ones at the start of each session. The legislators that set up the new associations develop charters, invite members to join, and hold the founding meetings before officially establishing the associations can officially be established. The legislators that first accomplish these tasks can officially conduct relations with target foreign legislators on behalf of the LY.[15]

DPP legislator Chiu Chih-wei stated that the DPP is worried by Han’s embrace of the 1992 Consensus, and the legislature must work to uphold Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy.[16] This reflects the DPP’s fears that LY Speaker Han Kuo-yu’s preference for warmer relations with the PRC will undermine Taiwan’s progress in deepening ties with foreign countries.

China

The United States, Japan, and the Netherlands said that the CCP targeted them in separate cyberattacks. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) said on January 31 that a court-ordered operation dismantled a botnet of hundreds of US-based small office/home office (SOHO) routers hijacked by PRC state-sponsored hackers. The DOJ said the hackers had used the routers to conceal the PRC origin of additional hacking activities that targeted critical infrastructure in the United States and elsewhere. FBI Director Christopher Wray said PRC hackers were targeting US critical infrastructure to “pre-position” so they could cause harm to US citizens in the event of a conflict.[17] Japanese media citing unspecified government sources reported on February 5 that a PRC cyberattack on Japan’s foreign ministry in 2020 resulted in the leak of classified diplomatic documents.[18] The Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service said on February 6 that it uncovered a CCP-backed attempt to use “sophisticated” malware to spy on a computer network that’s used by the country’s armed forces. The malware was found on a standalone computer used for unclassified research and development and did not result in damage to the defense network.[19]

The Philippines also claimed it had been the target of hacking from within the PRC but did not attribute the cyberattack to the CCP. The Philippines Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said on February 5 that hackers operating in the PRC failed to break into several official systems in January. The systems included its email systems, the website of the National Coast Watch, and the personal website of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. DICT did not attribute the attacks to any state but asked the PRC to help prevent further attacks.[20]

The CCP denied allegations that it carried out cyberattacks against the United States, Japan, the Philippines, and the Netherlands. Officials from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) denied the allegations as “smears” and claimed that the PRC opposes and cracks down on all cyberattacks. MFA Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the United States jumped to conclusions without valid evidence to smear the PRC. He called the United States the “origin and biggest perpetrator of cyberattacks” and accused the US Government of sponsoring long-running cyberattacks against the PRC’s critical infrastructure.[21] He did not make counter-allegations against the Japanese, Philippine, and Dutch governments but reiterated that the PRC opposes cyberattacks and groundless accusations against it.[22] The PRC embassy in Manila decried “groundless” and “irresponsible” speculation by some Philippine politicians and media that the thwarted hacking attempts were sponsored by the PRC government or related to ongoing PRC-Philippine maritime disputes.[23]

The New York Times reported on February 4 that the rapid growth of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping reflects a shift in the party’s thinking on nuclear deterrence. The article assessed that “anxiety and ambition” motivated the PRC’s rapid nuclear arsenal expansion under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping based on internal Xi speeches, internal CCP documents, and scholarly writings. Xi asserted to generals of the Second Artillery Corps shortly after he took power in late 2012 that a first-rate nuclear force was a symbol of the PRC’s “great power” status and that the nuclear force should be prepared to counter a “powerful enemy.” Xi reorganized the Second Artillery Corps into the PLA Rocket Force in 2015 and said its mission was to enhance “a credible and reliable nuclear deterrent and nuclear counterstrike capability.” The CCP also fears “nuclear blackmail” by the United States, based on official party accounts of the Korean War and crises over Taiwan during the 1950s.

The CCP may use its nuclear arsenal to deter US intervention in a war over Taiwan. The expanding PRC arsenal of nuclear missiles, submarines, and bombers also confer more nuclear strike options to the CCP. PRC nuclear weapons threaten US cities as well as military bases in the Pacific region.[24]

A Bulletin of Atomic Scientists report on January 15 estimated that the PRC’s nuclear arsenal had doubled to 500 warheads since Xi Jinping took power. The US Department of Defense’s 2021 and 2022 China Military Power Reports predicted that the PRC could reach 1,000 warheads by 2030 and 1,500 warheads by 2035.[25]

Northeast Asia

Japan

The Japan Coast Guard found a PRC buoy floating upside down in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), roughly 170 kilometers northwest of the disputed Senkaku Islands. Japan controls the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, but the PRC and Taiwan also claim the islands, calling them Diaoyu in Chinese. Japanese media reported that the chain holding the buoy in place likely broke, causing it to drift.[26] Director-General of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Hiroyuki Namazu called on the PRC to remove all of its buoys from Japan’s exclusive economic zone.[27] PRC MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed this buoy was originally placed in waters near the Yangtze River estuary but drifted on its own due to “technical failure.” Wang used the occasion to add that the Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands are PRC territory and that the PRC does not recognize Japan’s exclusive economic zone, however.[28] The PRC has not complied with Japan’s request to remove the buoy.

Japan previously discovered another PRC buoy in its EEZ about 80 kilometers northwest of the Senkaku Islands in July 2023 and demanded its removal. It judged that the earlier buoy was likely placed by a PRC research vessel operating in the nearby waters.[29] The Japan Coast Guard believes that the PRC uses such buoys to monitor ocean conditions to aid PRC Coast Guard vessels in patrolling waters around the Senkaku Islands. The PRC has not complied with Japan’s requests to remove the buoy.[30]

PRC Coast Guard vessels have sailed within the Senkaku islands’ territorial waters nearly every day since 2013, the year that the PRC declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea that overlaps with Japan’s ADIZ.[31] The PRC sends scientific, commercial, law enforcement, and other non-military vessels and personnel to assert PRC territorial claims in the East and South China Seas while controlling the risk of military confrontation with rival claimants. Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported on January 28 that the PRC also has at least three warships deployed at all times on the borders of its claimed ADIZ, which includes the Senkaku Islands. It cited unnamed Japanese government sources, who said that the PRC is enforcing a perimeter that could be used to deny access to US and Japanese naval vessels in the event of a Taiwan contingency.[32]

Southeast Asia

Philippines

The PRC Coast Guard claimed that it allowed another Philippine shipment of supplies to the Second Thomas Shoal but drove away Philippine vessels approaching Scarborough Shoal. The Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal are maritime features in the South China Sea that the Philippines, the PRC, and Taiwan separately claim. The PRC has controlled the Scarborough Shoal since 2012,[33] while the Philippines retains control over the Second Thomas Shoal using a derelict grounded warship as a base. The CCG claimed that it “monitored” a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on February 3.[34] The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) previously claimed that it had made “temporary special arrangements” to allow a similar resupply mission on January 21, though the Philippines denied that it needed outside permission to deliver supplies to its troops.[35] Institute of Maritime Strategy Studies of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) Deputy Director Yang Xiao claimed that the PRC was exercising restraint and showing “humanitarian spirit” in allowing the Philippines to deliver subsistence supplies to its troops on Second Thomas Shoal. Yang said the Philippines must inform Beijing in advance and cannot ship construction materials, however.[36] CICIR is a research institute operated by the PRC Ministry of State Security.

The CCG actions and statements aimed to assert PRC sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, which the PRC calls Ren’ai Reef or Ren’ai Jiao. The CCG did not allow Philippine vessels to reach Scarborough Shoal, however. It claimed that it drove away four Philippine nationals who tried to “illegally intrude” into Scarborough Shoal on January 28 as well as a Philippine Coast Guard ship on February 5. CCG spokesperson Gan Yu claimed the PRC had “indisputable sovereignty” over Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing calls Huangyan Island, and would always conduct law enforcement and safeguard its rights and interests in waters under PRC jurisdiction.[37]

The Second Thomas Shoal was the site of confrontations between the Philippines and PRC in recent months. The two countries held bilateral maritime consultations on January 17 to de-escalate tensions. The PRC’s choice not to block the January 21 and February 3 resupply missions may indicate the PRC’s willingness to de-escalate tensions in the near term.[38] The PRC is determined to seize control of the Second Thomas Shoal and other disputed territories but is willing to be patient until an appropriate opportunity arises. As long as the CCG continues to block the Philippines from delivering construction equipment to the shoal, Manila will be unable to construct a more permanent outpost there or maintain the crumbling warship as a viable base for its troops.[39]

The PRC is intensifying its information operations to support its claims in the South China Sea. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that the PRC has significantly increased its use of Mandarin pinyin names in English-language references to its claimed maritime features. It noted PRC government officials and state media have dramatically increased their use of terms such as “Ren’ai Jiao” for Second Thomas Shoal or “Nansha Qundao” for the Spratly Islands in 2023. It previously called these features Ren’ai Reef and Nansha Islands. The change is likely a way for the CCP to assert PRC sovereignty over the territories in English-language discourse.

The PRC has promoted its own legal arguments to reject the Philippines’ claims over disputed territories in the South China Sea. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on February 2 that the Philippines’ territory was defined by a series of international treaties in 1898, 1900, and 1930, which did not include Scarborough Shoal within the Philippines’ legally defined boundaries. Wang also re-iterated the PRC’s rejection of the 2016 South China Sea arbitration that dismissed the PRC’s “Nine Dash Line” territorial claims over the South China Sea. Wang called the arbitration a “political manipulation” by the Philippines to gain “illegal interests.”[40] The PRC uses such legal arguments in tandem with more forceful or coercive tactics as a way to promote acceptance of PRC territorial claims in international discourse.

Oceania

Compacts of Free Association

The loss of Compact of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands presents opportunities for the CCP to exert influence over strategically important states in the United States security architecture in East Asia. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[41] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[42] Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[43] That funding has now expired. The newly re-signed COFA agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[44]

The COFA states are important to the United States’ strategic interests because they control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii.

The loss of COFA funding would present the CCP with the opportunity to pressure Palau and the Marshall Islands to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC as part of an ongoing campaign to buttress the narrative that Taiwan is a province of the PRC. Palau and the Marshall Islands are also 2 of the 12 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[45] The maintenance of official diplomatic recognition is a key means for Taiwan to demonstrate its international sovereignty separate from the People’s Republic of China. COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of Palau’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023 and $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands’ annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[46],[47] Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[48] The Presidents of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands sent a letter to the leaders of the United States Senate on February 6 stating that they “cannot overstate the importance to all of our nations of final approval [of COFA funding] by the U.S. Congress” and that its delay “has resulted in undesirable opportunities for economic exploitation by competitive political actors active in the Pacific.”[49]

The CCP may use these revenue shortfalls to incentivize Palau and the Marshall Islands to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC. The party has already taken this approach to Nauru, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands. The PRC offered incentives, such as a commercial aircraft, to Kiribati and USD 8.5 million to the Solomon Islands in 2019.[50] The CCP also offered Nauru USD 100 million per year in 2024 to switch recognition from the PRC to the ROC, according to a Reuters report that cited an unspecified senior Taiwanese official.[51] All three of these countries switched their diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC.

The uptick in flights from the PRC to Palau and the CCP encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in the country suggests that the party seeks economic influence over Palau to coerce it into switching diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC. The number of flights from the PRC to Palau increased from one to eight per month last year to almost daily as of this month.[52],[53] This change is a reversal in the CCP policy that cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[54]

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is considering reviewing its diplomatic ties with Taiwan after electing its new prime minister.[56] The sixteen representatives elected on January 26, 2024, who comprise the Parliament of Tuvalu, were aiming to choose a prime minister the week of February 5. Bad weather prevented an unspecified number of legislators from reaching the capital Funafuti, which delayed voting for the prime minister.[57]

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is considering internal security assistance from the People’s Republic of China. Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Justin Tkachenko stated the week of January 29 that the offer is still under consideration. Tkachenko did not elaborate on the specifics of the PRC’s offer, which it initially proposed in September 2023.[58] PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin neither confirmed nor denied the ongoing talks on January 29.[59] US Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma urged the PNG to reject the offer via a Sydney Morning Harald article published on February 5.[60]

Europe

Russia

Unspecified CCP and Russian officials held collaboration talks on the military application of artificial intelligence (AI) in early February. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the officials “discussed doctrinal guidelines and initiatives of Russia and China related to the application of AI technologies for military purposes.”[61] The South China Morning Post reported that the People’s Republic of China's statement did not refer to the military use of AI, but acknowledged the meeting focused on “outer space security, biosecurity and artificial intelligence.”[62] ISW cannot independently verify the PRC statement. The PRC has portrayed itself as a leader in responsible AI regulation since launching the Global AI Governance Initiative in October 2023.[63] The PRC omitting that it is collaborating with Russia on the military applications of AI aims to avoid undercutting its image as a responsible AI stakeholder via this initiative.

This meeting occurred in the aftermath of the January 31 meeting about military-to-military cooperation between PRC Defense Minister Dong Jun and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.[64] The timing of the early February meeting indicates that it aimed at implementing the defense minister’s intentions about military-to-military cooperation. All of these meetings fit into a trend of concerted Sino-Russian technological collaboration since at least 2019.[65]

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is using AI to achieve its “intelligentization” force modernization goal, which aims to complexify and enhance the speed of warfare.[66] It also conceptualizes AI as an important tool for achieving decision dominance in the battlespace.[67] Sino-Russian AI cooperation supports this goal.

Middle East

The People’s Liberation Army Navy is providing security escorts to PRC cargo ships near the Red Sea amid ongoing Houthi missile attacks on shipping in the region.[68] The PRC Ministry of National Defense confirmed on February 5 that the Type 052D guided missile destroyer Urumqi from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) 45th escort task force had escorted a PRC ship through the Gulf of Aden.[69] The PLAN escort task force consists of the Urumqi, Type 054A guided missile frigate Linyi, and Type 903A replenishment ship Dongpinghu.[70] Commercial PRC-affiliated ships continue to signal their affiliation to avoid Houthi missile attacks.[71] PRC-owned ships are also receiving discounted shipping insurance when transiting through the Red Sea.[72] 

These escorts enable the CCP to buttress the narrative that the PRC provides regional security in comparison to the allegedly provocative United States. The CCP continues to stress that US-led counter strikes on the Houthis and not the Houthi’s attacks on maritime shipping risk a wider regional escalation. PRC Ambassador to the European Union Fu Cong stated in a late January interview with Bloomberg that the US-led strikes against the Houthis “can only escalate tension and it’ll not guarantee or maintain the safe passage of the commercial vessels.”[73] The PLAN 45th escort task force providing safe passage to PRC ships demonstrates the contrast with the United States, from the CCP perspective, that Fu’s comments aim to portray: the PRC military presence does not lead to escalated regional tensions in implicit contrast to the United States.

Iraq

PRC Ambassador to Iraq Cui Wei met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani on February 5 to discuss the Strategic Development Road Project.[74] Iraq launched the project in May 2023 to connect the still incomplete Grand Faw Port to Turkey for commercial benefit.[75] Iraq joined the Belt and Road Initiative in September 2019, which resulted in agreements with PRC companies in October 2019 to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure in exchange for oil.[76] PRC discussions around the Strategic Development Road Project, either regarding its construction or financing, would align with the CCP's geopolitical objective to further the logistical infrastructure necessary for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Iran

Islamic Republic of Iran Navy Commander Shamran Irani announced on February 4 that Iran, Russia, and China will conduct joint naval exercises before the end of the Iranian year on March 19.[77] The exercises will be the continuation of a trend in the annual trilateral Marine Security Belt exercises, which have taken place since 2019. Several countries—such as Brazil, Pakistan, Oman, India, and South Africa, will participate as observers.[78] The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has not yet issued a statement confirming its attendance.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) charged four PRC nationals for exporting US-origin electronic components to Iran and Iranian-backed militias through PRC-based front companies. The four individuals are Baoxia Liu (Emily Liu), You Wa Yung (Stephen Yung), Yongxin Li (Emma Lee), and Yanlai Zhong (Sydney Chung). The DOJ stated that the four individuals “unlawfully exported and smuggled U.S. export-controlled items through China and Hong Kong ultimately for the benefit of entities affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), which supervises Iran’s development and production of missiles, weapons, and military aerial equipment to include Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).”[79]

Gaza

The CCP expressed support for funding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The US State Department temporarily paused funding to UNRWA on January 26 following evidence that its staff were involved in the October 7 attack.[80] PRC MFA Spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the international community should continue funding UNRWA to avoid furthering the “collective punishment” of Gazans. He also stated that the PRC supports an investigation into claims of UNRWA employees involved in the October 7 attack.[81]

The PRC is currently pursuing a diplomatic line of effort that aims to supplant US influence with Arab states by proposing what it claims to be a more inclusive and cooperative regional security framework.[82] This involves portraying Washington as a self-interested and destabilizing influence in the region while simultaneously positioning Beijing as an altruistic and unbiased actor.[83] Wang’s comments support this effort by insinuating countries that cut off aid to UNRWA, such as the United States, are responsible for the “collective punishment” of Gazans.

Latin America

Guatemala

Guatemala is considering trade relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) while attempting to maintain formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan).[84] Guatemala Foreign Minister Carlos Ramiro Martínez stated on February 6 that “this is not an ambush against Taiwan or the United States.”[85] PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin then stated on February 6 then state that Guatemala would need to recognize the one-China principle to “conduct cooperation” between the two countries.[86] The one-China principle is the People’s Republic of China’s position that it is the sole legitimate representative of China and that Taiwan is a part of China. Guatemala accepting the PRC’s one-China principle would mean breaking its relations with the Republic of China (ROC).

Guatemala and Belize are the only countries in Central America that recognize the Republic of China. The other five Central American countries broke relations with the Republic of China between 2007 and 2023. Guatemala and Belize are also 2 of the 12 countries, including Vatican City, that recognize the ROC.

The CCP’s efforts to diplomatically isolate the ROC are part of a campaign to degrade the ROC’s legitimacy on the international stage. The loss of full diplomatic relations for the ROC supports the CCP’s attempts to increase pressure on Taiwan 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-Taiwan Weekly Update, February 2, 2023

Click here to read the full report 

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Information Cutoff: February 1 at 9am ET

Key Takeaways

  • Kuomintang legislator Han Kuo-yu was elected speaker of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan on February 1.
  • PRC Ministry of Defense and state media criticized comments from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about the PRC’s threat to Europe and the prospects for a PRC invasion of Taiwan.
  • The PRC Ministry of Defense confirmed ongoing coordination with the US military about the next meeting under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement.
  • The PRC and Russia held several high-level minister exchanges to enhance “strategic coordination,” which support the PRC’s effort to challenge the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The PRC Coast Guard claimed it had “allowed” the Philippines to airdrop supplies to Philippine troops on Second Thomas Shoal on January 21.
  • A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries.
  • The PRC is engaging diplomatically with North Korea to undermine United States-South Korea security ties for the PRC’s benefit.
  • The PRC contacted Iran to restrain the Houthi’s attacks on maritime shipping in the Red Sea. The outreach did not slow or stop the Houthi attack campaign.
  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping accepted credentials from Taliban Ambassador to China Bilal Karimi on January 30.

Taiwan

The Legislative Yuan (LY) elected Kuomintang (KMT) legislature Han Kuo-yu speaker of the legislature on February 1. Han received all 52 KMT votes and 2 others from independent legislators in the second round of voting. No candidate secured a majority during the first round.[1] The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) nominated incumbent Legislative Yuan Speaker You Si-kun, who received 51 votes from DPP legislators. You had been the speaker of the Legislative Yuan since 2020. The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) nominated one of its eight legislators, Vivian Huang, and voted unanimously for her.[2] The TPP abstained in the second round of voting. Huang was an unexpected addition to the race, as the TPP had indicated that it would support the DPP or KMT in exchange for political concessions. The potential to secure the TPP’s backing fueled competition between the two parties to appease the TPP until the party announced Huang’s candidacy on January 31.[3] The TPP’s last-minute participation in the LY speaker race caused controversy within the DPP, which viewed the move as an ultimatum to tear DPP support away from its candidate by those who advocated preventing Han’s victory at any cost.

Han is a divisive figure in Taiwanese politics, notorious for his Beijing-friendly platform that contributed to popular dissatisfaction with his incumbency and subsequent removal from office as mayor of Kaohsiung in 2020.[4] Han held closed-door meetings with CCP officials during an unannounced trip to Shenzhen, PRC, and Hong Kong during his mayorship in 2019. Han met with then director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Liu Jieyi and CCP Chief for Shenzhen Wang Weizhong. Han also met the director of the PRC’s liaison office, which manages relations with Hong Kong.[5] Han’s meeting with CCP officials drew public criticism for endangering national security and breaking with official protocol for engaging with PRC officials.[6] Han’s meeting preceded a turbulent period in Hong Kong society that resulted in the PRC’s erosion of Hong Kong’s political autonomy and civil liberties by the PRC. Hong Kong’s plight earned widespread sympathy in Taiwan, intensifying criticism of Han.[7]

The KMT’s victory will strengthen its influence over policymaking during Lai Ching-te’s incoming administration. The speaker is responsible for guiding legislative processes, such as setting the agenda, voting on laws, and presiding over sessions. Control over legislative proceedings enables the speaker to prioritize or delay legislation based on political alignment and adjudicate debates on policies proposed by the executive branch. The DPP led a minority government under President Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008, during which the KMT-led opposition persistently blocked DPP policies, including arms procurement from the United States.[8] KMT Vice Chairman Sean Lien promised strong LY oversight of the DPP government under Han’s leadership.[9] KMT Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi also warned that the KMT would strive to expose DPP corruption from the past eight years, portending an acrimonious relationship between the KMT and DPP during Lai’s presidency.[10]

The TPP’s eight seats in the LY position the party to be the crucial swing vote and could further complicate the passage of DPP policies. The KMT’s 52 seats plus two KMT-aligned independents and DPP’s 51 seats do not grant either a majority in the 113-member body. The TPP’s 8 seats will make its votes the deciding factor for some legislation.

Han’s position as the LY speaker also has ramifications for Taiwan’s international representation as the speaker represents Taiwan in a diplomatic capacity. Outgoing Speaker You Si-kun frequently met with foreign representatives during his tenure to advocate for Taiwan’s integration with the international community, deterrence of PRC aggression, and strengthening of democratic values. You’s diplomacy featured meetings with officials from key partners, including the United States, European Union, and Japan.[11] Han’s preference for warmer relations with Beijing and support for the 1992 Consensus suggests he will take a different diplomatic approach from You, who called attention to the PRC’s threat to cross-strait peace and highlighted Taiwan’s status as a sovereign polity. Han’s emphasis on the economy during his mayoral and presidential campaigns indicates he will use his platform to promote trade and investment opportunities, including with the PRC.[12] The Speaker of the LY also holds the chairmanship of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), a government-funded non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote democracy in Taiwan and abroad. DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming expressed his fear that PRC pressure on Han would constrain the LY’s diplomatic efforts, which he called the LY’s biggest responsibility.[13] Former Taiwanese diplomat Dale Jieh wen-chieh predicted that the DPP government would intentionally refrain from arranging for foreign guests to visit TFD under Han’s leadership to deprive him of a diplomatic platform.[14]

The PRC demonstrated its preference for Han as the LY speaker in a puff piece featured in the state media outlet CCTV on January 24. The program covered Han’s candidacy for speaker, emphasizing his support for the 1992 Consensus and his stance against being “pro-US and anti-China”.[15] The 1992 Consensus refers to a mutual understanding between the CCP and KMT of “One China”, though interpretations differ between them. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping explicitly stipulated acceptance of the 1992 Consensus as a precondition for cross-strait dialogue in 2017.[16]

The CCP may seek to leverage its rapport with Han to shape legislative outcomes in the LY, such as curbing DPP national defense-related proposals in the LY. The KMT’s historic inclination to reject DPP proposals in the LY aligns with the CCP’s desire to stymie the efficiency of Lai’s presidency and foment political disarray. Han’s conflicting policy agenda with the DPP indicates that he will wield his authority as speaker to this end, potentially causing problems for Lai’s administration.

The PRC unilaterally changed a domestic commercial flight path closer to the median line in the Taiwan Strait. The new route came into effect on February 1 and comes within 7.8 kilometers of the median line at its closest point.[17] The Taiwan Strait median line has acted as the unofficial border between the PRC and Taiwan since a “tacit agreement” between the two sides in 1958 to observe the line, although the PRC publicly denies its existence.[18] PRC aircraft began crossing the median line with increasing frequency in 1999, under Taiwan’s first democratically elected leader Lee Teng-hui.[19] Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) accused the PRC of using civil aviation to “package” political and military issues to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.[20] The PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) reiterated its claim that the purpose of shifting the route is to alleviate airspace congestion.[21] Chieh Chung, an analyst at the Taiwanese think tank National Policy Foundation, stated the move would significantly curtail Taiwan’s air defense early warning and reaction time.[22]

Taiwan’s Premier Chen Chien-jen labeled the PRC’s actions a ploy to undermine cross-strait stability and likened it to the PRC’s increasingly frequent flights of high-altitude balloons.[23] Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) recorded 9 PRC balloons flying near Taiwan since January 25.[24] The PRC also flew a combined 55 military aircraft through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) from January 30 and February 1, 25 of which crossed the median line.[25] The ADIZ incursions over these two days represent a sharp increase from earlier that week and coincide with the election of the LY speaker.

Tuvalu is considering switching its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC. Tuvalu Ambassador to the Republic of China Bikenibeu Paeniu stated in a January 19 interview with The Australian that there were rumors Tuvalu would go down the same path as Nauru and switch recognition at some point after Tuvalu’s January 26 election.[26] Tuvalu’s Finance Minister Seve Paeniu also stated that Tuvalu expects to review diplomatic ties with Taiwan after the election as his country seeks additional financial support for development.[27] The Tuvalu government said Bikenibeu Paeniu’s comments did not represent its official stance and reaffirmed its ties to Taiwan.[28] Seve Paeniu is now one of the candidates in the race to become Tuvalu’s next Prime Minister as the newly elected lawmakers aim to form a cabinet in the coming week.[29] He is open to recognizing the PRC based on support for Tuvalu’s development priorities and aspirations.[30]

The CCP reportedly offered Tuvalu unspecified financial benefits in the period 2020 to 2023 in exchange for switching diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC. Then Tuvalu Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe refused the offer.[31] Tuvalu is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that maintains relations with the ROC and does not have a Compact of Free Association (COFA) agreement with the United States.

China

PRC Ministry of Defense and state media criticized comments from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about the threat that the PRC poses to Europe and the prospects for a PRC invasion of Taiwan. Stoltenberg said at the World Economic Forum summit on January 16 in Davos, Switzerland, that “China is coming close to us” through its activities in Africa and the Arctic and in trying to control critical infrastructure. He stressed that NATO is a transatlantic regional alliance and does not regard the PRC as an adversary, however.[32] Stoltenberg also commented during a visit to the United States that Western support for Ukraine is “closely watched in Beijing” and that a Russian victory in Ukraine could embolden the PRC to seize Taiwan.[33] The CCP-owned China Daily claimed on January 19 that NATO, not the CCP, was responsible for global instability. It said NATO had become expansionist and that its recent shift of focus to the Asia-Pacific posed a threat to the PRC and jeopardized regional peace and stability.[34] A January 23 China Daily article also described Stoltenberg as “the hawkish head of [an] aggressively expansionist transatlantic alliance” and accused him of “scaremongering” about PRC activities in Africa and the Arctic.[35] The state-owned Global Times wrote on January 30 that Stoltenberg’s “hyping” of the China and Russia threats will not alleviate Western “fatigue” over support for Ukraine.[36]

The CCP expressed concern about the NATO Steadfast Defender military exercises and inaccurately claimed that NATO is driving instability in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. NATO began its Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises on January 24, its largest military exercise since 1988. The drills will feature around 90,000 troops from all 31 NATO member states and Sweden and will last until May 31.[37] PRC MoD spokesperson Wu Qian said at a January 25 press conference that the PRC was “highly concerned” about the exercise, as well as Stoltenberg’s comments about China, and accused NATO of approaching the Asia-Pacific and taking advantage of a “non-existent ‘China threat’” to threaten regional security. He called NATO a “walking ‘war machine’ that brings chaos wherever it goes.”[38] The state news agency Xinhua featured a news article on January 25 that argued that NATO’s Steadfast Defender exercises will only deepen hostilities between European countries and Russia.[39]

The PRC’s rhetoric about NATO aligns with Russian messaging about NATO since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. PRC government bodies and state media have portrayed NATO as an expansionist and aggressive military bloc controlled by the United States that threatens Russian security and regional stability. The CCP has also portrayed the war in Ukraine as a proxy conflict between the United States and Russia, in which Ukraine is a “pawn” of the United States.[40] PRC messaging also aligned with Russia in portraying the Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises as “provocative.”[41]

The PRC Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed ongoing coordination with the US military about the next meeting under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA). MoD spokesperson Wu Qian did not announce the date of the meeting but said it was part of an ongoing effort to resume military dialogues with the United States.[42] US President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping agreed during their November 15 summit in San Francisco to resume high-level military talks, including the MMCA talks, US-China Defense Police Coordination (CDPC) talks, and telephone conversations between theater commanders.[43] The first CDPC consultation since the summit occurred on January 8-9.[44] The theater command-level talks have yet to be scheduled.

The United States views military-to-military talks as a means of escalation management to prevent and control crises. The CCP views these talks, at least in part, as a bargaining chip that it can use to influence US behavior to the party’s benefit, however. A US action that the CCP deems unfavorable would be grounds to cut off military-to-military dialogue, in the party’s view. The party previously did this by cutting off high-level military dialogue in the aftermath of then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.[45] This precedent indicates the possibility that the CCP will continue to use military-to-military dialogue opportunities to shape United States behavior in the lead-up to at least the May 20 ROC presidential inauguration.

The PRC and Russia held several high-level minister exchanges to enhance “strategic coordination,” which support the CCP’s effort to challenge the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific. The talks took place from January 29-31 and included meetings between the two countries’ defense ministers and vice foreign ministers. The exchanges addressed a range of issues, such as BRICS cooperation, expanding military cooperation, the war in Ukraine, and developments in the Asia-Pacific, Korean peninsula, and Middle East.[46] The PRC’s defense minister readout on January 31 noted that “Russia will play a greater role in comprehensive strategic coordination and maintaining global security and stability.”[47] The meetings signify the continued growth of military and diplomatic ties between Russia and the PRC, including increased cooperation on shared strategic goals.

The Russian Pacific Fleet also conducted an anti-submarine exercise in the South China Sea on January 29.[48] PRC state media did not publicize the event. The Russian frigate Marshall Saposhnikov of the Pacific Fleet previously conducted anti-submarine warfare drills in the South China Sea on January 29.[49] The Pacific Fleet exercise is likely aimed at demonstrating that Russia is a strong Pacific power that supports China against the US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific, as the Kremlin has routinely stressed in the past.[50] The dearth of CCP media coverage on the event reflects the party’s attempt to avoid drawing international attention to the South China Sea while the party is also engaging in military aggression toward the Philippine-controlled Second Thomas Shoal.

Second Thomas Shoal

The PRC Coast Guard claimed that it “allowed” the Philippines to airdrop supplies to Philippine troops on Second Thomas Shoal on January 21. PRC Coast Guard Spokesperson Gan Yu said on the Chinese social media app WeChat that the Coast Guard had made “temporary special arrangements” to allow a small Philippine aircraft to airdrop supplies to troops stationed at the grounded warship that serves as the Philippine base on Second Thomas Shoal. Philippine National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya denied the PRC allegation that it had allowed the airdrop and said the Philippines did not need anyone’s permission to deliver supplies. He neither confirmed nor denied that the airdrop had occurred.[51]

The PRC inaccurately framed the airdrop as “provocative” amid the easing of tensions in the region. The Second Thomas Shoal is a disputed reef feature in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, which the Philippines controls but which the PRC and Taiwan claim. It was the site of confrontations between the Philippines and PRC in recent months. The Philippines and PRC held bilateral maritime consultations on January 17 to de-escalate tensions and the Philippines had not sent vessels to Second Thomas Shoal for over a month before the resupply mission.[52] PRC state-owned media outlet Global Times framed the airdrop as “provocative”, however. PRC Coast Guard Spokesperson Gan Yu reiterated the point in calling on the Philippines to stop its alleged “provocations” and “hyping” the dispute to mislead the international community.[53] He added that the Coast Guard will continue to defend the PRC’s sovereignty, rights, and interests on the Second Thomas Shoal and step up “law enforcement” activities around the shoal.

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[54] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[55] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[56] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[57] Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane…trying to secure a better deal for China.”[58] The US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for renewing the COFAs in a mid-December report.[59] President Biden signed the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act into law on December 22, but it did not include COFA funding.[60] Funding the COFAs is a key part of the US Pacific Partnership Strategy to “fulfill our [United States] historical commitments and strengthen our enduring relationships with the full Pacific Islands region, including our special relationship with the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.”[61] Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr expressed concern in a December 27 interview with ABC Australia over the lack of Congressional-approved funding for the COFA agreement, in part because the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement was not funded by the US Congress until 2018.[62]

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 12 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[63]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would cause severe financial pressure in Palau because COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of the national government’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[64] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[65] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China. Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. stated that the CCP is intensely pressuring his country, including personally harassing him with angry phone calls to the point he changed his phone number, ahead of its November election to achieve this goal.[66]

The loss of COFA funding would also exacerbate the CCP narrative put forth by the propaganda outlet Global Times that the United States only cares about Palau for security reasons rather than mutually beneficial cooperation. [67] The Palau Senate passed a resolution in November rejecting the permanent deployment of a US Patriot missile defense battery.[68] This was the first instance of lawmakers challenging President Surangel Whipps Jr’s request for the United States to construct an over-the-horizon radar system in Palau.[69] In a December 27 interview with ABC Australia, Whipps tied this Palau Senate resolution to a narrative among unspecified portions of Palau that the United States actions were not in the best interests of Palau, as seen by the repeated delay in COFA funding.[70] The associated fiscal challenges that Palau faces without COFA funding buttresses the CCP’s narrative, which in turn creates hurdles for deploying mutually beneficial United States defense resources to the country.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[71] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[72] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[73] The loss of COFA funding would also provide opportunities for external powers such as the CCP to enhance their economic influence in the country by filling these funding gaps. The loss of COFA funding would also undermine the intent of annual humanitarian missions to Micronesia, such as that by the USNS Mercy in January 2024, to bolster US-Micronesia relations.[74]

The COFA funding also makes up $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands national government's annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[75] The loss of COFA funding would expose the country to similar severe fiscal challenges as Palau and Micronesia. The powerful waves that flooded portions of US Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll in late January 2024 highlight the Marshall Islands’ geographic vulnerabilities that the COFA funding would provide resources to address.[76]

The CCP may use these revenue shortfalls to incentivize Palau and the Marshall Islands to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC. Australia evacuating refugees it paid Nauru to host led to a budget shortfall.[78] The CCP then reportedly offered Nauru USD 100 million per year in 2024 to successfully switch recognition from the PRC to the ROC, according to a Reuters report that cited an unspecified senior Taiwanese official.[79] This follows a regional trend of the PRC offering incentives such as a commercial aircraft to Kiribati or USD 8.5 million to the Solomon Islands, both in 2019, to successfully incentivize them to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC.[80]

North Korea

PRC Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong-ho on January 26 to discuss bilateral relations and the “international and regional situation.”[81] The PRC did not comment on North Korea’s aggressive behavior in the region, which is consistent with PRC actions since mid-December. The CCP has not publicly criticized North Korea for launching ballistic missiles, testing alleged underwater nuclear drones, or labeling South Korea as its “primary foe.” The CCP has instead called for dialogue to portray the party as a responsible regional stakeholder while avoiding steps to stop North Korea's provocations. The PRC MFA has messaged since mid-December that “trying to solve the problem [on the Korean Peninsula] through military deterrence and pressure will not work…[and] dialogue and consultation” are how to resolve the issue.[82] The CCP has also emphasized the PRC’s close relations with North Korea and plans to deepen “mutually beneficial cooperation” this year, which will be the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[83]

The PRC is engaging diplomatically with North Korea to undermine United States-South Korea security ties for the PRC’s benefit. The PRC's strategy toward the Korean Peninsula is to push South Korea into a foreign policy that balances the interests of the United States and the PRC.[84] This is based on the view that a regional balance of power shift is underway that is unfavorable to the United States as the PRC engages in a military buildup and South Korea increases its military ability to independently defend against North Korea.[85] Implicit in this view is that the PRC military buildup will force South Korea to account for PRC strategic interests in the peninsula at the expense of the United States-South Korea security relationship.

Israel-Hamas War

The PRC contacted Iran to restrain the Houthi’s attacks on maritime shipping in the Red Sea. The outreach did not slow or stop the Houthi attack campaign. The Financial Times reported on January 24 that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked the PRC to pressure Iran to stop Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The report also stated that unspecified US officials had seen little evidence of China acting upon these requests.[86] PRC officials asked Iran to have the Houthis show restraint regarding attacks in the Red Sea, according to a Reuters report citing unspecified Iranian officials. The unspecified Iranian officials stated that the PRC did not make specific threats toward Iran if Houthi attacks threatened PRC shipping interests.[87]

The PRC has not condemned Houthi aggression and has instead called for regional calm rather than take steps or support international efforts to stop the Houthi attacks on maritime shipping. PRC foreign affairs officials called on all parties to “play a constructive and responsible role” in keeping the Red Sea safe on January 4 and expressed concern on January 12 about the alleged ”escalation of tensions in the Red Sea” after United States-led strikes on Houthi positions.”[88],[89] A joint PRC MFA and Arab League statement on January 16 reiterated these points in calling on “all parties to cool down the situation…and effectively maintain regional peace and stability.”[90] PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin implied that US-led strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen are illegitimate because “the [United Nations] Security Council has never authorized the use of force by any country on Yemen.”[91] The only exception to in the PRC’s rhetoric about the Houthi attacks on maritime shipping occurred on January 10, when Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Zhang Jun “call[ed] on the Houthi armed forces to immediately stop harassing civilian ships and respect the freedom of navigation of all countries.”[92],[93]

The CCP continues to stress that US-led counter strikes on the Houthis and not the Houthi’s attacks on maritime shipping risk a wider regional escalation. PRC Ambassador to the European Union Fu Cong stated in a late January interview with Bloomberg that the US-led strikes against the Houthis “can only escalate tension and it’ll not guarantee or maintain the safe passage of the commercial vessels.”[94] A regional escalation would further threaten PRC economic interests by increasing shipping costs and disrupting oil supplies from the region.

Afghanistan

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping accepted credentials from Taliban Ambassador to China Bilal Karimi on January 30.[95] PRC MFA Spokesperson Wang Wenbin did not confirm nor deny whether the PRC recognizes the Taliban government in Afghanistan during a press conference on January 31.[96] The PRC appointed the new ambassador Zhao Sheng to the country in September 2023.[97] The PRC did not explicitly recognize the Taliban. No country officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The event demonstrates growing PRC-Taliban ties, however, as Xi accepted Karimi’s credentials at a ceremony in which he accepted credentials from diplomats from 38 other countries.

This is the latest indication of growing ties between the CCP and the Taliban regime and builds on agricultural and economic deals that the two signed last year. The PRC signed a 6.5 billion USD mining deal and oil deals worth hundreds of millions of US dollars in 2023.[98]


China-Taiwan Weekly Update, January 25, 2024

Click here to read the full report

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

Data Cutoff: January 25 at 10 am ET

Key Takeaways

  • The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang (KMT) are preparing for the election of the speaker and deputy speaker of the Legislative Yuan. The party that secures the role will steer legislative processes in a divided legislature.
  • PRC Premier Li Qiang appealed to foreign business leaders to invest in China at the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit in Davos, Switzerland. The PRC is increasingly emphasizing economic cooperation with Europe as fraying relations with the US threaten to dampen the PRC’s growth.
  • The Philippines and PRC began bilateral negotiations over South China Sea disputes on January 17. The CCP's track record of engaging in dialogue while driving crises in the region to achieve its political objective indicates that the Philippine-PRC dialogue will not change the party’s behavior in the region.
  • A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries.
  • Tuvalu is considering switching its diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC.

Taiwan

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang (KMT) are preparing for the election of the speaker and deputy speaker of the Legislative Yuan. The party that secures the role will steer legislative processes in a divided legislature. The legislative candidates who won seats in the January 13 elections will take office at the beginning of the new legislative session on February 1. The members will vote on a new speaker and deputy speaker.[1] The speaker is responsible for guiding legislative processes, such as setting the legislative agenda, voting on laws, and presiding over sessions. Control over legislative proceedings means the speaker can prioritize or delay legislation based on political alignment and steer debates on policies proposed by the executive branch.[2]

Han Kuo-yu and Johnny Chiang Chi-chen announced their candidacies for speaker and deputy speaker, respectively, on January 18 and received the KMT’s nomination on January 24 after a short-lived internal challenge to  Han for the speakership.[3] Han is a divisive figure in Taiwanese politics. He rose to prominence in the KMT after a surprise 2018 victory in the mayoral race in Kaohsiung, a DPP stronghold, and ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2020 against President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP. Han’s PRC-friendly platform contributed to popular dissatisfaction in Kaohsiung and his subsequent recall from the mayor’s office.[4] Chiang is a former chairman of the KMT who worked to review the party’s cross-strait policy after Han lost the 2020 presidential election. He represents a younger and more moderate wing of the party and advised the KMT’s 2024 presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih in formulating his cross-strait policy.[5]

The DPP legislative caucus said that it would support You Si-kun and Tsai Chi-chang, who are the incumbent speaker and deputy speaker. The caucus has not completed the nomination process as of January 25, however.[6]

A KMT speaker would exacerbate the obstacles that the divided legislature will pose to incoming president Lai Ching-te’s agenda. The legislature is divided, with the KMT holding the largest number of seats but without a majority party. This alone will challenge the incoming DPP administration’s ability to pass legislation. The DPP last led a minority government under President Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008, during which the KMT-led opposition frequently blocked arms procurement from the United States and other policies favored by the DPP.[7] Han Kuo-yu would likely facilitate similar obstructionism if he becomes the speaker. DPP legislative caucus leader Ker Chien-ming claimed that if Han becomes speaker of the LY, “there is a high possibility he will be controlled by the CCP.”[8]

The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) will be the crucial “swing vote” between the two major parties in the selection of the next speaker and deputy speaker. The KMT’s 52 seats (plus two KMT-aligned independents) and DPP’s 51 seats do not grant either a majority in the 113-member body. The TPP’s 8 seats will make its votes the deciding factor.[9]

The KMT has been trying to win TPP support before the new legislative session begins. Han and Chiang said that Chiang would step aside if the TPP nominates a deputy speaker candidate to run with Han.[10] Han said on January 24 that he agreed with some legislative reforms proposed recently, such as those pushed by the TPP.[11] Fu Kun-chi, the KMT legislator who briefly announced his candidacy for speaker on January 21 before dropping out, also reached out to the TPP and offered to cooperate on its preferred parliamentary reforms.[12] The TPP legislators-elect Huang Shan-shan and Huang Kuo-chang said the priority of the TPP caucus was to implement reforms to increase government transparency and give the Legislative Yuan more oversight over the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s executive branch. They expressed appreciation for the KMT outreach and show of support. The incoming TPP legislators said on January 15 and 18 that they would support speaker candidates who could explain how they would implement their preferred reforms.[13] Han and Chiang can win without TPP support if the TPP abstains or fields its own candidates. The KMT outreach to the TPP shows that it is concerned about the possibility of the TPP endorsing the DPP candidates instead.

ISW has not noted reports of significant DPP efforts to win TPP support for its candidates, the incumbents. Huang Kuo-chang said on January 24 that he was unclear about the attitude of the DPP toward parliamentary reform.[14] DPP legislative caucus leader Ker Chien-ming criticized the eight TPP legislators-elect for using their decisive positions to “sow chaos.”[15] DPP incumbent speaker You Si-kun said that he had once proposed reforms similar to what the TPP wanted, but there was no consensus on them within the DPP. He also said that he was friends with TPP Chairman Ko Wen-je and would fight for TPP support, but did not know if he would get it.[16] You also said that “any combination is possible,” however, including a scenario in which a TPP candidate becomes the next speaker as a possible compromise.[17] The five TPP legislators of the previous legislative session voted for You in 2020.[18]

The PRC Ministry of State Security (MSS) said on January 17 that it will step up efforts to counter alleged Taiwanese infiltration of the PRC. The MSS claimed on its official WeChat account that Taiwan’s intelligence and defense agencies had been “infiltrating China since the DPP came to power in 2016.” It claimed to have dismantled multiple Taiwanese espionage networks in 2018 and 2020 and vowed to intensify counterintelligence and “anti-separatist” efforts related to Taiwan. The MSS accused Taiwan’s intelligence agencies of acting like “thugs for ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces,” “hyping up rumors” about the PRC interfering in Taiwan’s elections, suppressing people who oppose the DPP, and colluding with “external forces.” It echoed statements by the Taiwan Affairs Office that the DPP does not represent Taiwan’s “mainstream public opinion.”[19]

The MSS made the post in response to Lai Ching-te’s victory in the January 13 presidential election. The timing and framing suggest the announced espionage crackdown is partly meant to punish Taiwan for electing the CCP’s least favored candidate. It is also probable that the MSS claims about Taiwanese infiltration are related to the December 2023 leaks from Taiwanese intelligence about a secret top-level CCP meeting in which Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Wang Huning, who is the fourth-ranked member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, discussed how to increase the effectiveness and subtlety of PRC efforts to interfere in Taiwan’s election. An unnamed senior Taiwanese official leaked the information to Western media.[20]

The PRC continued to send high-altitude balloons into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) after a four-day hiatus. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported PRC high-altitude balloons flying across the Taiwan Strait every day this month except January 16-19. The MND reported a record high of 6 PRC high-altitude balloons violating its Air Defense Identification Zone in one day on January 21. At least one flew directly over Taiwan’s territory.[21] This pattern of activity is consistent with the ISW assessment that the PRC is trying to normalize using balloons in tandem with other aerial and naval ADIZ violations as part of a broader effort to wear down Taiwan’s threat awareness. The break in balloon flights after an uninterrupted streak of daily incursions in the first half of January suggests the recent increase in balloon activities was related to Taiwan’s January 13 election.

China

PRC Premier Li Qiang appealed to foreign business leaders to invest in China at the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit in Davos, Switzerland. Li addressed an audience of global business executives and politicians, painting a rosy picture of the PRC’s economic health and urging the world to cast off skepticism over its challenging economic prospects. Li announced that the PRC met its 2023 growth target, remains committed to financial liberalization, and promised a responsible economic growth model.[22]

Li’s speech was tailored to resonate with an international business audience, highlighting the PRC’s economic potential on the merits of its size while ignoring the broader global political environment. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s speech, by contrast, took a distinct focus on geopolitical issues. Von der Leyen hailed freedom and democracy as the drivers of innovation and highlighted challenges posed by growing disinformation and disregard for national sovereignty.[23]

The contrast between Li and von der Leyen’s speeches captures the challenges of EU-PRC relations, which are subject to the push and pull of ideological confrontation and economic opportunities. The EU adopted an economic security package on January 24 in response to “growing geopolitical tensions and profound technological shifts.”[24] The initiatives in the package align with von der Leyen’s calls to “de-risk” the EU’s relationship with the PRC, especially in high-tech areas, a strategy she first proposed in March 2023.[25] The measure includes plans to increase screening of foreign investment into the EU, strengthen export controls, manage risks associated with outward investment in certain technologies, support research and development of dual-use technologies, and enhance research security.

The PRC, however, is increasingly emphasizing economic cooperation with Europe as fraying relations with the US threaten to dampen the PRC’s growth. Li advocated for economic cooperation with French and German officials in June 2023 during a visit to France and Germany.[26] CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of strong economic ties during a meeting in April 2023.[27] Li told von der Leyen that the PRC wanted to import more EU products and urged the EU to ease high-tech export restrictions on the PRC during a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the summit in Davos.[28] Von der Leyen previously announced an investigation into electric vehicle subsidies in the PRC as part of the EU’s de-risking efforts during her September 15 State of the Union speech.[29]

A reporter from CCP-operated China Daily highlighted the contrasting sentiments expressed by Li and von der Leyen in a request for comment by the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), referencing von der Leyen’s de-risking strategy without mentioning her by name. MFA spokesperson Mao Ning responded that fragmentation would only weaken the global economy. Mao extolled the potential of the PRC economy and appealed to foreign companies to heed Premier Li’s calls to invest. [30]Li’s attendance at the WEF summit provided the PRC with an opportunity to directly lobby the business community where diplomatic efforts have yielded limited progress in strengthening inward investment. Li participated in a luncheon with the heads of 14 multinational companies, including Siemens, Volkswagen, and JPMorgan Chase. The PRC MFA described the meeting as a productive discussion about the benefits of investing in China, noting Li’s promises of strong returns.[31]

The Philippines and PRC began bilateral negotiations over South China Sea disputes on January 17. PRC Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong and Philippine Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro co-chaired the eighth meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea.[32] The PRC MFA stated that the two sides agreed to “continue to properly manage sea-related conflicts and differences through friendly consultations.”[33] The CCP-controlled English language outlet Global Times reported on January 18 that the Philippines has not sent vessels near Second Thomas Shoal in over a month, the longest period without “provocations” since August 2023.[34]

The Philippine-PRC dialogue will not change the party’s behavior in the region, based on the CCP's track record of engaging in dialogue while driving crises to achieve its political objectives. In 2012 the party engaged in negotiations with the Philippines to end a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which Manilla administered at the time, while steadily increasing the number of Chinese Coast Guard ships near the shoal.[35] This resulted in the Philippines withdrawing its ships from the shoal in mid-June 2012 under a now-disputed agreement that the PRC would do the same.[36] The CCP subsequently kept its ships near the shoal and achieved its political objective of gaining de facto control of the Scarborough Shoal by July 2012.[37] In 2016 the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Arbitration Tribunal unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines by rejecting the legitimacy of PRC claims to territory inside of the nine-dash line and land reclamation activities.[38] The CCP has ignored the ruling by continuing land reclamation efforts and maritime coercion in the South China Sea over the last eight years.

The Philippines and Vietnam are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding between their coast guards when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visits the country in late January.[39] This would provide one mechanism for the Philippines to leverage in attempts to prevent CCP coercion in the South China Sea from increasing.

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[40] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[41] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[42] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[43] Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane…trying to secure a better deal for China.”[44] The US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for renewing the COFAs in a mid-December report.[45] President Biden signed the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act into law on December 22, but it did not include COFA funding.[46] Funding the COFAs is a key part of the US Pacific Partnership Strategy to “fulfill our [United States] historical commitments and strengthen our enduring relationships with the full Pacific Islands region, including our special relationship with the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.”[47] Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr expressed concern in a December 27 interview with ABC Australia over the lack of Congressional-approved funding for the COFA agreement, in part because the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement was not funded by the US Congress until 2018.[48]

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 12 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[49]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would cause severe financial pressure in Palau because COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of the national government’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[50] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[51] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would also exacerbate the CCP narrative put forth by the propaganda outlet Global Times that the United States only cares about Palau for security reasons rather than mutually beneficial cooperation. [52] The Palau Senate passed a resolution in November rejecting the permanent deployment of a US Patriot missile defense battery.[53] This was the first instance of lawmakers challenging President Surangel Whipps Jr’s request for the United States to construct an over-the-horizon radar system in Palau.[54] In a December 27 interview with ABC Australia, Whipps tied this Palau Senate resolution to a narrative among unspecified portions of Palau that the United States actions were not in the best interests of Palau, as seen by the repeated delay in COFA funding.[55] The associated fiscal challenges that Palau faces without COFA funding buttresses the CCP’s narrative, which in turn creates hurdles for deploying mutually beneficial United States defense resources to the country.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[56] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[57] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[58] The loss of COFA funding would also provide opportunities for external powers such as the CCP to enhance their economic influence in the country by filling these funding gaps.

The COFA funding also makes up $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands national government's annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[59] The loss of COFA funding would expose the country to similar severe fiscal challenges as Palau and Micronesia.

The CCP may use these revenue shortfalls to incentivize Palau and the Marshall Islands to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC. Australia evacuating refugees it paid Nauru to host led to a budget shortfall.[61] The CCP then reportedly offered Nauru USD 100 million per year in 2024 to successfully switch recognition from the PRC to the ROC, according to a Reuters report that cited an unspecified senior Taiwanese official.[62] This follows a regional trend of the PRC offering incentives such as a commercial aircraft to Kiribati or USD 8.5 million to the Solomon Islands, both in 2019, to successfully incentivize them to switch diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC.[63]

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is considering switching its diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC. The Tuvalu Ambassador to the Republic of China Bikenibeu Paeniu stated in a January 19 interview with The Australian that there were rumors Tuvalu would go down the same path as Nauru and switch recognition at some point after Tuvalu’s January 26 election.[64] Tuvalu’s Finance Minister Seve Paeniu also stated that Tuvalu expects to review diplomatic ties with Taiwan after the election as his country seeks additional financial support for development.[65] The Tuvalu government said Bikenibeu Paeniu’s comments did not represent its official stance and reaffirmed its ties to Taiwan.[66] Tuvalu is the only one in the Asia-Pacific region that maintains relations with the ROC and does not have a COFA with the United States.

Israel-Hamas War

The PRC has chosen not to engage with Iran to stop Houthi maritime shipping attacks. The Financial Times reported that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked the PRC to pressure Iran to stop Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The report also stated that unspecified US officials had seen little evidence of China acting upon these requests.[67] The PRC has only explicitly condemned the Houthis one time since the shipping attacks began. The PRC abstained on January 10 from UN Resolution 2722 which condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[68] In explanatory remarks, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Zhang Jun did however “call on the Houthi armed forces to immediately stop harassing civilian ships and respect the freedom of navigation of all countries.”[69]

The CCP has maintained rhetoric calling for regional calm instead of acting to resolve the Houthi shipping attacks. PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin called on January 4 for all parties to “play a constructive and responsible role” in keeping the Red Sea safe.[70] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Mao Ning also expressed concern on January 12 about the alleged ”escalation of tensions in the Red Sea” after United States-led strikes on Houthi positions on January 11.[71] A joint PRC MFA and Arab League statement on January 16 called on “all parties to cool down the situation…and effectively maintain regional peace and stability.”[72] Wang also called on January 24 for “a stop of causing disturbance [sic] to civilian ships” in the Red Sea while also implying American-led strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen were illegitimate because “the [UN] Security Council has never authorized the use of force by any country on Yemen.”[73] The bigger problem from the CCP’s perspective is not the hostilities instigated by the Houthis, but rather the United States-led counterstrikes. The party views the willingness of the United States and allies to strike Houthi positions as risking wider regional escalation, which would threaten PRC economic interests, such as increasing shipping costs and disrupting oil supplies from the region.

North Korea

The PRC MFA has messaged since mid-December that “trying to solve the problem [on the Korean Peninsula] through military deterrence and pressure will not work…[and] dialogue and consultation” are how to resolve the issue.[74] Head of the CCP International Liaison Department Liu Jianchao reiterated these points during a January 19 meeting with the North Korean Ambassador to the PRC Ri Ryong-nam. The officials also agreed to deepen the PRC and North Korea’s “mutually beneficial cooperation” this year, which will be the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[75] The PRC MFA repeated its call on January 25 for “meaningful dialogue” over “legitimate concerns” in response to the North Korean ballistic missile test on January 24.[76] The CCP has not criticized North Korea for launching ballistic missiles, alleged underwater nuclear drones, or labeling South Korea as its “primary foe.”

 

 

 

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, January 19, 2024 

Click here to read the full report

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: January 18 at 5pm ET 

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

Key Takeaways

  • Democratic Progressive Party candidate Lai Ching-te won the Taiwanese presidential election on January 13. The DPP did not secure a majority in the Legislative Yuan and will face opposition from the KMT and Taiwan’s People’s Party in the legislative body.
  • Nauru severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with the PRC on January 15.
  • Head of the CCP International Department Liu Jianchao commented on the need for stronger “international cooperation” during an interview at the US Council on Foreign Relations on January 9.
  • President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping agreed on November 15, 2023, to resume high-level military-to-military communication.
  • The CCP views United States-led strikes against the Houthis as escalating regional tensions.
  • A second PRC-brokered ceasefire in northern Myanmar failed to stop the fighting between the Myanmar junta and rebel groups.

Taiwan

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Lai Ching-te won the Taiwanese presidential election on January 13. Lai won by a margin of nearly seven percentage points over the second-place Kuomintang (KMT) candidate.[1] Lai’s election signals continuity with the cross-strait policy and diplomatic strategy of the incumbent administration of Tsai Ing-wen, during which Taiwan has favored closer cooperation with the United States at the expense of relations with the PRC.

Lai’s victory is a defeat for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP conducts constant influence operations against Taiwan to erode support for the DPP and steer perceptions of a Chinese national identity that lends legitimacy to the CCP. The CCP’s influence operations were especially intense during Taiwan’s election season, ranging from covert to overt and varied in target audience. Some of the most salient examples include the mass posting of disinformation content to social media, subsidizing trips to the PRC for local political and business leaders, and warning of armed conflict by framing the election as a choice between peace and war. The DPP’s reelection represents the failure of PRC interference in Taiwan’s democracy and highlights the prevalence of the Taiwanese identity that the DPP champions.

The PRC’s response to the results has so far been minimal compared to the political and military pressure it has exerted on Taiwan. The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) issued a statement focusing on the DPP’s weaker mandate compared to previous elections, stating that “the DPP can by no means represent mainstream public opinion on the island.”[2] The PRC did not expand its military posturing immediately after the election. PLA ADIZ violations remained within the bounds of normal activity until a modest spike on January 17 and 18, when 29 PLA aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait median line over the two days.[3] These actions are consistent with the PRC’s responses to Taiwan’s last presidential election. The TAO similarly dismissed Tsai’s 2020 reelection and declared the PRC’s absolute intolerance for so-called separatism.[4] The PRC also sailed the newly commissioned Shandong aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait immediately before Tsai Ing-wen’s reelection in January 2020 but did not take aggressive actions in the week after.[5]

The DPP did not secure a majority in the Legislative Yuan and will face opposition from the KMT and Taiwan’s People’s Party (TPP) in the legislative body. None of the three major parties won a majority through the legislative elections. The DPP won 51 seats, which is a 10-seat loss compared to the last election. The KMT gained 14 seats for a total of 52, putting it ahead of the DPP by 1. The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) secured 8 seats, which positions it to play a decisive role on divided issues in legislative decision-making. Two independent candidates who are aligned with the KMT also won seats.[6] A divided legislature will pose challenges for the incoming DPP administration’s ability to pass legislation. The DPP last led a minority government under President Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008, during which the KMT-led opposition frequently blocked arms procurement from the United States, for example. The KMT-led opposition also blocked other policy initiatives, such as amendments to voting laws and regulations governing party assets and state-owned property.[7]

The DPP will likely face opposition to its defense policies in the Legislative Yuan. Lai has promised to continue former President Tasi Ing-wen’s deterrence-focused national defense strategy, which entails robust defense spending, arms procurement, and military reforms.[8] The expansion of defense-related spending under the Tsai administration was often funded by special budgets, which the DPP’s political opponents deem fiscally irresponsible.[9] The KMT and TPP expressed similar views about defense spending throughout the campaign. KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih and TPP chairman candidate Ko Wen-je sharply criticized Tsai and the DPP for lack of fiscal discipline during the election campaign, despite Taiwan’s debt levels trending down over Tsai’s tenure.[10] Hou promoted a strong national defense strategy but emphasized that Taiwan should prioritize easing tensions with the PRC over reckless spending on several occasions.[11] Ko advocated for defense expenditure of up to 3% of GDP but disagreed with the DPP on the allocation of funds.[12]

Seat allocation in the Legislative Yuan

The Legislative Yuan is set to elect a speaker on February 1. Former KMT presidential hopeful Han Kuo-yu announced his candidacy on January 18 and is the top contender for the role given the KMT’s plurality.[14] Han is a divisive figure in Taiwanese politics, notorious for his pro-Beijing platform that contributed to popular dissatisfaction with his incumbency and subsequent removal from office as mayor of Kaohsiung.[15] The role of the speaker is consequential for the DPP’s relative political power. The speaker is responsible for guiding legislative processes, such as setting the legislative agenda, voting on laws, and presiding over sessions. Control over legislative proceedings means the speaker can prioritize or delay legislation based on political alignment and steer debates on policies proposed by the executive branch.

The handful of TPP legislators will play a decisive role in the election of the speaker. Cooperation between the KMT and TPP since last November to “work together to maximize their presence” in the Legislative Yuan has fueled speculation that the parties will elect Han to be the legislative speaker.[16] Lingering resentment between the TPP and KMT after bitter negotiations to form a joint presidential ticket failed also threatens to complicate the two parties’ cooperation, however.[17]

Ko may use the TPP’s political leverage in the Legislative Yuan to selectively cooperate with the DPP on some policies. Lai and Ko each presented housing policies that emphasized increasing the availability of social housing.[18] The two candidates also advocated for investment in technology and innovation to increase economic competitiveness.[19] Ko’s flexible policy position has led many to regard him as an opportunist who will act according to political interests rather than ideological alignment.[20]

Nauru severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with the PRC on January 15. Nauru cited the “One China Principle” and UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 as the basis for its decision.[21] UN Resolution 2758 recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representative of “China” to the United Nations and removed the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a UN member. Nauru previously cut ties with Taiwan in favor of the PRC in 2002, then switched back to relations with Taiwan in 2005. Without Nauru, Taiwan now has 12 “diplomatic allies” with which it has formal diplomatic relations.[22]

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) “strongly condemned” the decision and accused the PRC of manipulating Nauru with offers of financial aid. The MOFA claimed that Nauru had been asking for “a huge amount of financial aid that surpassed what Taiwan would normally provide to diplomatic allies.” It said that the switch in recognition was a means for the PRC to “suppress Taiwan” and called it “revenge against democratic values” following Taiwan’s January 13 elections.[23] The MOFA also issued a statement refuting the “fallacious” use of UN Resolution 2758, pointing out that the resolution does not mention Taiwan and does not say Taiwan is part of the PRC.[24]

Taiwan’s Central News Agency cited unnamed Taiwanese officials who claimed Nauru had asked Taiwan for 2.6 billion NTD (about 82 million USD) in financial aid, over half of Nauru’s national budget. The money was intended to cover a revenue gap primarily caused by Australia’s closure of its Nauru Regional Processing Center for asylum seekers. The unnamed sources said that the PRC took advantage of Taiwan’s inability to afford this amount and agreed to provide the requested aid in exchange for Nauru cutting ties with Taiwan and recognizing the PRC.[25] Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy said Nauru informed Australia that it would cut ties with Taiwan but did not ask Australia for financial aid to fill the hole in its budget.[26]

The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the PRC “welcomes and appreciates” Nauru’s decision and claimed it “fully demonstrates once again that the one-China principle is the aspiration of the people and the general trend.” It did not directly respond to Taiwan’s accusations that the diplomatic switch was related to Taiwan’s elections.[27] It denied engaging in “money diplomacy” to lure Nauru but said cooperation with the PRC promised “broad prospects and will bring unprecedented development opportunities for Nauru.”[28]

China

Head of the CCP International Department Liu Jianchao commented on the need for stronger “international cooperation” during an interview at the US Council on Foreign Relations on January 9. He stated that “for domestic circulation to function well, it does need stronger international cooperation, more foreign trade, and better use of FDI [Foreign Direct Investment].”[29] Liu’s remark about domestic circulation is a reference to “dual circulation,” which is an economic strategy that involves the creation of a self-sustaining domestic economy with links to international markets.[30] The strategy aims to reduce the PRC’s vulnerabilities to sanctions during crises by leveraging foreign investment and trade to bolster the country’s economy without becoming reliant on international markets. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping previously explained on June 7, 2023, that the strategy will “ensure the normal operation of the national economy under extreme circumstances.”[31] The dual circulation strategy is the CCP’s response to international anti-globalization trends, supply chain challenges, and the need for China to adopt a new innovation-driven “development pattern.”[32]

Xi’s emphasis on ”institutional openness to advance high-level financial opening up” to become a financial power during a January 17 speech to the Party School of the CCP Central Committee aligns with this dual cycle strategy.[33] The emphasis on international economic engagement to buttress domestic circulation is a key tenant of creating a dual circulation economy. Other CCP policies are not consistent with the strategy, however. Chinese state security raids on foreign firms, such as the Mintz Group, Bain & Company, and Capvision Partners in early 2023 run counter to the party’s effort to gain foreign investment as part of this strategy.[34] These raids create uncertainty over whether capital invested in the PRC is safe from arbitrary state actions and whether foreign firms’ personnel can safely operate in the country.

President Joe Biden and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping agreed on November 15, 2023, to resume high-level military-to-military communication. They agreed to restart the US-China Defense Policy Coordination (CDPC) Talks, the US-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) meetings, and telephone conversations between theater commanders.[35] The CDPC Talks occurred on January 8-9 under the leadership of US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Chase and Deputy Director of the Central Military Commission Office for International Military Cooperation Major General Song Yanchao.[36] The official PRC Ministry of National Defense readout of the CDPC urged the United States to “reduce military presence and provocation in the South China Sea…and stop manipulating and hyping-up relevant issues.”[37]  The MMCA and theater command-level talks have yet to be scheduled.

The United States views military-to-military talks as a means of escalation management to prevent and control crises. The CCP views these talks as a bargaining chip to manipulate United States behavior to the party’s benefit, however.  An action that the CCP deems unfavorable by the United States would be grounds, in the party’s view, to cut off military-to-military dialogue. The party previously did this by cutting off high-level military dialogue in the aftermath of then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.[38] This precedent indicates that the CCP will continue to use military-to-military dialogue opportunities to shape United States behavior in the lead up to at least the May 20 ROC presidential inauguration.

Israel-Hamas War

The CCP changed its messaging about the Houthis attacks on maritime shipping by explicitly calling on the Houthis to stop the attacks. The PRC abstained on January 10 from UN Resolution 2722 which condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.[39] In explanatory remarks, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Zhang Jun did however “call on the Houthi armed forces to immediately stop harassing civilian ships and respect the freedom of navigation of all countries.”[40] This is a shift in PRC rhetoric to explicitly recognize the Houthis as instigators of regional instability.

The CCP views the United States-led strikes against the Houthis as escalating regional tensions, however. PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin called on January 4 for all parties to “play a constructive and responsible role” in keeping the Red Sea safe.[41] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Mao Ning also expressed concern on January 12 about the alleged ”escalation of tensions in the Red Sea” after United States-led strikes on Houthi positions on January 11.[42] A joint PRC MFA and Arab League statement on January 16 called on “all parties to cool down the situation…and effectively maintain regional peace and stability.”[43] The bigger problem from the CCP’s perspective is not the hostilities instigated by the Houthis, but rather the United States-led counterstrikes. The party views the willingness of the United States and allies to strike Houthi positions as risking wider regional escalation, which would threaten PRC economic interests in the region.

Myanmar

A second PRC-brokered ceasefire in northern Myanmar failed to stop the fighting between the Myanmar junta and rebel groups. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning announced on January 12 that the PRC had mediated a formal ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar junta government and three ethnic armed groups. Ceasefire negotiations took place in Kunming, Yunnan in the PRC on January 10 and 11. The MFA claimed that the two sides agreed to implement the ceasefire immediately, to address disputes and concerns through peaceful negotiation, and not to undermine the safety of Chinese people living in the border area and Chinese projects and personnel in Myanmar.[44] Unnamed officials who attended the negotiations told Radio Free Asia that the ceasefire applied only to Shan state in northern Myanmar and did not specify a given length of time. An “ex-military official” said the ceasefire was not sustainable and it had resulted from PRC pressure on both sides. The official said the PRC was concerned about the war negatively impacting industrial products from the PRC’s Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar’s Shan State.[45] Myanmar’s military broke the ceasefire on January 13, however, one day after it was announced. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army rebel group reported 19 artillery strikes by the military on targets throughout Shan and northern Myanmar.[46]

The PRC previously negotiated a ceasefire on December 14, which also immediately failed to stop the fighting.[47] The PRC’s interests in the Myanmar civil war include re-opening trade disrupted by the fighting, ensuring the safety of PRC nationals and projects, protecting border security, and cracking down on telecommunications fraud centers in northern Myanmar which have defrauded and kidnapped PRC nationals. The PRC has maintained ties with both the junta and multiple rebel groups in pursuit of these goals.[48]

The CCP may also seek to negotiate a ceasefire to bolster its diplomatic reputation. The PRC has often portrayed itself as a promoter of global peace, security, and stability, for example through its Global Security Initiative and its ongoing calls for peace talks in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars.[49]

 

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, January 11, 2024 

Click here to read the full report.

Authors: Daniel Shats and Nils Peterson of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: January 9 at 5pm ET 

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. PRC high-altitude balloon flights through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) have become a daily occurrence and are likely part of a CCP effort to test Taiwan’s responses and wear down its threat awareness.
  2. Taiwan arrested an independent legislative candidate on suspicion of accepting money from the CCP to run for office.
  3. The CCP threatened further economic punitive measures against Taiwan related to the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).
  4. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command conducted air and naval exercises in the South China Sea from January 3 to 5.
  5. The December purges of top PLA military and defense industry officials reflect Xi Jinping’s fears of disloyalty in the military and show that the anti-corruption campaign has not yet succeeded in rooting out endemic corruption in the military.
  6. A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries.
  7. The Times of Israel reported that Israeli Defense Forces encountered “vast quantities of weapons manufactured by China” in Gaza.

Taiwan

Taiwan’s three presidential candidates are making their last appeals for votes before the January 13 presidential election. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te urged voters to “choose the right road” and not reverse eight years of progress by the Tsai Ing-wen administration. Lai and the DPP also continued past messaging of protecting Taiwan’s democracy against CCP interference. Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih and the KMT heavily promoted an appeal for all anti-DPP voters to strategically concentrate their votes on him because he is the candidate most likely to defeat Lai. The KMT also continued criticizing the DPP for alleged corruption and incompetence. Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je continued to criticize both major parties and promote his economics-focused “Third Way” campaign.

DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te, vice-presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim, and President Tsai Ing-wen campaigned together and emphasized a message of not “turning back time” on progress made during the eight years of the Tsai administration. They warned of negative consequences if voters allowed the KMT to win the presidency or a legislative majority. The consequences they noted include the obstruction of defense spending, a reduction of Taiwan’s economic competitiveness, and a return to the unratified Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) that sparked mass student protests in 2014.[1]

Taiwanese media reported that many viewers commented that a recent viral DPP campaign ad resonated with them. The January 2 campaign ad, which features Lai, Tsai, and Hsiao on a road trip, received over 10 million views across social media platforms by January 5. The video showed Tsai and Lai casually chatting and joking in the car as Tsai drove around. Near the end, Tsai handed the keys to Lai and got out, telling him he was a better driver than her. The trip continued with Lai driving and his running mate Hsiao as a passenger.[2] Lai, Hsiao, and Tsai continued using the ad’s theme of “choosing the right road for Taiwan” as a motif in campaign events throughout the week.[3]

KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih, vice-presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim, party chairman Eric Chu, and top-ranked legislator-at-large nominee Han Kuo-yu attempted to secure more backing from voters who support the opposition. The KMT officials repeatedly called on supporters of TPP candidate Ko Wen-je and former independent candidate Terry Gou to strategically concentrate their votes on Hou.[4] They argued that Hou was the candidate most likely to defeat the incumbent DPP. Hou was in second place behind Lai in most polls since the November 25 candidate registration. He consistently hovered around 29% support in a weighted average of polls, compared to Lai at around 34% and Ko at around 22%. Hou and Jaw also repeatedly said that Ko and Gou would be included in discussions of their Cabinet composition if they won the election.[5] The KMT candidates also continued to attack the DPP for allegedly corrupt and ineffective governance and for creating “panic” over PRC election interference to discredit its political opponents.[6]

Ko and Gou have not been receptive to the KMT’s appeal to consolidate the opposition, however. Ko claimed that the KMT lacks integrity and that its offer to include him in its cabinet was a “trick” to promote strategic voting.[7] Terry Gou continued not responding to calls from Hou or Jaw.[8] Ko did not call on Terry Gou to endorse him but said “true friends” did not need to force each other. The president of a Gou support organization endorsed Ko and claimed that most former Gou supporters now supported Ko despite efforts by Hou’s campaign to win over Gou supporters and Gou’s previous attempts to unite the opposition against Lai.[9]

TPP presidential candidate and chairman Ko Wen-je and vice-presidential candidate Cynthia Wu Hsin-ying continued to emphasize that economic issues as central to their “Third Way” campaign. Ko published an article in The Economist in which he argued that the two dominant parties were overly focused on the “unification or independence” debate even though he claimed 90% of Taiwanese citizens supposedly support the “status quo.” He laid out broad policy proposals for “pragmatic” and “rational” domestic and international policies, listing economic development as first among them.[10] He also criticized the DPP administration for failing to construct promised social housing units.[11]

There have not been any new polls about the Taiwan election since Taiwan’s Central Election Commission instituted a “polling blackout” beginning on January 3. The final Taiwan News Poll of Polls, released on January 2, showed Lai in first place in a weighted aggregate of polls from the previous 15 days. At the time, Lai had 35.3% support, Hou had 28.7%, and Ko had 24%.[12]

PRC high-altitude balloon flights through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) have become a daily occurrence and are likely part of a CCP effort to test Taiwan’s responses and wear down its threat awareness. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported eleven PRC high-altitude balloons that floated over or around Taiwan since January 3. This number included three balloons on January 3, one on January 4, two on January 5, one on January 6, three on January 7, four on January 8, and one on January 9. At least five of the balloons flew directly over the island of Taiwan. The MND detected the balloons at altitudes ranging from 15,000 to 33,000 feet.[13] The MND first reported a PRC balloon among its daily updates of PRC violations of Taiwan’s ADIZ on December 8 and has since reported them with high frequency throughout late December and every day of 2024 so far.[14]

An MND press statement on January 6 said the balloons posed a “serious threat” to international air routes and condemned the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “disregard for the safety of passengers.” It assessed that the main purpose of the balloons is to carry out gray-zone harassment and “cognitive operations” to harm the morale of the Taiwanese people.[15] Retired Taiwanese Army Major General Ko Yung-sen echoed this perspective, saying that the balloons were part of PLA “gray zone” operations intended to normalize the PRC’s territorial claims over the Taiwan Strait and reduce Taiwanese people’s threat awareness.[16] Colonel Wang Chia-chun, who is the deputy head of the MND’s joint operations planning section, said that the CCP wanted Taiwan to shoot down the balloons, but MND would not waste ammunition attempting to do so.[17] MND previously assessed that the balloons were harmless weather balloons.[18]

The PRC has normalized daily air and naval activities around Taiwan, including near-daily aerial crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait, since 2020.[19] Taiwan does not scramble aircraft in response to all PRC ADIZ violations, but it does put military personnel on standby to respond quickly if needed. The high frequency of ADIZ violations drains Taiwan’s resources, exhausts military personnel, and degrades Taiwan’s threat awareness. The PRC’s daily balloon flights around Taiwan in 2024, including an increasing number of balloons flying directly above the island, indicate that it is trying to normalize these activities as well. Taiwan’s MND’s statements on the balloon flights and its unprecedented inclusion of the balloons in its daily maps of ADIZ violations starting in December show that Taiwan considers the balloons a part of the PRC’s broader coercion campaign.

The CCP has not issued an official explanation for the increase in balloons that have passed over Taiwan since early December. Two articles in the PRC’s state-owned Global Times on January 4 cited unnamed “experts” who claimed the PRC balloons over Taiwan were weather balloons that drifted unintentionally and said they should not be “sensationalized.”[20] ISW cannot confirm the nature of the balloons themselves, but the trend of balloons flying first near Taiwan, then directly over Taiwan in increasing numbers and frequency closer to Taiwan’s election is unlikely to be the result of natural weather patterns.

Taiwan arrested an independent legislative candidate on suspicion of accepting money from the CCP to run for office. Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) said on January 5 that it arrested independent legislative candidate for the city of Taoyuan Ma Chih-wei on suspicion of colluding with the CCP. Prosecutors said that Ma had received over 1 million NTD (over $32,000) in cryptocurrency and US dollars from a source in the PRC through money transfer apps, such as Tether. The money was intended to fund a run for a legislative seat in Taoyuan. Ma was formerly the spokesperson for the Taoyuan office of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). She failed to secure her party’s nomination for the legislative seat and continued to run as an independent, however. Ma made trips to the PRC in April, May, October, and December 2023, including a trip in May to partake in a Mazu religious pilgrimage and meet with CCP contacts together with the current chairman of the TPP’s Taoyuan Office Huang Cheng-chun.[21] Prosecutors also accused Ma of passing information about intelligence officials and classified information about her legislative race to PRC contacts.[22]

Trips to the PRC by Taiwanese politicians have been a frequent source of controversy during the last few months of the Taiwanese election. A Keelung borough warden on January 9 became the first borough warden to be indicted for allegedly leading a CCP-funded group trip to the PRC, where participants were encouraged to support certain legislative candidates in Taiwan. A borough warden is a type of local official below the municipal level. Taipei prosecutors had previously questioned 41 borough wardens in December over similar trips they made to the PRC.[23]

The CCP threatened further economic punitive measures against Taiwan related to the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). The PRC’s Ministry of Commerce said on January 9 that it was “studying” additional measures to suspend tariff concessions for certain Taiwanese products under ECFA because Taiwanese authorities had “not taken any effective measures to ease trade restrictions.” Targeted industries may include agriculture, fishing, machinery, auto parts, and textiles.[24] The PRC previously announced on December 15 that Taiwan had violated its commitments under ECFA by imposing “trade barriers” on trade with the PRC.[25] On December 21 it announced it would end tariff restrictions on 12 chemical products originating in Taiwan.[26] Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said on January 9 that the PRC had ignored Taiwanese proposals to negotiate trade disputes within the framework of ECFA because it was determined to interfere in Taiwan’s election. The MAC issued its “strongest condemnation” of the CCP and said the CCP’s methods would not succeed in intimidating Taiwanese people and forcing them to submit.[27]

The CCP’s threat of additional economic punishment for Taiwan conflicts with the party’s simultaneous measures to promote cross-strait economic integration, however. On January 8, the PRC Ministry of Commerce, Taiwan Affairs Office, National Development and Reform Commission, and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology jointly released new guidelines to help the PRC’s Fujian Province deepen economic integration with Taiwan. The guidelines said Fujian would establish an institutional system and regulatory model conducive to cross-strait integrated development, including encouragement for Taiwanese businesses to explore the Chinese market.[28] The CCP Central Committee previously announced in September 2023 that Fujian would be built into a “demonstration zone” for cross-strait integrated development.[29] A January 8 Global Times article said the measures were meant to boost Taiwanese business confidence in the PRC and to demonstrate “goodwill” toward Taiwan in alleged contrast with actions by Taiwan’s DPP administration.[30] The CCP’s policies to promote economic integration with Taiwan are part of a long-term effort to increase PRC influence over Taiwan. In the short term, these measures may serve as a “carrot” to incentivize Taiwanese businessmen to support the KMT in pairing with the “stick” of threatening economic “retaliation” to punish the DPP.

China

The People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command conducted air and naval exercises in the South China Sea from January 3 to 5.[31] The exercises were in response to joint Philippines-United States operations in the South China Sea from January 3 to 4, which the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson led.[32] These operations occurred in the wake of CCP harassment of Philippine ships near Philippine-controlled territory since December. Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels attempted to thwart Philippine supply missions near the Second Thomas Shoal by firing water cannons and acoustic weapons at Philippine government ships delivering supplies on December 9 and 10, for example. A CCG vessel also rammed a Philippine ship near Second Thomas Shoal.[33] The PRC MFA inaccurately framed the Philippines as the instigator on December 25 by stating that it “provocatively violated relevant waters in the South China Sea, spread false information, and colluded with external forces to undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea.”[34] The PRC MFA repeated this language on January 4 by claiming that US-Philippine naval activities “hinder the management and control of maritime situations and disputes.”[35]

The December purges of top PLA military and defense industry officials reflect Xi Jinping’s fears of disloyalty in the military and show the anti-corruption campaign has not yet succeeded in rooting out endemic corruption in the military. Bloomberg reported that United States intelligence assessments attribute the purges of top military and defense industry officials in late December to graft that resulted in missiles filled with water and missile silos with improper lids.[36] PLA Navy Lt. Col. Yao Cheng, who defected to the United States in 2016, stated that widespread misappropriation of the equipment budget for events such as dinners was common during his time in the PLA.[37] This shows that the extent of corruption before Xi’s 2015-2016 PLA reforms stretched beyond the military leadership to the officer cadre. The December 2023 purges demonstrate that those reforms did not eliminate lower-level corruption because the purged PLA leadership were burgeoning leaders a decade ago.

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[38] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[39] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[40] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[41] Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane…trying to secure a better deal for China.”[42] The US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for renewing the COFAs in a mid-December report.[43] President Biden signed the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act into law on December 22, but it did not include COFA funding.[44] Funding the COFAs is a key part of the US Pacific Partnership Strategy to “fulfill our [United States] historical commitments and strengthen our enduring relationships with the full Pacific Islands region, including our special relationship with the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.”[45] Palau’s President, Surangel Whipps Jr, expressed concern in a December 27 interview with ABC Australia over the lack of Congressional-approved funding for the COFA agreement, in part because the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement was not funded by the US Congress until 2018.[46]

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[47]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would cause severe financial pressure in Palau because COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of the national government’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[48] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[49] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would also exacerbate the CCP narrative put forth by the propaganda outlet Global Times that the United States only cares about Palau for security reasons rather than mutually beneficial cooperation. [50] The Palau Senate passed a resolution in November rejecting the permanent deployment of a US Patriot missile defense battery.[51] This was the first instance of lawmakers challenging President Surangel Whipps Jr’s request for the United States to construct an over-the-horizon radar system in Palau.[52] In a December 27 interview with ABC Australia, Whipps tied this Palau Senate resolution to a narrative among unspecified portions of Palau that the United States actions were not in the best interests of Palau, as seen by the repeated delay in COFA funding.[53] The associated fiscal challenges that Palau faces without COFA funding buttresses the CCP’s narrative, which in turn creates hurdles for deploying mutually beneficial United States defense resources to the country.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[54] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[55] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[56] The loss of COFA funding would also provide opportunities for external powers such as the CCP to enhance their economic influence in the country by filling these funding gaps.

The COFA funding also makes up $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands national government's annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[57] The loss of COFA funding would expose the country to similar severe fiscal challenges as Palau and Micronesia.

PRC in the Middle East

The Times of Israel reported that Israeli Defense Forces encountered “vast quantities of weapons manufactured by China” in Gaza.[59] Business Insider reported that the weapons included items, such as assault rifles and grenade launchers. An unspecified Israeli intelligence source expressed concern over the technological sophistication of the uncovered weaponry and communications technology because it is “stuff that Hamas didn’t have before, with very sophisticated explosives which have never been found before and especially on such a large scale.” [60] It remains unclear whether the PRC knowingly supplied the weapons to Hamas or if the group acquired these weapons via a third party.

The PRC is currently pursuing a diplomatic line of effort that aims to supplant US influence with Arab states by proposing what it claims to be a more inclusive and cooperative regional security framework.[61] This involves portraying Washington as a self-interested and destabilizing influence in the region while simultaneously positioning Beijing as an altruistic and unbiased actor.[62] The use of Chinese weapons by Hamas contributes to undercutting this narrative, regardless of whether Beijing knowingly supplied these items.

The CCP is balancing in Yemen by financially supporting the Republic of Yemen and avoiding condemning the Houthis. The Charge d'affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Yemen Shao Zheng held a meeting with Director of the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yemen al-Qadir in Riyadh on January 7.[63] The meeting comes in the aftermath of a December 7 “economic and technical cooperation agreement” between the Republic of Yemen and the People’s Republic of China.[64] The Republic of Yemen is a separate political entity from the Houthi Movement, which ISW and CTP have assessed is attacking shipping in the Red Sea as part of a broader regional escalation strategy led by Iran.[65] The CCP meeting with the Republic of Yemen official allows the PRC to claim it supports stability and economic development in the region.

PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin instead called on January 4 for all parties to “play a constructive and responsible role” in keeping the Red Sea safe.[66] The CCP avoided condemning Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. The absent condemnation of the Houthis reflects the PRC aiming to avoid antagonizing Iran.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, January 4, 2024 

Click here to read the full report.

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: January 2 at 5pm ET 

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. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te continues to lead in the polls.
  2. Taiwan’s three presidential candidates participated in a televised debate on December 30.
  3. The PRC is continuing its intimidation tactics toward Taiwan before the election.
  4. The PRC’s removal of top military and defense industry officials from political bodies reflects Xi Jinping’s continuing efforts to purge corruption and strengthen the loyalty of the military.
  5. Xi Jinping appointed Admiral Dong Jun as the new Minister of National Defense on December 29.
  6. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping reiterated his vision to forge a Sino-centric international order in statements around the new year.
  7. A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries.
  8. PRC Consul General in Jeddah Wang Qiming authored an article on the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” in the Saudi media outlet Okaz that supports a CCP line of effort to supplant US influence in Arab states.

Taiwan

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te continues to lead in the polls. Polls from all major organizations in Taiwan show that Lai maintains a lead of at least three percentage points over Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih. Lai’s lead is greater than the margin of error. Some polls, such as Formosa and Mirror News, show that Lai holds more than a ten-point lead over Hou. The Poll of Polls, which is a weighted average of public election polls over the past 15 days that Taiwan News publishes, shows slight changes in candidate support levels since last week. Lai’s support has remained mostly steady at 35.3%, while support for Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je grew by three percentage points to 24%. Hou fell nearly two points to 28.7%, however.[1] The slight shift in voter support comes after three televised policy presentations from the presidential candidates on December 20, 22, and 26. These are the last polls in the run-up to the presidential election, as Taiwan entered a ten-day poll “blackout” period on January 3 ahead of the election on January 13.[2][3]

Taiwan’s three presidential candidates participated in a televised debate on December 30. This is the first time the candidates have directly faced off against each other in the election. Cross-strait issues dominated the debate and were a main source of criticism from all three candidates. The candidates also sparred over individual real estate controversies and attacked each other’s integrity for alleged improprieties. KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih and TPP candidate Ko Wen-je took an especially offensive position against DPP candidate Lai Ching-te, sharply criticizing the latter’s cross-strait policy and alleging illegal construction practices on his home in New Taipei City. The candidates did not raise any new issues or make major announcements. They mostly reiterated previously stated policy positions.

DPP candidate Lai Ching-te maintained his emphasis on cross-strait issues, consistent with his presidential platform. Lai signaled continuity with President Tsai Ing-wen in foreign and domestic policy, touting the DPP’s diplomacy as the reason for Taiwan’s deepening integration into the international community.[4] Lai advocated for giving priority to the protection of human rights, democracy, and freedom in Taiwan, and promised not to allow the Republic of China (ROC) constitution’s surviving claims to mainland China to steer cross-strait relations.[5] Lai labeled the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the greatest threat to Taiwan’s existence, while the other two candidates refrained from doing so when prompted.[6] Lai addressed criticisms of support for Taiwan’s independence, stating that the PRC and ROC’s existence are not at odds with each other and are completely unrelated, which is the definition of independence.[7] The PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) condemned Lai’s statements during the debate. TAO spokesperson Chen Binhua threatened Lai that Taiwanese independence is incompatible with cross-strait peace.[8]

KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih called out the perceived failures of the incumbent DPP administration, ranging from the deterioration of cross-strait relations to domestic governance issues. Hou criticized President Tsai’s diplomatic strategy, pointing to Taiwan’s loss of nine diplomatic partners during her presidency.[9] Hou highlighted the lack of cross-strait communication, dialogue, and exchange under Tsai. Hou expressed disapproval at the high rate of prosecution under Taiwan’s Anti-Infiltration Act during the election process and stated the judiciary should not be used as a tool for political gain.[10] The Anti-Infiltration Act is a law passed in 2019 that aims to prevent foreign influence from undermining Taiwan’s national interests.[11] Taipei authorities launched an investigation of 41 municipal borough wardens for suspected violation of the Anti-Infiltration Act after the wardens made a series of trips to the PRC at the invitation of the Taiwan Affairs Office.[12] Hou and his running mate Jaw Shaw-kong previously downplayed wrongdoing and accused the DPP of selectively prosecuting during the election process.[13]

TPP candidate Ko Wen-je appealed to voters to seize the chance to break the cycle of DPP and KMT governments. Ko championed a new Taiwan that rejects societal division and the entrenched ideology of former administrations. He characterized the DPP government as one of shortage and waste, advocating for a government that favors rationality, pragmatism, and science. Ko sought to distance himself from the other candidates’ polarizing positions on cross-strait relations. He urged Taiwan to find balance in an international structure increasingly defined by US-China competition. Ko asserted that Taiwan should be a bridge between the US and China, not a pawn in their confrontation.[14] He distanced himself from the concept that “two sides of the strait are one family,” calling the statement a symbol of goodwill while noting the differences in values and way of life between the PRC and Taiwan.[15] “Two sides of the Strait are one family” is a political platitude pushed by the CCP to lend credence to its One-China principle and warm Taiwan to the idea of unification.[16] Ko previously expressed support for the concept in 2017 during his tenure as mayor of Taipei.[17]

The PRC is continuing its intimidation tactics toward Taiwan before the election. Revelations of numerous possible PRC gray zone activities and influence operations against Taiwan circulated throughout Taiwanese media since last week.

Reuters reported on December 28 that the PRC pressured the popular Taiwanese band Mayday to support the PRC’s claim that Taiwan is a part of China.[18] Reuters cited an anonymous source who provided access to an internal security note that details the PRC’s threats to fine the band for lip-syncing, a fraudulent offense in the PRC. A Taiwanese security official asserted that the PRC’s intimidation of Mayday was to influence Taiwan’s youth vote. Spokesperson for Lai’s campaign Chao Yi-hsiang stated the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) election interference is becoming increasingly obvious.[19] Ko Wen-je stated that he condemned the PRC’s actions if the story was true.[20] The KMT issued a press release calling on Reuters to release its source for verification.[21]

Two PRC tugboats entered within three nautical miles of Taiwan’s southern coast on December 31.[22] Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) dispatched a vessel to expel the boats, which were towing a barge northward. The radio operator on one of the tugboats mocked the CGA’s warnings but left Taiwan’s waters without incident.

PRC high-altitude balloons passed directly over Taiwan for the first time on January 1, 2, and 3. At least five of the nine balloons that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) detected within Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since January 1 flew above the island. The MND detected two balloons on January 1, one of which flew over Taiwan.[23] The MND detected four balloons on January 2, with three flying over Taiwan.[24] The MND detected 3 balloons on January 3, with at least one flying over the island.[25]

The PRC sending the balloons over Taiwan is likely part of a broader effort to wear down Taiwan’s resources and response capabilities. The PRC has normalized daily air and naval activities around Taiwan, including near-daily aerial crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait, since 2020. The MND publicly stated that the balloons were weather balloons but has started including them among its daily reports of PRC ADIZ incursions since December 8.[26] The frequency and number of consecutive instances is increasing since the MND started reporting the balloons. MND’s unprecedented inclusion of balloon flights in its daily updates and maps of ADIZ violations in December shows that Taiwan is increasingly concerned about these balloons and may consider them part of the PRC’s broader coercion campaign.

China
The PRC’s removal of top military and defense industry officials from political bodies reflects Xi Jinping’s continuing efforts to purge corruption and strengthen the loyalty of the military. The PRC’s National People’s Congress (NPC) abruptly removed nine high-ranking military figures as representatives to the legislative body on December 29. It did not explain the decision. The purged members included five current or former commanders of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), two members from the Equipment Development Department (EDD), one from the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), and one from the PLA Navy (PLAN). This is the first time that top air force and naval officers were implicated in the recent purges.

  • Former PLARF commander Li Yuchao, who was relieved of command in July 2023 due to a corruption investigation.
  • Former PLARF commander Zhou Yaning, Li Yuchao’s predecessor.
  • PLARF deputy commander Li Chuanguang.
  • Former PLARF deputy commander Zhang Zhenzhong. Zhang was Li Yuchao’s deputy and was placed under corruption investigations at the same time as Li.
  • PLARF head of equipment development Lu Hong.
  • Former deputy director of the General Armament Department (now replaced by the EDD) Zhang Yulin.
  • EDD deputy director Rao Wenmin.
  • Former PLAAF commander Ding Laihang.
  • PLAN Southern Theater Commander Ju Xinchun.[27]

The EDD opened a corruption investigation in the summer of 2023 into hardware procurement going back to 2017, which overlaps with the period that former defense minister Li Shangfu led the procurement department. Li Shangfu was removed from his post in October 2023 following a corruption investigation.[28] Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) said the purged Rocket Force members represented most of the PLARF’s top leadership since the service was established in the 2015 reorganization of the PLA. SCMP also reported that removal from the NPC may be a sign of future disciplinary action, as NPC members are immune from arrest or criminal charges. The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) also removed three defense industry executives as representatives on December 27. The executives were Wu Yansheng, chairman of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC); Liu Shiquan, chairman of the board of China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco); and Wang Changqing, deputy manager of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). All three are top executives at major state-owned defense technology firms and do not appear to have lost their positions at their companies as of January 2.[29]

The purges from the NPC and CPPCC appear as part of a trend of intensifying anti-corruption efforts in the military in 2023, which primarily focused on the Rocket Force and equipment procurement department. They are also part of Xi Jinping’s broader Anti-Corruption Campaign that began in 2013, which has recently intensified its targeting of senior PRC officials. SCMP reported that the PRC’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) investigated a record-breaking 45 senior officials in 2023, a 40% jump from 32 senior officials in 2022. 27 of the 45 officials had already retired from their roles, showing that CCDI is breaking from precedent by investigating retired officials.[30] The purges indicate Xi’s perspective that the PLA is not sufficiently loyal to the party and his willingness to risk projecting instability within the CCP to establish loyalty within the party.

Xi Jinping appointed Admiral Dong Jun as the new Minister of National Defense on December 29.[31] He is replacing former Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu, who disappeared from public view in August and formally lost his position in October.[32] The PRC has not had a Minister of National Defense since then. Dong most recently served as commander of the PLAN from September 2021 to December 2023.[33] Xi promoted Hu Zhongming to the rank of admiral to replace Dong as the PLAN commander.[34] Dong is the first PLAN officer to become Minister of National Defense. He has experience commanding theater joint operations within the PLA since 2013 and extensive international engagement with navies ranging from Chile to Sweden, including joint exercises with Russia and Pakistan.[35] His background in joint operations aligns with ongoing efforts to enhance interoperability between service branches. Dong’s experience engaging with foreign interlocutors prepares him for the international representation and communication component inherent in the position of Minister of National Defense.

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping reiterated his vision to forge a Sino-centric international order in statements around the new year. The Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs is a key foreign policy meeting that occurs approximately every five years. Xi’s December 28 speech at the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs conveyed his view that “the world has entered into a new period of turbulence and change,” but the general trend toward “a shared destiny for the international community will not change.”[36] He further stated that the PRC has “greater moral appeal” and needs to “hold the international moral high ground, and unite and rally the overwhelming majority of the world.”[37] His rhetoric on holding the international moral high ground includes taking policy positions opposing American geopolitical stances. One example of this is the PRC claiming to hold the moral high ground in the Israel-Hamas War by advocating for an immediate ceasefire in contrast to the allegedly “biased” United States.[38]

Xi framed the People’s Republic of China as pursuing a path of “peaceful development” and “win-win cooperation” while building “a community with a shared future for mankind” in his New Year’s speech.[39] Xi also reiterated the CCP’s view in his New Year’s speech that unifying with Taiwan was a “historical necessity.”[40] His rhetoric toward Taiwan in this speech is consistent with CCP policy that falsely views Taiwan as a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than the current sovereign state of the Republic of China. Xi’s rhetoric does not indicate that the CCP intends to manufacture an imminent crisis over Taiwan. Eventual unification with Taiwan is central to Xi’s objective of forging a Sino-centric international system.

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[41] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[42] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[43] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[44] Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane…trying to secure a better deal for China.”[45] The US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for renewing the COFAs in a mid-December report.[46] President Biden signed the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act into law on December 22, but it did not include COFA funding.[47] Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr expressed concern in a December 27 interview with ABC Australia over the lack of Congressional-approved funding for the COFA agreement, in part because the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement was not funded by the US Congress until 2018.[48] 

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[49]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would cause severe financial pressure in Palau because COFA funding accounts for $36.9 million of the national government’s annual $124.2 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[50] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[51] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would also exacerbate the CCP narrative put forth by the propaganda outlet Global Times that the United States only cares about Palau for security reasons rather than mutually beneficial cooperation. [52] The Palau Senate passed a resolution in November rejecting the permanent deployment of a US Patriot missile defense battery.[53] This was the first instance of lawmakers challenging President Surangel Whipps Jr’s request for the United States to construct an over-the-horizon radar system in Palau.[54] In a December 27 interview with ABC Australia, Whipps tied this Palau Senate resolution to a narrative among unspecified portions of Palau that the United States actions were not in the best interests of Palau, as seen by the repeated delay in COFA funding.[55] The associated fiscal challenges that Palau faces without COFA funding buttresses the CCP’s narrative, which in turn creates hurdles for deploying mutually beneficial United States defense resources to the country.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[56] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[57] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[58] The loss of COFA funding would also provide opportunities for external powers such as the CCP to enhance their economic influence in the country by filling these funding gaps.

The COFA funding also makes up $35.2 million of the Marshall Islands national government's annual $173.9 million revenue as of fiscal year 2023.[59] The loss of COFA funding would expose the country to similar severe fiscal challenges as Palau and Micronesia.

Israel-Hamas War

PRC Consul General in Jeddah Wang Qiming authored an article on the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” in the Saudi media outlet Okaz that supports a CCP line of effort to supplant US influence in Arab states. He framed the PRC as standing “on the side of peace, justice, [and] international law” by making “efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”[61] Wang emphasized that the PRC's efforts to push for an immediate ceasefire and two-state solution as evidence for this framing. He then touted the Global Security Initiative to show that the CCP is dedicated to achieving “security and stability in the Middle East.”[62] Wang’s article aligns with the PRC’s diplomatic and information lines of effort that aim to supplant US influence with Arab states by proposing what it claims to be a more inclusive and cooperative regional security framework.[63] This involves portraying Washington as a self-interested and destabilizing influence in the region while simultaneously positioning Beijing as an altruistic and unbiased actor.[64]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, December 28, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, Ian Jones, and Frank Hoffman of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: December 28, 2023 at 5pm EST

Key Takeaways   

  1. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te remains first in the polls.
  2. Two Chinese high-altitude balloons have moved through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since December 20.
  3. The People's Republic of China (PRC) continued to accuse the Philippines of “colluding with external forces” and deliberately provoking confrontations after a series of maritime confrontations in the South China Sea in December.
  4. A PRC-brokered ceasefire agreement has failed to stop the fighting between the government of Myanmar and three rebel groups in Myanmar.
  5. A loss of Compacts of Free Association funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to expand its leverage points over these countries.

Taiwan

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te continues to lead in the polls. The polls that Formosa and ETtoday released between December 20 through December 24 showed that Lai has a roughly 5% lead over Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih.[1] The Poll of Polls, which is a weighted average of public election polls over the past 15 days that Taiwan News publishes, showed a similar lead for Lai as of December 25. Lai received 34.91% support, Hou received 30.49% support, and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je received 20.90% support, according to the aggregated polling numbers.[2] The support levels do not reflect significant change since last week.

Two Formosa polls from December 25 and 26 indicate that Lai’s lead over Hou is steadily increasing. The December 25 poll showed Lai at 37.5% support compared to Hou’s 30.49%.[3] The December 26 poll showed Lai at 38.9% support compared to Hou’s 29.4%.[4] This is the largest gap between the candidates since the November 15 Formosa polling. It is also the first time that Hou has fallen below 30% support since then.[5]

The increase in support for Lai may be due to a shift in young voters from Ko. Support for Lai among the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups in the December 26 Formosa poll was 34.8% and 31.0%, respectively.[6] Lai’s polling among the 20-29 age group increased from 20.8% in Formosa’s December 21 poll and has held steady between 34-35% through Formosa’s December 22-26 polling. Lai’s polling among the 30-39 age group decreased slightly between December 22 and 25 from 34.7% to 27.6% before increasing back to 31% on December 26.[7] Support for Ko among the same demographics was 29.9% and 30.4% on December 26.[8] Ko’s support among the 20-29 age group fell from a high of 38.2% on December 22 and support within the 30-39 age group has remained steady at 30-31%.[9]

Hou’s decline in polling could be partly attributed to a decrease in support among the KMT voter base. Support for Hou within the KMT base fell from 91.9% on December 20 to 87.5% on December 26, according to the latest Formosa poll. Support among his base had been above 90% since candidate registration on November 24.[10]

Taiwan’s three presidential candidates gave televised policy presentations on December 20, 26, and 28. Cross-strait issues featured heavily in all three presentations. Taiwan’s political status, sovereignty, and trade with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were some of the most in-focus topics. Candidates also discussed a wide range of domestic political issues, such as public security, housing, and energy policy.

DPP candidate Lai Ching-te used his time to highlight the looming threat from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and emphasize the importance of upholding Taiwan’s sovereignty. Lai related domestic governance to cross-strait issues, asserting that equitable development and economic prosperity hinged on preserving Taiwan’s democracy in the face of authoritarian expansion.[11] Lai likened economic treaties between Taiwan and the PRC as conforming to the One-China principle and urged for separate economic development initiatives to counteract the PRC’s weaponization of trade for political leverage.[12] The One-China principle describes the PRC's position that the PRC is the sole legal representative of China and that Taiwan is a part of China. Neither Taiwan nor the United States recognize the One-China principle.

KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih mostly focused on promoting domestic governance proposals while criticizing Lai and the DPP administration for encouraging formal Taiwanese independence.[13] Hou defended the KMT’s cross-strait policy against claims of alignment with unification, stressing his fundamental support for Taiwan’s democracy and freedom.[14] Hou disparaged the DPP for what the KMT perceives as independence-minded policies that are directly harmful to the livelihoods of Taiwan’s citizens. Hou pointed to the PRC’s December 21 suspension of tariff reductions under the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) as a consequence of the DPP’s inflammatory approach to cross-strait relations.[15] The PRC Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Chen Binhua blamed the DPP’s “separatist stance” for the tariff reduction suspension on December 27.[16] The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) consistently points to the DPP’s alleged secessionism as the source of tension in cross-strait relations.[17]

TPP candidate Ko Wen-je emphasized domestic governance issues, keeping with his appeal to voters who are weary of cross-strait issues dominating the political discourse. Ko addressed issues such as Taiwan’s aging population, housing policy, and government reforms.[18] Ko presented his cross-strait policy as an alternative to the polarizing extremes of an independence-focused DPP and unification-focused KMT. Ko accused his opponents of promoting cross-strait policies that disrupt the status quo and are unacceptable to both the Taiwanese public and the international community.[19] Ko asserted Taiwan’s status as a sovereign and independent nation while advocating for pragmatic diplomacy that balances cross-strait engagement with strong international partnerships and national defense capabilities. [20]

The three vice-presidential candidates also gave a televised policy presentation on December 22. The candidates’ messaging reflected that of their running mates. DPP vice-presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim criticized the KMT for proposing a trade policy that would increase Taiwan’s economic reliance on the PRC at a time when other countries were reducing their economic exposure to the PRC.[21] KMT vice-presidential candidate Jaw Shaw-kong used strong language to criticize the DPP and Lai’s independence stance, referring to the latter as a “terrorist” endangering cross-strait relations.[22] TPP vice-presidential candidate Cynthia Wu did not discuss cross-strait issues and instead emphasized economic issues.[23] The vice-presidential candidates maintain a relatively strong presence in the public eye thanks to their high-profile positions in government and media, making their policy presentation potentially more consequential to the race.

The format of the presidential and vice-presidential presentations was similar to that of a debate. The candidates shared the stage to articulate policy stances and often used their allotted time to criticize each other. The presidential candidates will participate in a formal televised debate on December 30. The vice-presidential candidates will participate in a debate on January 1.

Two Chinese high-altitude balloons have moved through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since December 20. One balloon crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on December 22 and the other crossed the median line on December 24.[24] Five other balloons previously crossed the median line between December 7 and 19.[25] The balloons floated at altitudes between 12,000 and 26,000 feet. [26] Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) reported a similar balloon above Taipei on February 10.[27] The MND and the director-general of Taiwan’s Central Weather Service have also reported at least seven balloon sightings over Taiwan between 2021 and 2022. The Financial Times quoted unnamed Taiwanese officials as stating Chinese balloons “come very frequently” and “on average once a month” in a February 12 report.[28] The unnamed officials stated that the February balloons’ dimensions and payload “put them outside the scope of ordinary weather balloons.”[29]

The PRC sending the balloons across the median line of the Taiwan Strait is likely part of a broader effort to wear down Taiwan’s resources and response capabilities. The PRC has normalized daily air and naval activities around Taiwan, including near-daily aerial crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait, since 2020. The MND publicly stated that the balloons were weather balloons but has started including them among its daily reports of PRC ADIZ incursions since December 8.[30] MND’s unprecedented inclusion of balloon flights in its daily updates and maps of ADIZ violations in December shows that Taiwan is increasingly concerned about these balloons and may consider them part of the PRC’s broader coercion campaign.

South China Sea

The PRC continued to accuse the Philippines of “colluding with external forces” and deliberately provoking confrontations after a series of maritime confrontations in the South China Sea in December. On December 9 and 10, Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels attempted to thwart Philippine supply missions near Scarborough and Second Thomas Shoals by firing water cannons and acoustic weapons at Philippine government ships delivering supplies. A CCG vessel rammed a Philippine ship near Second Thomas Shoal.[31] Both countries claim both maritime features. The PRC administers Scarborough Shoal since seizing control of it in 2012, while the Philippines administers Second Thomas Shoal.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attributed the recent “difficulties” to the Philippines' “altered policy stance, failure to uphold commitments, and provocative actions in disputed waters” during a December 20 phone call with Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo. Wang said that Beijing wished to resolve the disputes through consultation but warned of “resolute responses” if the Philippines continued its “disruptive actions.”[32] The MFA spokesperson said on December 25 that the Philippines had “repeatedly violated and provocatively violated relevant waters in the South China Sea, spread false information, and colluded with external forces to undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea.”[33] PRC state media, such as People’s Daily, also wrote that the Philippines relied on US support to “provoke” the PRC.[34] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) also harshly criticized and warned the Philippines through December 26. The Philippines denied on December 26 that it had acted provocatively and instead blamed the PRC for escalating its tactics.[35]

The United States and Japan have shown support for the Philippines during the recent disputes with the PRC. The US, Japanese, and Filipino national security advisors participated in a trilateral call on December 13 in which they denounced the PRC’s aggression against the Philippines and expressed their commitment to closer security cooperation.[36] Japan also provided the Philippine Air Force with an advanced air surveillance radar system on December 20. The provision was part of a $110 million deal for four units that Japan and the Philippines signed in 2020. The radar system will help the Philippines detect intrusions around any part of the country and its claimed territories. This transfer marks Japan’s first export of a complete defense product since it eased its arms trade ban in 2014.[37]

Myanmar

A PRC-brokered ceasefire agreement has failed to stop the fighting between the government of Myanmar and three rebel groups in Myanmar. Three ethnic rebel groups formed a “brotherhood alliance” and began an offensive in northern Myanmar against the ruling junta on October 27. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed on December 14 that it had brokered a temporary ceasefire between the Myanmar military government and the three allied rebel groups.[38] The PRC MFA spokesperson confirmed on December 19 and 20 that the PRC had hosted ceasefire negotiations in Kunming that resulted in an agreement on December 14. He said the PRC was working to get the warring parties to implement the terms of the agreement, exercise “maximum restraint,” and “properly manage occasional frictions during the ceasefire process.”[39] Fighting between the rebel factions and the government has continued throughout Myanmar, however. A rebel group captured the border town of Namhsan one day after the alleged ceasefire on December 15.[40] Rebels also carried out attacks on military bases and bombings in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay.[41] The PRC MFA spokesperson confirmed on December 19 and 20 that the PRC had hosted ceasefire negotiations in Kunming that resulted in an agreement on December 14. He said the PRC was working to get the warring parties to implement the terms of the agreement, exercise “maximum restraint,” and “properly manage occasional frictions during the ceasefire process.”[42]

The MFA has repeatedly urged the belligerent parties to maintain the security and stability of the PRC-Myanmar border and safeguard the safety of Chinese projects and personnel in Myanmar.[43] The fighting has resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of PRC nationals. One such incident was possibly due to an artillery shell that the junta forces fired which landed in the PRC. [44] The fighting has also blocked PRC–Myanmar cross-border trade and sent thousands of Myanmar nationals to briefly seek safety in the PRC.[45] [46] The CCP may also seek to negotiate a ceasefire to bolster its diplomatic reputation. The PRC has often portrayed itself as a promoter of global peace, security, and stability, for example through its Global Security Initiative.[47]

The PRC has also been using the fighting to crack down on cyber scam centers based in northern Myanmar, which defraud Chinese nationals and have kidnapped thousands of Chinese to work for them.[48] The PRC has offered rewards for the capture of criminal leaders and carried out joint policing with Myanmar authorities, which culminated in Myanmar authorities handing over 31,000 cybercrime suspects to the PRC as of November 21.[49] The junta has since said it is limited in its ability to do more because the scam centers are in areas held by rebel groups.[50] The allied rebel groups have also targeted cyber scam centers and announced eradicating such centers as a major goal of their offensive.[51]

Israel-Hamas War

Chinese state media portrayed the U.S.-proposed “Guardian Shield” multinational Red Sea naval task force as a self-serving and ineffective move that will worsen the situation in the Red Sea and the Middle East. Chinese state media questioned the effectiveness of the initiative and accused the U.S. of being biased and hegemonic in its approach.[52] Chinese media analysis of the situation acknowledged the global implications of the Red Sea crisis, such as the disruption of shipping routes, the increase in costs and prices, and the pressure on the supply chain, but dismissed Guardian Shield as a "band-aid.”[53] State-controlled media outlets emphasized that the “root cause of a series of problems in the Middle East … lies in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” and stressed the need for a ceasefire.[54] The PRC has not signaled any willingness or interest to support the U.S.-led regional security initiatives to protect maritime shipping through the Bab al Mandeb and Red Sea.[55]

The reaction from Chinese state media aligns with the PRC’s diplomatic and information lines of effort that aim to supplant U.S. influence with Arab states by proposing what it claims to be a more inclusive and cooperative regional security framework.[56] This involves portraying Washington as a self-interested and destabilizing influence in the region while simultaneously positioning Beijing as an altruistic and unbiased actor.[57]

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[58] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[59] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[60] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[61] Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane…trying to secure a better deal for China.”[62] The US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for renewing the COFAs in a mid-December report.[63] President Biden signed the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act into law on December 22, but it did not include COFA funding.[64]

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[65]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would exacerbate Palau’s existing deficit, which amounts to $37 million as of its 2021 budget of $150 million.[66] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[67] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would also exacerbate the CCP narrative put forth by the propaganda outlet Global Times that the United States only cares about Palau for security reasons rather than mutually beneficial cooperation. [68] The Palau Senate passed a resolution in November rejecting the permanent deployment of a US Patriot missile defense battery.[69] This was the first instance of lawmakers challenging President Surangel Whipps Jr’s request for the United States to construct an over-the-horizon radar system in Palau.[70] The associated fiscal cliff that Palau faces without COFA funding buttresses the CCP’s narrative, which in turn creates hurdles for deploying mutually beneficial United States defense resources to the country.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[71] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[72] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[73] The loss of COFA funding would also provide opportunities for external powers such as the CCP to enhance their economic influence in the country by filling these funding gaps.


China-Taiwan Weekly Update, December 21, 2023

Click here to read the full report with maps

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: December 21, 2023 at 12pm EST

Key Takeaways 

1. The Taiwanese government and DPP officials, including Vice President Lai Ching-te, accused the PRC of using an ongoing trade investigation to interfere in Taiwan’s election. 

2. ROC authorities are investigating reports that local Taiwanese officials accepted CCP-funded trips to the PRC and received instructions to back particular candidates in the presidential elections.

3. Five Chinese balloons moved through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone since December 7. This may be part of a broader effort to wear down Taiwan’s resources and response capabilities.

4. Chinese Maritime Militia vessels entered the Philippines-controlled Second Thomas Shoal after the PRC attempted to deny access to Filipino government vessels on routine resupply missions on December 9 and 10.

5. The PRC, Saudi Arabia, and Iran held their first trilateral joint committee on December 15 in Beijing.

 

Taiwan

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te continues to lead in the polls. A Taiwan News Poll of Polls released on December 20 showed Lai with 34.34% support, Hou with 30.01%, and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je in third place with 20.83%.[1] The Poll of Polls is a weighted average of all public election polls in Taiwan over the past 15 days. The previous polling release on December 15 release showed that both Lai and Hou briefly reached their highest levels of support since the Poll of Polls began on September 1, with 15-day averages of 36% and 31.2% support, respectively. Ko has dropped from 21.84% on December 10.[2]

Support for Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih has plateaued even as he has become the clear leader of the opposition to Lai. Hou and his running mate Jaw Shaw-kong are continuing efforts to consolidate the KMT base. Their efforts include Hou supporting the revival the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which is an unratified 2010 trade agreement with the PRC that the KMT Ma Ying-jeou administration negotiated.[3] KMT Chairman Eric Chu also claimed that “nearly all” supporters of former independent candidate Terry Gou have shifted to supporting the KMT ticket.[4] The KMT is seeing diminishing returns, however. Formosa E-News polling shows Hou’s support from self-identified KMT voters rose above 90 percent after November 25 but stayed in the low 90s since then.[5]  The KMT has also been making outreach efforts to young voters, one of its weakest demographics.[6]

Ko remains in third place in the polls and his level of support has gradually declined since the November 25 candidate registration. Taiwanese media have reported that a type of strategic voting called the “dump/save” effect may be one factor influencing the polling trends.[7] The dump/save effect is a phenomenon in which supporters of a third-place candidate shift to a higher-ranked candidate once it is clear who the race’s two frontrunners are. Ko acknowledged that such an effect may be occurring but downplayed its impact, saying his “third force” would persist.[8]

The PRC’s Ministry of Commerce announced on December 15 that Taiwan violated a joint economic cooperation agreement. The PRC announced after an eight-month investigation that “Taiwan’s trade restrictions on the mainland [China] constitute a trade barrier” in violation of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). The PRC and ROC signed the EFCA in 2010, which committed both parties to gradually eliminate most of the trade barriers between them. The PRC’s Ministry of Commerce alleged that Taiwan had banned 2,509 imports from the PRC as of November 2023.[9] The PRC’s Ministry of Commerce announced the investigation on April 12, the same day the DPP nominated Lai Ching-te as its presidential candidate and said that it would last until October 9.[10] On October 9, the ministry extended the investigation to January 12, the day before Taiwan’s election, however.[11] The timing suggests that the PRC intends for the investigation to influence the election.

The PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office announced its support for implementing “corresponding measures” in response to Taiwan’s alleged violations on December 15.[12] The PRC’s State Council’s Customs Tariff Commission announced on December 12 that it will end tariff reductions on 12 chemical products from Taiwan on January 1.[13] It is unclear whether the PRC will impose additional measures in the future.

The Taiwanese government and DPP officials, including Vice President Lai Ching-te, accused the PRC of using an ongoing trade investigation to interfere in Taiwan’s election. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said that Taiwan cannot accept the PRC’s “political manipulation” and “violation of WTO norms” by “unilaterally conducting an investigation against us.” It called on the PRC to resolve trade disputes through the World Trade Organization (WTO).[14] Taiwan and the PRC are both WTO members.[15] Lai called the announcement “blatant interference in Taiwan’s election” and also said the PRC should resolve disputes through the WTO.[16] DPP spokesperson Chang Chih-hao questioned if the investigation result was the result of “collusion” between China and the Kuomintang following KMT vice chair Andrew Hsia’s trip to the PRC from December 13-20.[17] The KMT said Hsia was meeting with Taiwanese businessmen in China and would not meet with senior officials of the Taiwan Affairs Office.[18]

KMT Chairman Eric Chu said that the DPP government should address the PRC’s accusations with “real action” instead of just words.[19] TPP candidate Ko Wen-je’s spokesperson called on the DPP to propose countermeasures instead of rhetoric.[20] Both Ko and Hou Yu-ih support increasing cross-strait trade and reviving the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) under the framework of ECFA.[21]

ROC authorities are investigating reports that local Taiwanese officials accepted CCP-funded trips to the PRC and received instructions to back particular candidates in the presidential elections. Taipei authorities questioned 41 borough wardens on December 15 about trips the wardens took to the PRC during the last several months. A borough warden is a type of political office below the municipal level. The investigation received reports that many borough wardens and their friends and relatives in Taipei accepted funding from the PRC’s Shanghai Taiwan Affairs Office to travel to Shanghai and other places in the PRC. The PRC allegedly offered favorable prices for group travel of this nature.[22] The reports also stated that the chiefs received instructions to grant or withhold support for certain candidates in Taiwan’s presidential or legislative election. An unnamed “national security source” told the Taipei Times on December 16 that the PRC has now delayed future all-expenses-paid trips to the PRC until after Taiwan’s election considering Taiwan’s crackdown on such trips.[23]

The Taipei Times also cited an unnamed Taiwanese official who said the PRC is using TikTok to influence target young voters.[24] Polling released December 19 by the Taiwan Information Environment Research Center (IORG) showed a correlation between Taiwanese people’s use of TikTok and higher acceptance of pro-China narratives. For example, the statement “the government's pro-American stance is provoking China and will lead to a cross-strait war” received 51% agreement from Taiwanese TikTok users compared to 38.8% of the general population. The same poll found agreement with this statement was correlated with support for Hou or Ko. About 18% of Taiwanese use TikTok.[25]

Five Chinese high-altitude balloons moved through Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since December 7. One balloon crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait on December 7. The other four crossed the median line over a four-day period; two on December 16, one on December 17, and one on December 19. The balloons floated at altitudes between 12,000 and 27,000 feet.[26] Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) publicly stated that these were weather balloons but included them for the first time among its daily reports of ADIZ violations by the PRC.[27] The MND previously reported a similar balloon above Taipei on February 10.[28] The MND and the director-general of Taiwan’s Central Weather Service have also reported at least seven balloon sightings over Taiwan between 2021 and 2022. A February 12 Financial Times report cited unnamed Taiwanese officials who said such balloons flew over Taiwan once a month on average.[29]

Sending the balloons across the median line of the Taiwan Strait is likely part of a broader effort to wear down Taiwan’s resources and response capabilities.[30] The PRC has normalized daily air and naval activities around Taiwan, including near-daily aerial crossings of the median line in the Taiwan Strait, since 2020.[31] MND’s unprecedented inclusion of the balloon flights in its daily updates and maps of ADIZ violations in December shows that Taiwan is increasingly concerned about these balloons and may consider them part of the PRC’s broader harassment campaign against Taiwan. NPR reported on December 18 that the PRC is “subtly increasing” military coercion and gray zone tactics to influence the presidential election. NPR said Beijing aims to wear down Taiwan’s capabilities through intimidation and daily harassment without triggering a larger conflict. Former Taiwanese defense chief Admiral Lee Hsi-ming said the PRC uses such activities to test its military requirements and Taiwanese responses. Taiwan’s resources are stretched thinner because Taiwan must “scramble its own jets and ships” in response but cannot match the PRC’s military resources or manpower.[32]

These activities aim to wear down Taiwanese military readiness, force difficult decisions regarding ROC resource allocation, and 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 enhance the risk of miscalculation by the PRC or ROC that could lead to a crisis. ISW does not assess that Chinese balloon flights over Taiwan presage an imminent invasion or other intentional acts of war by the PRC or ROC.

South China Sea

Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels entered the Philippines-controlled Second Thomas Shoal after the PRC attempted to deny access to Filipino government vessels on routine resupply missions on December 9 and 10. Commercially available satellite imagery from December 11 showed that 11 CMM vessels had entered the Second Thomas Shoal. This is the largest observed number of CCM vessels that have entered the shoal to date.[33] None of the ships were broadcasting transponder signals, which most larger vessels are required to use for maritime traffic safety. “Going dark” is a common tactic used by PRC vessels in the South China Sea (SCS) that want to avoid detection, and have previously played a role in the PRC’s blockading Filipino resupply missions.[34]  27 other PRC vessels surrounded the Shoal on December 11 and were identifiable through their transponder signals. Among them was a Chinese Coast Guard ship and multiple CMM vessels that were present during the December 10 confrontation.[35] Four CMM vessels remained within the Shoal while five others remained outside the shoal as of December 14.[36] The lingering presence of PRC vessels is unusual, as they normally return to the PRC’s nearby Mischief Reef after such incidents.[37]

The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) immediately publicized videos of CCG vessels using water cannons against Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels during the confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal.[38] The Philippines’ active transparency serves to preempt the PRC-propagated notion that the Philippines is instigating confrontation and acting aggressively against PRC vessels.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (WesCom) Commander Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos stated on December 13 that the PRC is escalating actions short of armed attacks against Filipino vessels.[39] Carlos downplayed the extended contingent of CMM vessels within the Shoal as a common swarming tactic.[40] Carlos earlier stated, however, that he expects the PRC to resort to greater use of water cannons, lasers, ramming, and eventual boarding of Filipino vessels to deny the Philippines access to disputed locations.[41] Carlos announced that the Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea is devising a new strategy to carry out rotation and resupply (RoRe) missions following the PRC’s most recent confrontation.[42]

PRC officials and media unleashed a barrage of criticism against the United States and the Philippines after the confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal.  Ministry of Defense Spokesperson Zhang Xiaogang condemned the USS Gabrielle Giffords on December 14 for “illegally intruding” into waters adjacent to the Second Thomas Shoal during a routine transit a week earlier.[43] State-media outlet Global Times published an article on December 19 accusing the United States of waging cognitive warfare against China over the SCS.[44] The article was the second of its kind from PRC state media this month. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos on December 18 for expressing support for trilateral cooperation with the US and Japan in the SCS. Wang urged the Philippines to “recognize the futility of tying up with certain major powers and compromising China's core interests.”[45]

The criticisms follow US efforts to reassure the Philippines of its support in the face of the PRC’s aggression. US, Japanese, and Filipino national security advisors participated in a trilateral call on December 13 in which they denounced the PRC’s aggression against the Philippines and committed to closer security cooperation.[46] US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called his Filipino counterpart on December 14 to reaffirm the United States' commitment to the Philippines.[47]

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[48] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[49] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[50] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[51] Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane…trying to secure a better deal for China.”[52] The US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party also called for renewing the COFAs in a mid-December report.[53] The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act that passed both the Senate and House of Representatives as of December 14 did not include COFA funding.[54]

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[55]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would exacerbate Palau’s existing deficit, which amounts to $37 million as of its 2021 budget of $150 million.[56] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[57] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[58] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[59] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite. Micronesian President Wesley Simina also stated in late November that his country would be at a “fiscal cliff” without US Congressional approval of COFA funding. This would mean that “we [Micronesia] will have to find different sources of funding… and that’s not out there available immediately.”[60] The loss of COFA funding would also provide opportunities for external powers such as the CCP to enhance their economic influence in the country by filling these funding gaps.

China in the Middle East

The PRC, Saudi Arabia, and Iran held their first trilateral joint committee on December 15 in Beijing. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the meeting focused on improving Iran-Saudi relations as well as the cessation of military operations in the Gaza Strip.[61] PRC officials met with their Iranian counterparts four times since November 26 to discuss enhancing mutual cooperation, regional stability, and the Gaza Strip.[62] This meeting comes after three weeks of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, which have caused international shipping disruptions.[63]


China-Taiwan Weekly Update, December 15, 2023

Click here to read the full report.

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, Ian Jones, Frank Hoffman, and Kyle Lim of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: December 12 at 5pm ET 

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. DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te made significant gains in the polls while support for KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih plateaued.
  2. Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia vessels took aggressive actions against Philippine government vessels near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on December 9 and 10.
  3. A loss of Compacts of Free Association funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries.
  4. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized the need for an immediate ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas War during separate conversations with American and Iranian officials. Wang’s comments are consistent with the PRC’s efforts to use the Israel-Hamas War to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States.

Taiwan

DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te made significant gains in the polls while support for KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih plateaued. A December 10 Taiwan News Poll of Polls showed that in a weighted average of polls from the past ten days, Lai had 38.06% support, Hou had 31.27%, and Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je had 18.48%. These numbers show a nearly 5 percentage point jump from 33.2% for Lai since the December 5 Poll of Polls, a 2% rise from 29.3% for Hou since then, and a 3.5% drop from 22.0% for Ko. This is the first time Lai has surpassed 35% support since the Poll of Polls’ first data point on September 1. It is also Ko’s worst performance in the Poll of Polls since October 16.[1] The Poll of Polls normally aggregates polls from the previous 15 days.

Hou and his running mate Jaw Shaw-kong continued their strategy of appealing to the KMT base to grow their support. Hou, Jaw, and other KMT officials called on former independent candidate Terry Gou to return to the KMT to strengthen their pan-Blue support.[2] Gou has not answered their calls, however. Gou was a KMT member who left the party after losing the nomination to Hou and then ran as an independent until November 24. Hou and Jaw also nominated former KMT legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng as chairman of their campaign’s National Support Association. The KMT-aligned media outlet United Daily News reported that Wang might use this position to help the KMT win back Gou’s support.[3] Wang held a banquet for Terry Gou supporters on December 12.[4]

Formosa E-News polling collected from December 4 to December 11 showed that support for the Hou-Jaw ticket among self-identified KMT voters consistently remained between 90% and 95%.[5] It first rose above 90% in the last week of November after the candidates’ registration and the collapse of the Hou-Ko joint ticket negotiations.[6] The KMT’s base consolidation strategy has kept KMT-aligned support for Hou strong but may be hitting diminishing returns, however. This would explain why Hou’s rise in the polls has slowed. Lai’s support among self-identified DPP voters was also above 90% in the same polls since candidate registration.[7] Formosa is a politically centrist news website and polling organization that is widely cited in Taiwanese media due to the frequency, detail, and perceived reliability of its polling.

TPP candidate Ko Wen-je has pivoted his messaging to appeal to pan-Green (DPP-aligned) voters. Ko declared himself “deep-Green at heart” in a December 7 interview and said that he would largely continue incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen’s foreign and defense policy.[8] This is a major shift in messaging from Ko. He previously attempted to align with the KMT in a joint presidential ticket. The shift may be related to polling that shows support for Ko among KMT-identifying voters has declined to 2-4% from 9.4% on November 24.[9] Although Ko has consistently presented himself as a pragmatic middle option between the DPP and KMT, the bulk of his voting base consists of voters below 40. These younger voters are primarily contested with the DPP.[10] A December 8 article in KMT-aligned China Times said youth turnout was key to winning the election. Ko remains the most popular candidate among this age group.[11]

The dominant message in the Taiwan election remains focused on cross-strait relations, which favors the DPP. The DPP continued to promote its message that the election is about maintaining Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty. DPP vice presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim said on December 12 that the PRC wants to “turn Taiwan into Hong Kong.”[12] This is a line of argument previously used by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and other DPP politicians. Tsai won the 2020 presidential election in a landslide and was boosted by the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which the CCP brutally repressed.[13] Hong Kong’s loss of governing autonomy under the PRC’s “one country, two systems” framework bolstered the DPP argument for resisting Chinese influence, because “one country, two systems” is also the framework intended for Taiwan if the PRC successfully “reunifies” it. Hsiao made the comments days after Hong Kong held a “patriots only” district council election that saw a record-low turnout of 27.5% and the detention of pro-democracy activists.[14]

The dominant framing of cross-strait relations has changed since November, however. Formosa polling collected November 27-28 showed that the DPP’s framing that the election is about “democracy vs autocracy” has overtaken the KMT (and CCP) “peace vs war” narrative to become the plurality viewpoint among the ROC electorate. 36.5% of respondents agreed that the election was a choice between “democracy and autocracy” compared to 29% who said it was between “war and peace.”[15] This shows the dominant narrative preferred by the CCP is not resonating with most voters in Taiwan. ISW has assessed since May 26 that “war and peace” is the dominant framing on cross-strait relations in the Taiwan election.[16] KMT leaders, such as former president Ma Ying-jeou, have been promoting this message since at least April, before the party confirmed Hou as its presidential nominee.[17]

The CCP is improving the coordination of its efforts to influence the outcome of Taiwan’s election, according to an unnamed senior Taiwanese security official. The source disclosed to Western media that the CCP convened a top-level meeting in Beijing led by Politburo member Wang Huning to coordinate efforts by various agencies to influence Taiwan’s presidential election. Wang is chairman of both the Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and is thus the PRC’s top official for Taiwan affairs. The Taiwanese source claimed this meeting focused on stepping up the effectiveness of influencing Taiwan’s public opinion and reducing the detectability of CCP interference. Attending officials were allegedly told to coordinate their efforts with the Central Propaganda Department and the People’s Liberation Army Base 311, which is a unit that serves as the operational command for Taiwan-targeted “public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare.”[18] The PRC has used strategies to promote pro-China candidates such as magnifying war versus peace narratives, social media disinformation, outreach programs to bring Taiwanese politicians, businesspeople, and nationals to visit China, and cultural and religious exchanges.

Radio Free Asia  reported on December 6 that a “wave of misinformation” about Democratic Progressive Party vice presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim has appeared on Chinese social media, including that she cannot speak Mandarin, holds US citizenship, and is “unreliable.”[19] Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council spokesperson Chan Zhih-hong also stated on December 7 that the CCP is interfering in Taiwan’s elections through the Chinese Pan-Blue Association, the Taiwan New Residents Care Association, the Chinese People's Party, and other groups by inviting village chiefs to travel to China and requesting support for specific candidates.[20]

The CCP’s efforts to reduce the detectability of its election influence efforts likely reflect a recognition that more heavy-handed methods, such as military coercion, are ineffective. Historically, the CCP’s use of overt coercion to intimidate Taiwanese voters into opposing perceived “anti-China” presidential candidates has backfired and resulted in higher support for those candidates. This effect played out in the landslide victories of Tsai Ing-wen in 2020 and Lee Teng-hui in 1996.[21] The PRC is continuing daily air and naval activities around Taiwan at numbers comparable to 2022. ISW has not detected a significant increase in these activities as the election nears.[22]

South China Sea

Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels took aggressive actions against Philippine government vessels near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (SCS) on December 9 and 10. On December 9, CCG ships deployed water cannons against Filipino Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels delivering food and fuel to fishing boats around the Shoal. The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) stated that CMM vessels also deployed a “long-range acoustic device” that incapacitated some of the Filipino crew.[23] The PRC wrested control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012 after a month-long maritime standoff. CCG vessels once again deployed water cannons against BFAR vessels on December 10 during a Philippine resupply mission to a naval outpost on the nearby Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippines National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) accused a CCG vessel of ramming a Filipino vessel.[24] Philippines Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Romeo Brawner Jr. was among the passengers of the vessels that the CCG rammed. The NTF-WPS announced that the resupply mission was a success, despite BFAR vessels suffering significant damage from the water cannons.[25] NTF-WPS stated the PCG had prepared “contingencies” because of Brawner’s presence.[26] Brawner stated later that he was unhurt and that he did not believe that the PRC knew he was on the boat.[27]

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) blamed the Philippines for the incidents. MFA spokesperson Mao Ning accused the Filipino resupply ship of ramming the CCG vessel and endangering the safety of Chinese crew members.[28] The PRC’s framing of the incidents is consistent with its portrayal of rival SCS claimants as aggressors while the CCG and CMM instigate confrontation. PRC Ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang on December 5 derided the Philippines’ resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal as “infringements and provocations” to achieve “permanent occupation” during an address to the General Assembly.[29] The MFA accused the US of “coercing, making threats, and unprovoked attacks” after the latter reassured the Philippines of its support in the wake of the confrontations.[30]

The latest confrontations at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal illustrate the PRC’s increasingly brazen approach to assert control over its territorial claims in the SCS. The incident at Second Thomas Shoal is the fifth of its kind this year. The CCG deployed water cannons against Filipino vessels on August 5 for the first time in two years during a similar routine resupply mission.[31] CCG vessels used water cannons again under the same circumstances on November 10.[32] Collisions are also an increasingly common tactic to harass Filipino vessels. CMM vessels twice collided with Filipino vessels on October 22 to prevent Filipino ships from delivering construction materials.[33]

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[34] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[35] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[36] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[37] President Biden’s Deputy Secretary of State nominee Kurt Campbell stated during his Senate confirmation hearing on December 7 that “if we don’t get it [COFA funding] you can expect that literally the next day Chinese diplomats — military and other folks — will be on the plane… trying to secure a better deal for China.”[38]

These three island countries control key sea lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and the state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are 2 of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[39]

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would exacerbate Palau’s existing deficit, which amounts to $37 million as of its 2021 budget of $150 million.[40] This is an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[41] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements. The expansion of the CCP’s economic influence in Palau would also provide the party a leverage point to coerce the countries into switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC aims to coerce countries into switching diplomatic recognition to falsely argue that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China rather than a legitimate country named the Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[42] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[43] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite.

Israel-Hamas War

PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized the need for an immediate ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas War during separate conversations with American and Iranian officials. Wang held a phone call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on December 6.[44] Wang subsequently held a phone call with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on December 11.[45] Wang’s emphasis on a ceasefire is consistent with the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that he presented to the United Nations Security Council on November 29. The PRC was president of the UN Security Council in November.[46] Wang called for implementing a “comprehensive cease-fire” and releasing “people in captivity,” providing humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and pursuing the two-state solution.[47] His proposal came after CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping stated his desire on November 21 for “all parties” to implement an immediate ceasefire, end collective punishments against the people of Gaza, allow the flow of humanitarian relief, and prevent the conflict from spreading across the Middle East.[48] The PRC voted in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire on December 12.[49]

Wang’s comments are consistent with the PRC’s efforts to use the Israel-Hamas War to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and state propaganda outlets have repeatedly condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but never condemned Hamas. They continue to call for an immediate ceasefire and promote a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.[50] The PRC’s targeted criticism of Israel and call for an immediate ceasefire align with the views of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Arab states.[51] The PRC MFA and state-owned outlets, such as the Global Times, previously criticized US support for Israel and claimed that the PRC has no “selfish interest” in the conflict and is committed to bringing peace and justice.[52] The PRC proposal would be tantamount to a defeat for Israel, as CTP and ISW reported on November 29.[53]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, December 7, 2023

Click here to read the full report.

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: December 5 at 5pm ET 

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. KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih gained significant support since November 24 and closed the gap with DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te, who leads in the polls.
  2. A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would exacerbate CCP leverage points over these countries.
  3. The CCP aims to use the December 7 EU-PRC summit to advance its goal of increasing economic cooperation with Europe while preventing an EU consensus on “de-risking” from materializing.
  4. The Philippines Coast Guard announced over 100 Chinese Maritime Militia vessels “swarmed” the Philippine-controlled Whitson Reef in the South China Sea.

Taiwan Presidential Election

KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih gained significant support since November 24 and closed the gap with DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te, who leads in the polls. Taiwan’s presidential election settled into a three-way race last week after Lai, Hou, and TPP candidate Ko Wen-je registered their candidacies during the week of November 20. Hou and Ko registered and announced their respective running mates on November 24, the last day for registration, after the collapse of their eleventh-hour negotiations to form a joint ticket to challenge Lai.[1] Polling data since the joint ticket collapse shows Hou Yu-ih’s support has risen considerably. The Taiwan News Poll of Polls on December 5 showed Hou in second place with 29.3% support, which is a nearly 7% jump from 22.5% on November 20. The same poll aggregator showed Lai in first place at 33.2% on December 5, a slight rise from 31% on November 20. The aggregator also showed that Ko remains in third place at 22%, which is similar to the 21.8% support he had in the polls on November 20.[2]

Hou’s rise in the polls reflects the consolidation of the KMT base around his candidacy. Formosa E-News polling showed that around 90% of self-identified KMT voters now support Hou’s candidacy, compared to 82% on November 24 and below 80 before that. His support with voters over 50, which is his strongest constituency, has also increased since November 24, according to Formosa and ETtoday polls.[3]

Hou and the KMT have made several moves that likely contributed to re-integrating their base and gaining support in the polls. First, Hou picked KMT firebrand Jaw Shaw-kong as his running mate. Jaw is a well-known KMT hardliner and media personality who has been outspoken in his harsh criticism of the incumbent DPP administration and his support for closer engagement with the PRC.[4] Second, the KMT signaled that former Kaohsiung mayor and 2020 KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu would become the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan if a KMT-aligned coalition wins the legislative elections. Han enjoys high popularity among KMT supporters.[5] Third, Hou and Jaw have continued to push for traditional KMT positions, including re-starting talks with the PRC on the controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA).[6] The KMT Ma Ying-jeou administration initially signed the CSSTA with the PRC in 2013. The agreement was never ratified in the legislature, however, because student protesters opposing the agreement stormed the Legislative Yuan building in 2014. The student protests grew into the nationwide Sunflower Movement.[7]

Independent candidate Terry Gou’s exit from the race on November 24 possibly added to the rise in Hou’s support. Gou had policy positions similar to Hou’s and polled at 6.7% in the Poll of Polls on November 20 before he dropped out of the race.[8] Some of Gou’s supporters may have gone to Ko Wen-je, however. Ko and Gou were both perceived as “outsider” candidates and frequently discussed cooperating during the election.[9] Taiwan News polling analyst Courtney Donovan Smith assessed based on polling data that Ko absorbed most of Gou’s supporters. Smith said Ko did not rise accordingly in the polls because some of his KMT-leaning supporters moved to support Hou.[10] According to Formosa, KMT-leaning voters who supported Ko Wen-je declined from 9.4% on November 24 to 3.8% by December 4.[11]

Hou may have gained supporters who had previously backed Ko. New polling data from Formosa and other organizations suggests that many KMT-identifying supporters of Ko Wen-je have moved to support Hou Yu-ih in the aftermath of the joint ticket collapse and Hou’s consolidation of the KMT base. Hou’s emergence in the polls as the clear leader among the opposition following the joint ticket collapse may also have improved his standing among electors voting “strategically” to unseat the DPP. There are limits to how many additional supporters Hou could draw from Ko, however. The majority of Ko Wen-je’s remaining supporters are young people between the ages of 20 and 39. This demographic group is predominantly contested by Lai and the DPP, not with the KMT and Hou.[12] This suggests that if Ko Wen-je drops out of the race, many of his supporters could switch to Lai rather than Hou.

Hou’s ability to further close the gap with Lai during the coming weeks depends on his ability to attract new supporters from the KMT base or more moderate voters. These two constituencies likely require mutually exclusive strategies, however. Hou can continue to lean on his deep-Blue messaging to attract even more KMT or pan-Blue-identifying voters who were previously unsure about him, but such messaging would likely alienate more moderate voters. Alternatively, fighting with Lai and Ko for the “center” could cost Hou the support of some of his KMT base. The success of either of these strategies will be made easier if Lai’s support levels drop.

The dominant election narrative continues to focus on cross-strait relations. The KMT has continued its narrative that the election is a choice between war and peace. Jaw and Hou have promoted dialogue with the PRC and re-starting cross-strait agreements, such as the CSSTA.[13] Hou said that Taiwan declaring independence will lead to war.[14] Both attempted to mitigate criticism that they are “pro-China” by stressing that they are also committed to alliances with the United States and other liberal democracies.[15] The DPP has framed the election as a choice between “democracy and autocracy” while mitigating fears that a Lai victory would lead to war with the PRC. ROC president Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP said in a New York Times interview that the PRC was too overwhelmed with domestic issues to invade Taiwan.[16] The DPP has continued to highlight Chinese Communist Party (CCP) election interference and portray its opponents as doing the bidding of the CCP.[17] TPP candidate Ko Wen-je has tried to shift focus to domestic issues and said on December 3 that the election would be about “unification” versus “independence” if he were not in the race. He said that the pro-independence or “pro-America” faction (Lai and the DPP) would win in a simple two-way race between the DPP and KMT.[18]

Several other domestic issues, such as economic growth and energy issues, could shape the dynamics of the election in the coming weeks. None of them have been as prominent as cross-strait relations in the prevailing narrative of the election. Some are gaining traction, however. Ko, Hou, and other KMT officials criticized the DPP on November 30 and December 5 for its plan to phase out nuclear power and criticized Lai’s perceived reversal on this issue, for example.[19] Scandals that emerge or re-surface in the coming weeks could also harm support for candidates of the involved political party. Scandals related to sexual misconduct and mishandling of food imports have hurt the DPP earlier in the summer and fall, for example.

Compacts of Free Association

A loss of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) funding for Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands would enable the CCP to expand its leverage points over these countries. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[29] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[30] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[31] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[32]

These three island countries control key sea-lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the US territory of Guam and state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are two of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[33] This international diplomatic recognition is critical to demonstrating the false nature of CCP claims that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China.

The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these vital Pacific Island countries. For example, this funding loss would exacerbate Palau’s existing deficit, which amounts to $37 million as of its 2021 budget of $150 million.[34] This presents an economic vulnerability that the CCP could partially fill by encouraging PRC nationals to vacation in Palau. The CCP cut tourism to Palau over the last decade to nearly zero as punishment for maintaining full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[35] The reversal of this CCP policy would provide the party with economic leverage to wield over Palau in the event of future policy disagreements.

The loss of COFA funding would also provide the CCP an opportunity to expand influence efforts targeting Micronesian political elites. The CCP has completed infrastructure projects throughout the country, such as houses for the country’s president, vice president, speakers of congress, and chief justice.[36] Axios reported that former Micronesian officials confirmed receiving gifts from the PRC, such as money, while on official state visits to the country.[37] The lack of COFA funding would exacerbate the appeal of CCP monetary gifts or infrastructure projects that target the Micronesian political elite.

European Union-People’s Republic of China Summit

The CCP aims to use the December 7 EU-PRC summit to advance its goal of increasing economic cooperation with Europe while preventing an EU consensus on “de-risking” from materializing. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will meet with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.[38] Party officials messaged that the economic focus of the meeting would surround EU de-risking efforts. This meeting is part of a yearlong effort throughout 2023 by the CCP targeting high-level engagement with leading European states, such as France and Germany, to facilitate economic cooperation. The CCP aims to encourage Sino-European country-to-country cooperation to undermine what the party perceives as hostile EU investigations targeting PRC companies. Policy dissonance between European countries and the EU provides an avenue for the CCP to engage economically with Europe while impeding the creation of a united EU front against the party’s economic interests.

  • PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Wang Wenbin stated at a press briefing on December 4 that the PRC calls on the EU to “always be rational on ‘de-risking.’” Wang further criticized that unspecified “certain individuals selectively emphasize on competing aspects [sic] between China and the EU, [and] deliberately overlook partnerships and hype up ‘de-risking.’”[39] The CCP-controlled English language propaganda outlet Global Times also repeated Wang’s message on December 4 regarding China and Europe choosing cooperation over de-risking.[40]
  • French President Emmanuel Macron and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping previously emphasized the importance of economic cooperation as well as cultural exchanges during their April meeting.[41] Chinese Premier Li Qiang similarly emphasized economic cooperation with German and French officials in late June during a visit to France and Germany.[42]
  • European Commission President Von der Leyen previously announced an investigation into electric vehicle subsidies in China as part of this de-risking effort during her September 15 State of the Union speech.[43] This effort, regardless of intention, runs counter to messages of economic cooperation emphasized by PRC officials towards major European economies like France or Germany.

South China Sea

The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) announced on December 3 the presence of over 100 Chinese Maritime Militia vessels (CMM) “swarming” the Philippine-controlled Whitson Reef in the South China Sea’s (SCS) contested Spratly Islands since November 13.[44] The PCG stated the number grew to more than 135 vessels by December 3 and that the vessels have not complied with PCG warnings to disperse. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Wang Wenbin reprimanded the Philippines’ “irresponsible remarks” in a press conference on December 4, stating that the reef is China’s territory and the Chinese fishing vessels sheltered there are operating within the law.[45]

The surge in suspected CMM presence comes amid the Philippines’ completion of a coast guard “monitoring base” on nearby Thitu Island, which was formally inaugurated on December 1. Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano stated he witnessed at least 18 suspected CMM ships and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessel off Thitu while visiting the island for the inauguration ceremony.[46]

The PRC operates hundreds of CMM ships in the SCS at any given time under the guise of fishing vessels.[47] These vessels often remain anchored for extended periods around nearby PRC military bases and contested features. The current “swarm” of 135 vessels surrounding Whitson Reef is unusually high, however. The grouping is the largest since March 2021, when a flotilla of over 220 alleged CMM vessels moored there.[48] The PRC in 2021 similarly justified the ships’ presence as sheltering from rough conditions, despite the prolonged stay of several weeks.[49]

The PRC’s deployment of non-traditional maritime power serves to further control of claimed territory while manipulating the narrative to portray challengers as aggressors. There is precedent for the PRC using the CMM to gain footholds in the SCS. CMM vessels played a role in the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, which ended in the PRC wresting control of the feature from the Philippines.[50] The PRC justified its deployment of paramilitary surveillance ships to confront the Philippines Navy after the latter sought to arrest PRC militiamen for illegal fishing. The Philippines claims the PRC maintained its presence there after an agreement by both parties to withdraw their ships.[51] The PRC erected a barrier to deny entry to the shoal’s lagoon a month later.[52]

The PRC uses the CMM to challenge territorial sovereignty in the SCS more frequently than in other disputes with Japan and Taiwan. Former Rear Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Katsuya Yamamoto stated in 2019 that the CMM has played a smaller role in the PRC’s maritime incursions in the East China Sea (ECS) than the SCS.[53] Japan suffers routine harassment from Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels, however, mostly near the Senkaku Islands in the ECS. The Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) recorded 127 incursions into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands by the CCG over the twelve months since November 30.[54] Taiwan experiences a constant flow of illegal PRC fishing vessels in its restricted waters. Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration (CGA) reported 1,081 cases of illegal fishing from PRC vessels in its restricted waters during the twelve months since October 31, resulting in 25 detainments. These instances have not escalated into conflict with the PRC military, however. Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng stated on March 6 that the PRC military approached Taiwan’s contiguous zone in August 2022 and may cross it this year.[55]

Messaging from PRC leadership signals strong backing for the maritime forces’ antagonistic posturing. Xi Jinping urged the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and CCG to defend the PRC’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests during a visit to the East China Sea Regional Command headquarters in Shanghai on December 1.[56]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, November 30, 2023

Click here to read the full report.

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: November 29 at Noon ET 

Key Takeaways

  1. Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je registered as separate presidential candidates on November 24. A fragmented opposition is advantageous for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate and frontrunner Lai Ching-te but does not guarantee his victory.
  2. A Congressional decision not to renew funding for the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) would severely undermine American and Taiwanese national security in the Pacific.
  3. A new “action plan” for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the next ten years emphasizes cooperation in green and digital development.
  4. People’s Republic of China (PRC) Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized economic cooperation and dialogue during a November 24 meeting with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, likely to persuade individual European countries not to coalesce around European Union (EU) investigations targeting the PRC.
  5. The PLA conducted live-fire exercises near its border with Myanmar to strengthen border security and deter an escalation of violence in northern Myanmar.
  6. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented an Israeli–Palestinian peace plan to the United Nations Security Council on November 29. Wang’s proposal is consistent with the PRC’s efforts to use the Israel-Hamas War to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States. The proposal itself is tantamount to Israeli defeat, however.

Taiwan

Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je registered as separate presidential candidates on November 24. The parties reconvened for eleventh hour talks on November 23 in a final effort to agree on who would lead a KMT-TPP joint presidential ticket before the November 24 candidate registration deadline.[1] The failure of negotiations ended hopes for a joint ticket. Independent candidate Terry Gou, who mediated the negotiations, dropped out of the race on November 24.[2] Hou and Ko both announced their running mates on the morning of their November 24 registration. Hou’s vice-presidential pick is media personality and former legislator Jaw Shaw-kong.[3] Ko’s vice-presidential pick is TPP legislator Cynthia Wu.[4]

  • Jaw founded the pro-unification New Party in 1993, which formalized the separation of the New Kuomintang Alliance faction from the KMT.[5] The New Party has not had representation in the Legislative Yuan since 2012. Jaw reinstated his KMT membership in 2021.[6]
  • Wu is a current TPP legislator who Ko appointed to the Legislative Yuan in 2022 after the resignation of founding member Tsai Pi-ru.[7]

A fragmented opposition is advantageous for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate and frontrunner Lai Ching-te but does not guarantee his victory. The KMT’s and TPP’s failure to unite their support bases reduces the opposition’s ability to garner enough support to unseat the DPP. The latest polls show Lai’s previously wide lead of five to ten percentage points has narrowed to just a few percentage points over Hou, however.[8] Three trends have likely contributed to Hou’s rise in support. First, Hou has likely benefited from Gou’s withdrawal from the race.[9] Gou is a former KMT member whose policy platform most closely aligns with Hou. Second, Ko’s corresponding drop in polls suggests that the KMT-leaning portion of his support base is rallying back to Hou as the novelty of the TPP’s presidential debut wears off.[10] A February poll showed that 47 percent of Ko’s supporters would support Hou, with only 32 percent supporting Lai.[11] Third, Hou’s designation of Jaw as vice-presidential candidate is another contributing factor. Jaw is a high-profile figure who commands strong support in the KMT. Jaw’s public-facing roles as the host of the popular talk show Shaw-kong War Room and Chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC) make him a recognizable candidate.[12]

The dominant election narrative continues to focus on cross-strait relations. The KMT is doubling down on the narrative that the election is a choice between war and peace. Jaw joined the chorus of KMT voices pushing this narrative during a campaign event on November 25.[13] The DPP is burnishing its reputation as the defender of democracy and freedom. A group of three DPP legislative candidates referred to themselves as the “Taiwan Defense Team,” emphasizing their commitment to rejecting interference from the PRC in Taiwan’s elections and protecting democracy.[14] Lai’s choice of former Taiwanese Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim as his running mate buttresses this election narrative. The DPP’s prioritization of strong ties with the US signals its desire for support in the face of threatening rhetoric and intimidation from the CCP. Lai has touted Hsiao’s foreign policy credentials and her strong relationship with the US as the pair’s biggest strength.

Compacts of Free Association

A Congressional decision to not renew funding for the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) would severely undermine American and Taiwanese national security in the Pacific. These COFAs govern the United States’ relationship with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands while also granting the United States extensive military access throughout their territories. The United States renewed COFAs with Palau and Micronesia in May.[15] It then did so with the Marshall Islands in October.[16] The signed agreements are now before Congress for funding consideration. Congress previously funded the COFAs for a twenty-year period in 2003.[17] The total cost for all three of the twenty-year agreements would be roughly $7 billion USD spread over the period 2024 to 2043, according to the Congressional Research Service.[18]

These three island countries control key sea-lanes that provide a secure route connecting American allies and partners, such as the Philippines and Taiwan, to the United States territory of Guam and state of Hawaii. Palau and the Marshall Islands are two of the 13 countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.[19] This international diplomatic recognition is critical to demonstrating the false nature of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China. The loss of COFA funding would present an opportunity for the CCP to expand its economic influence with these strategically vital countries in the Pacific.

China

A new “action plan” for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the next ten years emphasizes cooperation in green and digital development. The State Council’s Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative released a document entitled “Vision and Actions for High-Quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Brighter Prospects for the Next Decade” on November 24. The document said that the BRI’s second decade would focus on international cooperation in new fields such as green and digital development, scientific and technological innovation, and health. The document also said the BRI should prioritize "small but beautiful" projects and engage in more projects with "small investment, quick results, and good economic, social and environmental benefits.” The document set five broad objectives for the next decade: building a more efficient connectivity network, deepening comprehensive and practical cooperation, enhancing the sense of gain for participating countries' peoples, establishing a new system to support China's open economy, and promoting the vision of a global community of shared future. The BRI will continue to promote its original five priorities: policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people ties.[20]

  • People’s Daily and Qiushi, which are CCP publications targeted at party cadre, both stressed on November 26 the need to expand the breadth and depth of cooperation in building the Belt and Road, improving the development of China–Europe freight trains, and promoting green development.[21]

New adjustments to BRI priorities partly reflect problems the initiative has faced related to environmental concerns and investment risks. The PRC has invested over one trillion dollars in various Belt and Road infrastructure projects in around 150 countries since 2013.[22] The PRC has also faced both criticism and financial risks from massive and often unprofitable BRI infrastructure projects that have burdened developing countries with debts they are unable to repay.[23] The PRC announced at the 2021 UN General Assembly that it would cease construction of overseas coal plants and increase investments in renewable energy.[24] It has adjusted to focus on “small but beautiful” projects,[25] tightened standards to improve debt sustainability,[26] and pursued less resource-intensive priorities such as the Digital Silk Road.[27]

People’s Republic of China (PRC) Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized economic cooperation and dialogue during a November 24 meeting with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, likely to persuade individual European countries not to coalesce around European Union (EU) investigations targeting the PRC. Colonna pledged an increase in the number and duration of visas issued to Chinese students studying in France as part of an effort to facilitate Sino–French people-to-people exchanges. Colonna also stated that France counted on “the vigilance of the Chinese authorities so that no structure in China … contributes directly or indirectly to Russia’s illegal war effort in Ukraine.”[28] PRC MFA spokesman Wang Wenbin stated in a November 27 press conference that China and France agreed to deepen cooperation in economics, cultural exchanges, and emerging scientific technologies.[29]

Colonna’s meetings in the PRC are part of a larger trend of Sino-European engagement throughout 2023. French President Emmanuel Macron and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping previously emphasized the importance in the same areas of cooperation in their April meeting in Beijing.[30] EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed displeasure at unfair Chinese trade practices during the April EU-French joint visit to the PRC.[31] Chinese Premier Li Qiang similarly emphasized economic cooperation with German and French officials in late June during a visit to France and Germany.[32] Li told audiences of German politicians and business figures that Germany and China do not have “fundamental conflicts of interest” and that “risk prevention and cooperation are not mutually exclusive.”[33] He also called for a “more resilient” Sino-French industrial supply chain while in France.[34] The targeted PRC efforts to increase economic cooperation with Germany and France aim to buttress an ailing Chinese economy while also preventing an EU consensus on “de-risking” from materializing and threatening Chinese financial and supply chain interests. Von der Leyen previously announced an investigation into electric vehicle subsidies in China as part of this de-risking effort during her September 15 State of the Union speech.[35] A divided EU would suit CCP objectives vis-à-vis Europe ahead of an excepted December 7–8 summit between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping, and Premier Li Qiang.

The prolific CCP state media coverage of an upsurge in respiratory illnesses in northern China indicates that the party is fearful of appearing to be incompetent public health managers to its own citizenry in the aftermath of the pandemic. The state health apparatus responded publicly shortly after the current disease outbreak came to light, in marked contrast to the CCP’s delayed response after the start of COVID-19. Deputy Director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention Wang Quanyi advised the wearing of face masks beginning on November 24.[36] The National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) urged the PRC populace on November 26, particularly children and the elderly, to receive vaccinations against respiratory diseases.[37] English and Chinese language state media reported that this upsurge occurred due to the circulation of known pathogens among the populace. It further stated that these pathogens cause diseases such as influenza, adenovirus, and mycoplasma pneumonia.[38]

The guidance to wear masks aims to prevent disease spread and demonstrate that the CCP-controlled governmental organs can effectively manage initial disease outbreaks without worldwide consequences like COVID-19. The public governmental response differed from the party’s response at the beginning of COVID-19, when the Public Security Bureau investigated whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang before he died from COVID-19 in February 2020.[39] The CCP’s English- and Chinese-language messaging indicate that the party aims to avoid recreating the image of irresponsible negligence that it endured in the aftermath of Li’s death.

The PLA conducted live-fire exercises near its border with Myanmar to strengthen border security and deter an escalation of violence in northern Myanmar. The PLA Southern Theater Command announced the start of three days of live-fire military drills in southwest Yunnan Province near the border with Myanmar on November 25.[40] The PLA deployed multiple types of artillery and counter-battery radars as part of the drills. It claimed that these exercises were intended to test rapid maneuvering, border blockade, and fire strike capabilities.[41] A PLA Daily editorial on November 26 called for an immediate ceasefire in northern Myanmar. This call is consistent with statements by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 16, 20, and 28.[42] Northern Myanmar has been engulfed in violence since a “brotherhood alliance” of three ethnic rebel groups launched attacks on Myanmar’s military junta government on October 27.[43] The violence has nearly ended legal PRC–Myanmar cross-border trade,[44] caused an unknown number of Chinese casualties,[45] and sent thousands of refugees to seek safety in the PRC.[46]

  • One of the rebel groups claimed to have seized a key border gate and trading point on November 25, the same day the PLA exercises began.[47] About 120 trucks in a convoy carrying building materials and consumer goods from the PRC into Myanmar were destroyed by fire on November 24 in what the Myanmar government called a “terrorist attack.”[48] Local insurgents denied responsibility.[49]

Israel-Hamas War

PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi presented an Israeli–Palestinian peace plan to the United Nations Security Council on November 29. The PRC is president of the UN Security Council for the month of November.[50] Wang called for implementing a “comprehensive cease-fire” and releasing “people in captivity,” providing humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and pursuing the two-state solution.[51] His proposal came after CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping stated his desire on November 21 for “all parties” to implement an immediate ceasefire, end collective punishments against the people of Gaza, allow the flow of humanitarian relief, and prevent the conflict from spreading across the Middle East.[52]

 

Wang’s proposal is consistent with the PRC’s efforts to use the Israel–Hamas war to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and state propaganda outlets have repeatedly condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but never condemned Hamas. They continue to call for an immediate ceasefire and promote a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.[53] The PRC’s targeted criticism of Israel and call for an immediate ceasefire align with the views of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Arab states.[54] The PRC MFA and state-owned outlets, such as the Global Times, previously criticized US support for Israel and claimed that the PRC has no “selfish interest” in the conflict and is committed to bringing peace and justice.[55] The PRC proposal would be tantamount to a defeat for Israel, as CTP and ISW reported on November 29.[56]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, November 22, 2023  

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War  

Data Cutoff: November 21 at Noon ET  

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. The TPP-KMT deal to form a joint presidential ticket broke down after the parties failed to reach a consensus on who would head the ticket. TPP candidate Ko Wen-je is signaling he is prepared to run as a solo candidate but left open the possibility of reaching a new deal by November 24.
  2. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the validity of alternative regional security frameworks in response to the Philippines’ calls to establish an ASEAN-led South China Sea code of conduct.
  3. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping called for convening a “more authoritative international peace conference” to promote a “just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue” during a speech at a special BRICS leaders video summit on November 21.

Taiwan

The TPP-KMT deal to form a joint presidential ticket broke down after the parties failed to reach a consensus on who would head the ticket. Ko Wen-je and KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-Ih agreed on November 15 to form a joint presidential ticket to challenge DPP candidate Lai Ching-te. They agreed to use public opinion polls conducted from November 7-17 to determine which of them would lead the presidential ticket and to announce the results on November 18. The parties agreed to a point system in which a candidate would receive one “point” for each poll in which a ticket led by that candidate had more support against Lai than a ticket led by the other candidate. The deal included a concession by Ko that he would accept as a “loss” any poll result in which the difference between him and Hou fell within the margin of error.[1] Disagreements over the definition of this “margin of error” led to disagreement on the outcome on November 18, however. The KMT claims Hou won 5 of the 6 polls, while the TPP claims Ko and Hou tied 3-3.[2]

  • Hou, Ko, and former Taiwan president Ma Ying-Jeou (a KMT member, who mediated the deal) each designated a statistician to evaluate six polls that compared how a joint ticket led by each candidate would fare against Lai Ching-te. The “winner” in each poll would be whichever version of the joint ticket achieved a higher lead over Lai. If the difference between a Hou-Ke and a Ke-Hou joint ticket fell within the margin of error, Hou would be given the victory for that poll.[3]
  • Ko’s main concession in the negotiation was his offer to accept a loss on any polls that showed the difference between him and Hou to be within the margin of error (estimated at 3%). Ko made this concession on November 3 after consistently polling above Hou for several weeks.[4] However, Hou closed the gap and even surpassed Ko in many polls during the last two weeks.[5] Including this concession in the deal significantly hurt Ko’s performance against Hou. When ignoring the margin of error, a Ko-Hou ticket outperformed a Hou-Ko ticket in five of the six polls.[6]
  • Ko Wen-je claimed that the KMT demanded he concede on a 6% margin of error rather than the 3% margin he wanted, however. KMT Chairman Eric Chu denied the allegation and said a 3% margin of error means “plus or minus 3,” for a total range of six percentage points. Under Ko’s definition, a “3% margin of error” would mean 1.5 percentage points in either direction.[7] 3% is just an approximation as each poll has its own margin of error depending on its sample size, however.

Taiwanese media reported that the KMT-TPP agreement on November 15 was unfavorable to Ko, but it more closely resembles Ko’s earlier demands than any past proposal by the KMT.[8]  Ko has consistently insisted the lead candidate of a joint ticket be determined by a nationwide poll. The KMT initially advocated for a primary election but dropped this demand because there was insufficient time before the November 24 candidate registration deadline. Later proposals by the KMT, such as incorporating polls of overall party support rather than just candidate support, or asking legislative nominees to vote, were also dropped.[9] The KMT also agreed to drop three of the initial nine polls it proposed to use in the November 15 deal, which the TPP perceived as favorable to the KMT.[10]

Independent presidential candidate Terry Gou privately met with Ko Wen-je the day after the breakdown in the KMT-TPP deal and on November 22 released communications records from November 21 and 22 showing he has been trying to facilitate cooperation between Ko and Hou. According to the records, Gou met with Ko on November 22 and called Hou multiple times. The records also said that Ko agreed to meet Gou and Hou in person on the same day in a meeting described as being focused on combining the KMT, TPP, and Gou’s power to assist in achieving cooperation.[11] There is no evidence that this latter meeting happened as of late November 22.[12] Gou said when he announced his candidacy in August that his goal was to consolidate the anti-DPP opposition.[13] His actions on these two days are consistent with that goal. Running as an independent presidential candidate would further fragment the anti-DPP camp, however.

TPP candidate Ko Wen-je is signaling he is prepared to run as a solo candidate but left open the possibility of reaching a new deal by November 24. Ko told supporters on November 19 that he would not betray them and “fight to the end as the TPP candidate.”[14] He further said KMT-TPP cooperation may require working “to the last second” to ensure the strongest candidate would lead the ticket.[15] Hou Yu-Ih said on November 21 that he would wait for Ko Wen-je “until the last minute.”[16] He proposed each party name two statisticians to re-evaluate the nine polls originally designated in the KMT-TPP deal and broadcast the process, but Ko rejected this proposal.[17] KMT Chairman Eric Chu said November 22 was the KMT’s deadline to come to a deal,[18] but no deal has been reached as of late November 22 local time.

November 24 is the deadline for candidate registration. KMT-TPP cooperation has wide support from the constituencies of both parties and is seen as the only way to defeat frontrunner Lai Ching-te.[19]

The breakdown of the KMT-TPP joint ticket deal benefits Lai Ching-te, who is the only registered presidential candidate for the election as of 22 November. The fracturing of KMT-TPP cooperation allows the DPP to present itself as a united front in contrast to its opposition. Polling data suggests that Lai will be the frontrunner in the election, as he has consistently led in the polls. The absence of a joint KMT-TPP ticket removes a major obstacle to a Lai victory. Most polls, including the six that the KMT and TPP used in their negotiations, suggest that a joint ticket would enable the opposition parties to outperform the DPP in the elections regardless of whether Ko or Hou heads the joint ticket. Lai announced on November 20 that he had chosen Taiwan’s representative to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim as his running mate. Hsiao resigned her post and the two officially registered their candidacy.[20]

Independent presidential candidate Terry Gou has not registered his candidacy as of November 22. Gou officially met the signature threshold to qualify as a candidate on November 14, six days ahead of the November 20 opening of candidate registration.[21] Gou is in a distant fourth place in the polls. His participation in the election would further fragment the opposition to the DPP.[22]

PRC security developments

The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) denied the validity of alternative regional security frameworks in response to the Philippines’ calls to establish an ASEAN-led South China Sea (SCS) code of conduct (COC). ASEAN and the PRC signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in 2002, a non-binding document that aimed to establish a framework for a subsequent formal COC.[23] The parties have failed to solidify a binding code during the last two decades amid the PRC’s aggressive militarization of the SCS.[24] Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated the Philippines recently appealed to Malaysia and Vietnam to construct an ASEAN-led COC to establish a binding framework during a speech in Hawaii on November 19.[25] MFA Spokesperson Mao Ning declared “any agreement that deviates from the DOC framework is invalid” during a press conference on November 20.[26] The lack of unity among ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific nations ensures the PRC’s dominant military presence in the SCS remains unchallenged by a unified regional front.

The PRC’s statements align with its strategy to thwart cohesion among Asia-Pacific nations in maritime security cooperation. PRC narratives consistently portray efforts to promote cohesion in Asia-Pacific security as disruptive to regional stability. State media outlet Global Times accused recent Japanese joint naval exercises with countries like the Philippines, Australia, and South Korea of bowing to a US-led containment strategy against the PRC.[27] The PRC Ministry of National Defense rebuked Japan’s decision to share radar equipment with the Philippine military on November 16, labeling Japan a disruptor in the SCS.[28]

President Xi Jinping lobbied for Fiji’s support on “core issues” and advocated for a stronger “comprehensive strategic partnership” during a meeting with Prime Minister Sitivena Rebuka at the APEC forum on November 16.[29] Xi also pledged the PRC’s cooperation in the “Belt and Road” initiative, infrastructure, agriculture, and more to assist with Fiji's economic and social development.[30] This is consistent with the PRC’s strategy of shoring up ties with non-US-aligned partners to strengthen its regional security footholdThe PRC’s increasing diplomatic and economic engagement with Pacific Island states highlights the strategic importance of those states to furthering the PRC’s security ambitions in the Asia-Pacific.

PRC state media emphasized the benefits that the Solomon Islands has reaped from the PRC’s diplomatic and economic support in its coverage of the 2023 Pacific Games, an Oceania-focused multi-sport event that the Solomon Islands is hosting. The Global Times lauded the two countries’ “comprehensive strategic partnership” as mutually beneficial, in contrast to the “colonial mindset” of the West.[31] The Global Times’ framing is consistent with the PRC’s efforts to style itself as a benevolent partner and present an alternative to what it characterizes as exploitative Western-style diplomacy. The PRC’s close political support and infrastructure assistance to the Solomon Islands has already won its political victories. In 2022, the two nations signed a security pact that allows PRC vessels to replenish there and authorizes the deployment of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel to “maintain social order.”[32]

The PRC continues to use intimidation tactics to deter foreign military presence around the PRC. Australia’s Department of Defence revealed a Chinese warship sent out a sonar pulse in proximity to an Australian naval vessel in the East China Sea on November 14, injuring a diver.[33] The Australian vessel was within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and en route for a port visit.

This incident is the latest in a string of recent maritime confrontations between the PRC and foreign militaries. A PRC fighter jet intercepted a US Air Force bomber over international airspace in the SCS on October 24, flying within ten feet of the aircraft.[34] A PRC military aircraft confronted a Canadian Navy helicopter over international waters near the Paracel Islands on October 29, forcing the helicopter to take evasive action.[35]

Israel-Hamas War

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping called for convening a “more authoritative international peace conference” to promote a “just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue” during a speech at a special BRICS leaders video summit on November 21. He also stated his desire for an immediate ceasefire, ending collective punishments against the people of Gaza, the necessity for humanitarian relief, and preventing the conflict from spreading across the Middle East.[36] His speech aimed to portray the PRC as a responsible international leader of non-Western countries by rhetorically supporting the Palestinian cause.

The PRC leadership probably intends to side with the Palestinian cause in the event of an “authoritative” peace conference. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi on November 20 called for Israel to “stop collective punishment of the people of Gaza” during a meeting with Arab leaders in Beijing.[37] Wang had met with officials from 18 countries and international organizations to discuss the Gaza war from October 8 to November 8, as ISW previously noted.[38] There have been no meetings between the PRC and Israel since Wang called Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on October 24 to urge him to prevent the war from escalating.[39]

Xi and Wang’s comments are consistent with the PRC’s efforts to use the Israel-Hamas War to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and state propaganda outlets have repeatedly condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but never condemned Hamas. They continue to call for an immediate ceasefire and promote a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.[40] The PRC’s targeted criticism of Israel and call for an immediate ceasefire align with the views of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Arab states.[41] The lack of a tangible PRC articulated plan to bring about this ceasefire led to frustrated questioning by an Al Jazeera reporter at a November 15 PRC MFA press conference.[42]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, November 17, 2023 

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: November 16 at Noon ET

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. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is expanding its suppression of dissents by targeting overseas Chinese expatriate critics.
  2. Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will participate in the Aman Youyi 2023 military exercise with People’s Liberation Army forces for the first time, which buttresses CCP efforts to construct a Sino-centric regional security order.
  3. US President Joe Biden and PRC President Xi Jinping announced the resumption of US-PRC military-to-military talks and cooperation to combat illegal fentanyl production after their meeting in San Francisco.
  4. The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Kuomintang (KMT) overcame the biggest hurdle to forming a joint presidential ticket on November 15 and plan to announce the ticket order on November 18.
  5. The PRC continued using the Israel-Hamas War to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States while framing Israel as the driver of the war. The PRC has also expanded its diplomatic outreach in the Middle East while building its image as an important and fair broker in the region.

China

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is expanding its suppression of dissents by targeting overseas Chinese expatriate critics. The party previously targeted the owner of the “Teacher Li is Not Your Teacher” X account in December. The owner is a PRC national living in Italy who published videos of dissent in the PRC amid the end of the Zero-Covid policy from November to December 2022.[1] The party has since expanded its reach to also target dissidents in the United States, such as Jiajun Qiu, by a combination of internet and potential overseas in-person harassment. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security complements these threatening messages by running secret police stations in locations such as New York City to induce fear into diaspora communities and coerce dissidents into silence.[2] These police stations serve as the enforcement mechanism to induce fear into individuals, such as Qiu. Their presence, regardless of whether undercover agents follow dissidents, such as Qiu, presents an omnipresent sense of fear and tension to these individuals to coerce them into silence.

  • The local police visited the “Teacher Li is Not Your Teacher” X account owner’s parents’ house in the PRC at midnight to intimidate them into persuading their son to stop posting. The police repeated these visits at differing hours, but the X account owner continued to post despite his parents’ pleas.[3] This demonstrates that the party previously used domestic harassment to achieve political goals that involved overseas expatriate critics.
     
  • CNN reported on November 13 that Qiu faces dozens of accounts impersonating him as well as threats to his safety from unidentified sources that he claims have ties to the CCP.[4] Qiu said that “every day I live in a sense of fear,” which reflects the persistent pressure that the CCP aims to inflict on expatriate citizens.[5]

Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will participate in the Aman Youyi 2023 military exercise with the People’s Liberation Army forces for the first time, which buttresses CCP efforts to construct a Sino-centric regional security order. [6] The CCP seeks to develop a regional security architecture where it is the primary power broker rather than the United States.[7] The trend of growing military to military relationships between the PRC and these three countries fits into this regional vision. Aman Youyi began as a bilateral Sino-Malaysian exercise in 2014, before Thailand joined in 2018.[8] The expansion of the exercise to include Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam demonstrates and messages the tangible impacts of this architecture. The 2023 iteration is also the first year that Aman Youyi will occur in Chinese waters, off the coast of Zhanjiang, Guangdong.[9] The exercise occurring in Chinese waters reinforces the image of a Sino-centric security architecture.

  • Cambodia already conducts periodic military exercises with the PLA, such as Golden Dragon.[10] Laos began to do so in 2023 with the Friendship Shield exercise.[11] Vietnam also conducted a joint patrol with the People’s Republic of China Coast Guard in April. This was the first time the two countries' coast guard leaders jointly commanded a patrol.[12]

US President Joe Biden and PRC President Xi Jinping announced the resumption of US-PRC military-to-military talks and cooperation to combat illegal fentanyl production after their meeting in San Francisco. PRC President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met in San Francisco on November 15 on the sidelines of the APEC Leaders’ Meeting to discuss a variety of issues affecting US-China relations. The two had not met since November 14, 2022, in Bali, Indonesia. A White House official readout after the meeting and PRC state media said the two had agreed to resume bilateral cooperation to combat global illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking and high-level military-to-military talks. PRC officials and state media described the meeting as “positive, comprehensive, and constructive.”[13] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs also strongly criticized Biden’s comment after the meeting that Xi was a “dictator” but did not publicize the controversy.

  • Biden and Xi announced they would resume cooperation to combat global illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking, including synthetic drugs like fentanyl, and establish a working group for ongoing communication and law enforcement coordination on counternarcotics issues.[14]
  • Biden and Xi agreed to resume high-level military-to-military communications, the U.S.-China Defense Policy Coordination Talks, and the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings, as well as telephone conversations between theater commanders.[15] The PRC severed such talks with the United States in August 2022 following then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. President Biden said before the meeting that resuming military-to-military talks was his goal.[16]
  • President Biden maintained that Xi Jinping was a “dictator” in comments after his meeting with Xi. Reuters reported the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson called these comments “extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation” during her November 16 press conference.[17] The spokesperson’s comments on this topic were omitted from the MFA’s readouts of the press conference.[18]

Biden and Xi affirmed the need to address the risks of advanced AI systems and improve AI safety through US-PRC government talks and agreed to establish an inter-governmental dialogue on artificial intelligence.[19] The PLA has invested billions of dollars in AI systems for military use.[20] Differences between the United States and PRC in ethical and operational regulatory limits for AI systems remain unclear and are a potential point of friction.

  • The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post exclusively reported on November 11 that “sources familiar with the matter” said the two sides would pledge a ban on artificial intelligence in autonomous weaponry and in the control and deployment of nuclear warheads.[21] No such ban was announced after the meeting as of noon Eastern Time on November 16.
     
  • The PRC also has not endorsed the US-led Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy, which aims to build international consensus on regulating military AI.[22]

Biden and Xi also discussed a wide range of other issues affecting US-China relations, including Taiwan, human rights, trade, climate change, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Israel-Palestine conflict.[23] They praised agreements reached by the US and PRC climate envoys before the meeting but did not announce agreements on any of these other topics.

  • U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and China Special Envoy for Climate Change Xie Zhenhua met in Sunnylands, California from November 4-7 and released a joint statement on November 14. They agreed to resume talks on climate cooperation, including curbing methane and plastic pollution, and to operationalize the Working Group on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s.[24]

Taiwan

The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Kuomintang (KMT) overcame the biggest hurdle to forming a joint presidential ticket on November 15 and plan to announce the ticket order on November 18. TPP candidate Ko Wen-je and KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih agreed on a method to determine the ticket order for the joint ticket. The issue was a key sticking point that stalled progress on cooperation since the two parties entered formal negotiations on October 14.[25] The two parties agreed to use opinion polls from November 7-17 to determine the selection of a joint candidate but did not specify which polls they will consider.[26] The parties will appoint their own polling statisticians to contribute additional internal polls and determine which public polls qualify.[27] This outcome is consistent with ISW’s earlier assessments that the two parties would unite under a joint ticket before the candidate registration deadline on November 24.[28]

  • The parties agreed to a point system in which a candidate will receive one “point” for each poll in which he has more support than the other candidate. This means that the candidate leading in a poll wins one point.
  • The November 15 agreement provides Hou with an advantage in the selection process in polls where he is trailing behind Ko by a number of percentage points smaller than the margin of error.[29] If, for example, a poll shows Ko ahead of Hou by 2.5 percentage points but the margin of error is 3 percentage points, Hou would take the point.
  • The data from several polls within the November 7-17 timeframe indicates the advantage provided to Hou could be the deciding factor in the evaluation process. A landline poll from CNEWS released on November 13 showed Ko polling at 0.2 percentage points higher than Hou.[30] This difference is less than the poll’s 2.17 percent margin of error. As a result, Hou would win the point for this poll. A poll from United Daily News released on November 14 shows support for a Ko-led ticket is one percentage point higher than support for a Hou-led ticket.[31] This difference is less than the poll’s 2.9 percent margin of error. Hou would once again win the point for this poll.

The polls that the parties decide to use could have a significant role in selecting the presidential candidate for the joint ticket. Levels of candidate support vary widely across polls according to each polling organization’s specific survey scenarios and methods. These considerations will affect the outcome of the evaluation process.

  • Taiwan’s election authorities confirmed independent candidate Terry Gou’s eligibility to run on November 14.[32] However, some polls do not consider Gou’s candidacy when surveying respondents. Gou’s inclusion in the polls to determine the presidential candidate could be disproportionately helpful or harmful to Ko or Hou, depending on the poll.
  • Differences in polling numbers are wider in polls that measure individual candidate support. Differences in polling numbers are narrower in polls that compare support for a Ko-led joint ticket versus a Hou-led joint ticket. Using polls that compare support between Ko-led and Hou-led joint tickets is more favorable to Hou because the difference is more likely to fall within a given poll’s margin of error.[33]
  • Polling methodology has implications for the evaluation process. Generally, polls conducted by mobile phone emphasize Ko’s popularity over Hou, while polls that use a higher proportion of landline phones reflect higher levels of support for Hou.[34]

The formation of a KMT-TPP joint ticket will significantly diminish Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate and frontrunner Lai Ching-te’s chances of victory. Most polls suggest that a KMT-TPP joint ticket would outperform the DPP in the elections, regardless of the presidential candidate on the joint ticket.[35] A Ko-led ticket will likely pose an especially difficult challenge for the DPP, which shares a similar voter demographic to the TPP.[36]

The KMT and TPP would need to form a coalition government in the case their joint ticket wins in the presidential election. Such a coalition is unprecedented in Taiwan’s history. The agreement that the two parties reached on November 15 arranged for a joint TPP-KMT committee to manage the presidential ticket and selection of legislative candidates for the coalition. The agreement also stipulates that positions in policymaking institutions will be allocated based on proportional representation in the legislature, except for matters of defense, diplomacy, and cross-strait relations.[37] The KMT currently holds 38 seats in the Legislative Yuan and the TPP holds 5 seats. Reconciliation over policy differences will be an obstacle for the two parties in a coalition government because they hold disparate views on cross-strait policy and engagement with the Chinese Communist Party.[38]

Israel-Hamas War

The PRC continued using the Israel-Hamas War to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States while framing Israel as the driver of the war. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and state propaganda outlets have repeatedly condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but never condemned Hamas. They continued to call for an immediate ceasefire and promoted a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.[39] PRC MFA officials maintained their strong condemnation of Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip and called them beyond the scope of self-defense.[40] The MFA strongly condemned the violence around the al-Shifa Hospital and the bombing of the UN compound in Gaza.[41] State media outlet Global Times strongly implied Israel was responsible for bombing the al-Shifa hospital and criticized the United States and its allies for their “perfunctory” response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.[42] The PRC’s targeted criticism of Israel and call for an immediate ceasefire align with the views of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Arab states.[43]

  • The PRC’s call for a two-state solution aligns with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states but differs from Iran. Iran rejects a two-state solution.[44] 

PRC Deputy Representative to the UN Geng Shuang condemned comments by an Israeli official about using nuclear weapons in Gaza.[45] Israel Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said on November 5 that Israel could drop a nuclear bomb in the Gaza Strip.[46] Geng criticized the comment as “extremely irresponsible and disturbing.” Geng’s statement did not mention that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disavowed Eliyahu’s comments and indefinitely suspended him from his post.[47] Geng further urged Israel to accede to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as a non-nuclear weapon state and to place all its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.[48]

The PRC has also expanded its diplomatic outreach in the Middle East while building its image as an important and fair broker in the region. PRC officials have highlighted the PRC’s diplomatic efforts to meet with Middle Eastern states and other relevant actors to bring an end to the violence.[49] These actions also serve to garner support as a leader in the international system, especially with the Global South. The PRC also backed the first United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution about the Gaza Strip.

  • The MFA said on November 8 that Foreign Minister Wang Yi had met with officials from 18 countries and international organizations to discuss the Gaza war.[50] Wang had meetings or calls with only two high-ranking Middle Eastern officials in the two months prior to October 7.[51]
  • MFA Department of West Asian and North African Affairs Director-General Wang Di met with Iran’s Foreign Ministry Deputy for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri and other Iranian officials on November 11. The event was the first bilateral meeting between PRC and Iranian officials since the war in Gaza began. Iranian officials said they hoped to work with the PRC to de-escalate the war.[52]
  • The UN Security Council passed its first resolution on the Gaza war on November 15. The resolution called for “urgent and extended” humanitarian pauses and corridors in the Gaza Strip to allow the provision of essential goods and services. It also called for Hamas and other groups to release all hostages. The PRC voted for the resolution and promoted its implementation in official statements and state media. The PRC is the rotating president of the UN Security Council in November.[53] The United States, UK, and Russia abstained from the vote.[54]

The MFA did not confirm claims by senior Hamas official Ali Baraka on November 2 that a Hamas delegation will soon visit Beijing but said the PRC “maintained close communication with relevant parties.” In the same statement, Baraka also claimed that “China and Russia met with the leaders of Hamas,” possibly referring to Russian and Chinese Middle East envoys visiting Doha, Qatar, on October 20.[55] ISW cannot confirm a direct meeting between PRC and Hamas officials. Doha hosts a Hamas political office and has been the site of ongoing Qatar-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas since the war in Gaza began, however.[56]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, November 10, 2023

Authors: Matthew Sperzel, Daniel Shats, and Ian Jones of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: November 7 at 5pm ET

Taiwanese Presidential Election

The negotiations between the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Kuomintang (KMT) about forming a joint presidential ticket have stalled. TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je and KMT chairman Eric Chu agreed on October 30 to inter-party cooperation for the January 13 legislative elections.[1] The parties have not agreed to a joint ticket since their initial meeting on October 31, however. Disagreement about how to determine the ticket order remains the key hurdle.[2] Each party favors the method that would most likely ensure it heads a joint ticket. The progress the parties make during future meetings will be the basis for future assessments, as ISW previously noted.[3]  The fast-approaching November 24 candidate registration deadline will impose a practical constraint on the feasibility of implementing any selection process.

  • KMT chairman Eric Chu proposed two options for selecting which candidate would lead the joint ticket during a phone call with Ko on November 2.[4] Chu’s first proposal entailed an anonymous vote by all opposition legislative candidates to decide the presidential candidate.[5] The second proposal would consider a calculation of party popularity as a factor.[6] The KMT offered to give equal consideration to a public poll in both cases. Ko rejected both proposals as disproportionately favoring the KMT.[7]
  • Ko continues to insist on using a public poll to decide the order of a joint ticket and is messaging that he will not accept the KMT’s alternatives.[8] He cast doubt over the two parties’ ability reach a consensus during a campaign event on November 3.[9]

The impetus for TPP-KMT cooperation to form a joint presidential ticket remains, however. Polling data indicates that the parties will need a joint ticket to overcome Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Lai Ching-te’s consistent lead.[10] A majority of polls suggest that a joint ticket would enable the parties to outperform the DPP in the elections regardless of who heads the joint ticket.[11] The entry of independent candidate Terry Gou into the presidential race is also an incentive for the parties to form a joint ticket, as Gou’s candidacy will draw support and votes from the TPP and KMT.

  • An October 24 poll from the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) showed Ko and Hou are trailing Lai by 4.1% and 8.6%, respectively, even though Lai’s lead has diminished during the last several weeks.[12]
  • Terry Gou’s campaign office announced on November 2 it has collected over one million signatures, three times the required amount. Gou’s campaign is awaiting certification from the Central Election Commission (CEC).[13]

South China Sea military tensions

The PRC instigated two aggressive encounters with US-allied militaries in the South China Sea (SCS) between October 29 and November 6. Canada’s military disclosed on November 3 that PRC military aircraft confronted a Canadian Navy helicopter over international waters near the Paracel Islands on October 29.[14] The helicopter took evasive action in response. A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warship and militia vessels followed a US Navy ship within 12 nautical miles of the Taiwan-controlled Itu Aba (Taiping) Island in the South China Sea on November 6.

The PRC falsely blamed the United States and its allies for these types of aggressive interactions in the SCS. The PRC pointed to the United States’ “increased regional military deployment, close-up reconnaissance, and encouragement of other parties’ infringement” in the SCS.[15] A PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs official made the statement during bilateral maritime security talks on November 3, which followed US reassurances to the Philippines after PRC Coast Guard Vessels obstructed a Philippine resupply mission in the Second Scarborough Shoal.[16] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized Canada’s “so-called reconnaissance activities” as “inappropriate.”[17] Such statements that frame the US and allied military presence in the SCS as unlawful and provocative are consistent with ISW’s assessment that the PRC is shaping the information environment to blame the United States for geopolitical confrontations.

Israel-Hamas war

The PRC is using the Israel-Palestinian war to bolster its image as a fair, responsible broker in contrast to the “biased” United States. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and state propaganda outlets repeatedly condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but never condemned Hamas. They repeatedly said the core of the conflict was the absence of a Palestinian state and promoted a two-state solution. [18] The PRC’s messaging indicates that it supports the Palestinian cause to gain diplomatic influence among Middle Eastern countries sympathetic to Palestine. Beijing’s diplomatic efforts in the UN and bilaterally show an effort to build an image as an important and fair mediator in the Middle East and to garner support as a leader in the international system.

  • The MFA and state-owned outlets, such as The Global Times, criticized US support for Israel and re-iterated that the PRC has no “selfish interest” in the conflict and is committed to bringing peace and justice.[19] PRC officials also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the United States, EU, and Middle Eastern countries including Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE.[20]
  • The PRC assumed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on November 1 and stated that its top priority in that role would be to promote a ceasefire and an end to the Israel-Hamas war, prevent more civilian casualties, prevent larger-scale humanitarian disasters, and prevent the conflict from spilling over.[21]

The PRC extended a naval deployment in the Middle East during the Israel-Hamas war, possibly as a means of increasing its influence in the Middle East. The PLAN 44th Escort Task Force completed a routine escort mission in the Gulf of Aden on October 2 but remained in the vicinity to conduct a series of “goodwill visits” in Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE until November 3. The Oman and UAE visits included joint maritime exercises with the navies of those countries.[22] The task force’s departure on November 3 makes it unlikely that its extended presence was meant to respond to contingencies related to the Israeli-Palestinian violence since the violence is still ongoing. The establishment of PRC naval facilities in the Middle East would support future PLAN deployments.

  • US President Joe Biden reportedly received a briefing about PRC-Oman negotiations in October to build a PLA military facility in an unspecified location in Oman. The facility would complement China’s other overseas base in Djibouti and would place a permanent PLA facility near a key chokepoint at the Strait of Hormuz.[23]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, November 2, 2023

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War 

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

Data Cutoff: November 1 at 5pm ET 

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. The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) agreed to cooperation in the legislative elections and will likely form a joint presidential ticket before the January 13 presidential election.
  2. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is interfering in the Taiwanese election in order to harm the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) chances of victory in the January 13 presidential and legislative elections.
  3. High-level meetings between PRC and United States officials are unlikely to mitigate People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military coercion targeting Taiwan.
  4. The PRC is shaping the information environment to blame the United States for potential future geopolitical incidents in the South China Sea.
  5. The PRC is using the Israel-Hamas War to enhance its image as an international mediator in the Middle East.

Taiwanese Presidential Election 

The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) agreed to cooperation in the legislative elections and will likely form a joint presidential ticket before the January 13 presidential election. TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je and KMT chairman Eric Chu agreed on October 30 to inter-party cooperation for the January 13 legislative elections.[1] KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih previously stated on October 26 that there was no longer time to conduct a national primary or poll to determine the lead of a hypothetical joint KMT-TPP presidential ticket. Hou and Ko agreed that day to enter into party-to-party negotiations in the unspecified future to decide on whether to form a joint presidential ticket.[2] This rendered moot the prior sticking point between the parties on deciding whether to use a primary or poll to determine the composition of the presidential ticket. Ko, Hou, and Chu held an initial meeting to start the party-to-party negotiations on October 31.[3] These meetings are tangible progress towards the forming of a joint ticket. The progress of future meetings will be the basis for future assessments. There is majority support among the KMT and TPP bases for a joint ticket, according to the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation. [4] This further incentivizes the candidates to form a joint ticket.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is interfering in the Taiwanese election in order to harm the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) chances of victory in the January 13 presidential and legislative elections. The CCP interferes in the Taiwanese election to prevent DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te from winning and prevent the DPP from retaining its majority in the Legislative Yuan. The CPP views Lai and the DPP as “separatists” that threaten the status quo. [5]

DPP spokesperson Chang Chih-hao alleged that the CCP manipulated polls, used tax inspection and land survey investigations, forced Taiwanese businesspeople to express pro-PRC political positions, subsidized airfare for Taiwanese pro-China figures to return to Taiwan, and employed other forms of economic and military coercion to interfere in the election.[6] “Tax inspections and land survey investigations” refer to the October 22 PRC probes into Foxconn, the company founded by independent presidential candidate Terry Gou.[7] These probes create a financial incentive for Gou to comply with CCP objectives in order to placate the investigators. The PRC state media outlet Global Times criticized Terry Gou for being a spoiler candidate and dividing the anti-DPP opposition on multiple occasions. An October 22 Global Times article that disclosed the Foxconn probes reiterated this point about Gou and implicitly linked the probes to the election.[8] The Republic of China’s (ROC) Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) also seized NT$11.5 billion (US$354.6 million) in illegal inward remittances and warned that unspecified foreign actors are using remote funding, internet betting, and cognitive warfare to influence the January 2024 presidential and legislative elections. The MJIB did not specify the origin of the illegal remittances but said it would increase monitoring of PRC nationals coming to Taiwan on the pretext of “social interaction.” The MJIB said unspecified organizations use offshore funding from remittances to make donations to political candidates via Taiwanese businesspeople.[9]

An unnamed Taiwanese “senior government official” said on October 29 that the Executive Yuan had established a task force to combat election disinformation by the PRC. The official said that the PRC has built a network within Taiwan’s religious communities and that disinformation proliferated through these communities.[10] Members of Taiwanese Buddhist organizations like Fo Guang Shan and Mazu-worshiping organizations like the Taiwan Matsu Fellowship have met with officials from the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office and United Front Work Department at various cross-strait exchanges.[11]

Sino-American Relations

High-level meetings between PRC and United States officials are unlikely to mitigate People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military coercion targeting Taiwan. PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on October 26 and President Joe Biden on October 27.[12] Reuters reported on October 31 that the meetings led to an agreement in principle for Xi and Biden to meet in San Francisco in November.[13] PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman Wang Wenbin stated on October 30 that the “road to San Francisco will not be a smooth journey,” indicating persisting friction points in Sino-American relations such as the United States’ regional military presence.[14] Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Zhang Youxia struck a similar tone on October 30 at the Xiangshan Forum on International Security when he accused the United States of “meddling in regional affairs.”[15] He also declared the Chinese military would “never show mercy” to those who want to separate Taiwan from China.[16] The meetings preceded unannounced October 31 PLA drills to Taiwan’s southeast by the Shandong aircraft carrier strike group.[17] The Shandong’s deployment on October 26 and subsequent commencement of drills corresponded to spikes in Taiwan ADIZ violations by People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft.[18] The PRC rhetoric in conjunction with the ongoing unannounced military drills indicates that high-level Sino-American diplomatic engagement will not translate to easing military pressure on Taiwan.

The PRC is shaping the information environment to blame the United States for potential future geopolitical incidents in the South China Sea. The PRC state-controlled China Global Television Network (CGTN) aired an October 29 interview with Lieutenant General He Lei accusing the United States of arrogantly interfering in the Sino-Philippines territorial disputes in the South China Sea.[19] This echoes PRC MFA spokeswoman Mao Ning’s condemnation of United States “interference” in the South China Sea amidst Sino-Philippines territorial disputes.[20] Her comments occurred after the PRC Coast Guard rammed Philippine ships near the Second Thomas Shoal on October 22.[21] This PRC aggression extends to a growing trend of People’s Liberation Army Air Force planes dangerously operating near United States aircraft in the East and South China Sea since 2021, according to images declassified by the United States Department of Defense.[22] The China Military Power Report stated the United States has documented in excess of 180 such instances since 2021.[23] The CCP inaccurately placing blame on the United States for interfering in the South China Sea indicates that the party’s false rhetoric aims to provide cover for coercive People’s Liberation Army military activity. This activity aims to degrade the American-led security architecture.

Israel-Hamas War

The PRC is using the Israel-Hamas War to enhance its image as an international mediator in the Middle East. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and state propaganda outlets repeatedly condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but never condemned Hamas.[24] The PRC Special Envoy for Middle East Affairs Zhai Jun emphasized the necessity of a two-state solution during an October 29 interview with the radio station Voice of Palestine. He stated that the root cause of the conflict was the lack of a Palestinian state.[25] Zhai also called for a ceasefire while meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on October 30.[26] This messaging indicates that the PRC supports the Palestinian cause in order to gain diplomatic influence among Middle Eastern countries sympathetic to Palestine.

The PRC's messaging on the Israel-Hamas War also aims to enhance its status as leader of the Global South. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs and state-affiliated Global Times portrayed the PRC as listening to the Arab and Palestinian people in alleged contrast to the hypocritical United States on October 19.[27] This portrayal came after the United States vetoed an October 18 United Nations Security Council resolution on the war in the Middle East put forth by Brazil.[28] The CCP routinely frames the PRC as a developing country and says that Chinese-led institutions, such as BRICS, represent the Global South on the international stage.[29] The CCP’s call for a ceasefire and implementation of the two-state solution amidst the Israel-Hamas War supports the party’s messaging that it is the leader of the Global South.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, October 26, 2023

Authors: Nils Peterson, Matthew Sperzel, and Daniel Shats of the Institute for the Study of War

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

Data Cutoff: October 24 at 5pm ET

Taiwanese Presidential Election

A recent poll revealed broad backing among Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) supporters for a joint KMT-TPP presidential ticket. 81 percent of KMT supporters and 67 percent of TPP supporters approve of a joint presidential ticket, according to data from the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF).[1] The polling data is consistent with ISW’s assessments that the two candidates will form a joint ticket, but such a ticket is unlikely to capture the entirety of each candidate’s support base.

The KMT and TPP still need to resolve disagreements over the method of selecting a presidential candidate, however, as cooperation talks between the parties have made little headway. TPP candidate Ko Wen-je’s polling lead over KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih has emboldened him to take a tougher negotiating stance. Ko proposed two polling-based selection methods, one split 50-50 between mobile and landline phones, and another purely mobile-based, where his lead is especially wide.[2] Hou rejected both proposals but indicated his willingness to accept a poll as part of the selection process if equal weight was given to a primary vote. This illustrates his confidence in mobilizing KMT voters for a primary.[3] Hou also noted he has not ruled out being the vice president on a joint ticket, showing some flexibility in his negotiating stance.[4] Ko ridiculed Hou’s counter proposal, demonstrating an unwillingness to yield.[5]

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Lai Ching-te is losing ground in the polls, which compounds the challenge for his electability in the face of TPP-KMT cooperation. TPOF has attributed Lai’s narrowing lead in the polls to public revelations relating to a damaging egg import scandal on the DPP government’s watch.[6] Support for the KMT has proven resilient in the face of scandals, however. The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau is investigating KMT legislator Ma Wen-chun for allegedly leaking classified material about Taiwan’s submarine program to South Korea.[7] DPP accusations of Ma’s foreign collusion and treason have not translated to lower poll support for Hou.

The DPP and KMT are seizing on the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) probes into Foxconn to influence Terry Gou's decision-making about continuing his campaign. The DPP aims for Terry Gou to stay in the presidential race, while the KMT wants him to drop out. The state-owned Global Times revealed on October 22 that PRC authorities opened simultaneous tax and land use investigations into Foxconn enterprises in four Chinese provinces.[8] Foxconn’s founder Terry Gou is currently pursuing an independent run for president in Taiwan. Gou is polling in fourth place behind frontrunner Lai, TPP candidate Ko Wen-je, and KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih.[9] Gou said when he announced his campaign in August that his goal was to unify the DPP’s opposition, but his campaign draws votes from Ko and Hou. Gou’s campaign declined to comment on the investigations.[10]

  • Top DPP officials, such as Vice President and presidential candidate Lai Ching-te, have framed the PRC probes as Chinese economic coercion to interfere in the election.[11] Defending Gou against the Foxconn probes serves to pressure him to remain in the race. Gou dropping out may be framed as a capitulation to the PRC.
  • An October 24 editorial in the pro-KMT China Times called for Gou to withdraw to avoid helping Lai by splitting the opposition vote. The editorial cited the Foxconn probes as one of several recent controversies harming Gou’s campaign.[12] The China Times is a Taiwanese media outlet that receives editorial oversight from the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office on sensitive articles pertaining to cross-strait relations, according to a 2019 Financial Times report.[13]
  • The PRC-based Global Times published an English-language article about the probe on October 22 that cited unnamed “analysts from both sides of the Taiwan Straits” who also noted that Gou is a spoiler candidate who helps Lai. This is consistent with Global Times coverage of Gou’s campaign when Gou announced his candidacy. The PRC considers Lai a secessionist and the framing in the article is consistent with the PRC’s aim of undermining Lai’s campaign.
  • An October 23 Global Times article also highlighted Taiwanese speculation that the Foxconn probes were a “way for the mainland to prevent Gou from running.” It quoted an unnamed PRC expert who speculated Gou was running “most likely” because US or DPP authorities are coercing him to damage anti-DPP unity.[14]

Chinese Communist Party Regional Coercion

The PRC Coast Guard and maritime militia committed aggression against Filipino ships near the Second Thomas Shoal. The PRC Coast Guard and maritime militia rammed Filipino ships on a resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal on October 22.[15] The maritime militia is an assortment of professional vessels and fishing boats that operate under the CCP’s control but are not standard military ships.[16] The aggression aims to legitimize PRC territorial claims to the Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines has occupied since 1999.

The PRC’s naval aggression contradicts the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) claim to build a peaceful Asia. The Embassy of the PRC in the Republic of the Philippines urged the Filipino government on October 23 to “stop causing trouble” and remove the grounded ship near the shoal.[17] The maritime aggression and PRC rhetoric demonstrate the CCP is not interested in long-term friendship with neighboring countries such as the Philippines. It also contradicts the PRC's claim to “adhere to the concept of peaceful coexistence” and “maintain long-term friendships with neighboring countries” in an October 24 foreign policy white paper.[18]

Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army Decision Making

The National People’s Congress officially removed Defense Minister Li Shangfu from his post on October 24, a month after the CCP purged him following investigations into corrupt military equipment procurement.[19] Li oversaw the Central Military Commission Equipment Development Department, the organization that oversees military procurement, The Central Military Commission Equipment Development Department announced investigations into corrupt procurement practices in July 2023.

The National People’s Congress also officially removed former Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang from his official role as State Councilor on October 24.[21] The State Council is an executive organ within the PRC. Wang Yi re-assumed the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs on July 25.[22] Wang is a veteran diplomat who served as foreign minister from 2013 to 2022, and as Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director since the start of 2023.

The dismissals are the latest in a trend of purges of high-ranking PLA officers. The CCP purged PLA Rocket Force commander Li Yuchao and two of his deputies in July 2023 following corruption investigations.[23] They were replaced later that month by Wang Houbin and Xu Xisheng, two commanders with no prior experience serving in the Rocket Force. The purges indicate Xi’s perspective that the PLA is not sufficiently loyal to the party and his willingness to risk projecting instability within the CCP to establish loyalty within the party.[24]

Israel-Hamas War

Media outlets with CCP oversight hypocritically and falsely accused the Republic of China (Taiwan) of not assisting overseas Taiwanese to evacuate Israel. The Taiwanese media outlet China Times spread rumors during the week of October 9 that the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ministry of Foreign Affairs told an ROC national stranded in Israel to “book his own flight” home.[25] The China Times is a media outlet that receives editorial oversight from the People’s Republic of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on sensitive articles pertaining to cross-strait relations, according to a 2019 Financial Times report.[26] The CCP-controlled Huanqiu repeated the narrative on October 12 that the China Times spread earlier in the week.[27] The ROC proved Huaniqu’s narrative false by evacuating nine ROC nationals, four Guatemalans, and one Paraguayan from Israel to Rome on a chartered plane on October 20.[28] The false narrative also conflicts with the PRC’s assertion that it would assist PRC nationals in leaving the region. The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs instead told PRC citizens on October 16 to buy commercial flights back to the PRC.[29]

This false reporting is consistent with the CCP's propagated narrative that the ROC government is capable neither of governing effectively nor of protecting its citizenry.[30] The CCP spreads this false narrative to undermine the confidence of the ROC populace in its government. This supports the main effort of the CCP coercion campaign, which is to unify with Taiwan through means other than invasion, by degrading the confidence of the ROC populace that its government can effectively govern.

The CCP is using the Israel-Hamas War to message its status as leader of the Global South and convey that the United States is not a responsible actor in the Middle East. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) condemned violence between Palestine and Israel since October 7 but did not condemn Hamas.[31] CCP English-language propaganda outlets accused the United States and European countries of hindering the creation of a Palestinian state because of “biased” support for Israel.[32] CCP-propagated narratives also portray the party as an ostensibly neutral broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict. This narrative blames the West and primarily the United States for the current instability in the Middle East in contrast to the supposedly responsible and problem-solving PRC.

  • The PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi held a phone call with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on October 23. Wang emphasized the importance of the two-state solution to resolving historical Israeli-Palestinian tensions.[33] Wang opposed “acts that harm civilians” and “any violations of international law” in his call with Cohen.[34]
  • The PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi held a phone call with Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad al-Maliki on October 23. Wang expressed support for the two-state solution and the Palestinian right to return.[35] He stated that the PRC supports an immediate ceasefire to “ensure the most basic living conditions for the people of Gaza.”[36]
  • The party routinely frames the PRC as a developing country and says that Chinese-led institutions, such as BRICS, represent the Global South on the international stage.[37] The CCP’s call for a ceasefire and implementation of the two-state solution amidst the Israel-Hamas War aligns with the party’s messaging that it is the leader of the Global South.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) retained its three-ship task force in the Middle East after relief from another PLAN task force. There are now six PLAN warships in unspecified locations in the Middle East since mid-October.[38] The 45th PLAN Task Force took over as scheduled from the 44th Task Force in the Gulf of Aden in early October.[39] The stated purpose of these task forces is to conduct escort missions for merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden.[40] The PRC denies that the additional ships in the region are in response to the Israel-Hamas War.[41] The 44th task force staying behind is unusual and a deviation from the normal procedure of one task force rotating out of the region upon a handover, however.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, October 19, 2023

Authors: Nils Peterson and Matthew Sperzel of the Institute for the Study of War

Data Cutoff: October 17 at Noon ET

Key Takeaways

  1. The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) agreed to debates between their presidential candidates and will likely form a joint presidential ticket before the January 13 election.
  2. KMT member and former ROC President Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016) proposed that the United States encourage the ROC to “hold peace talks” with the PRC during an October 16 New York University event.
  3. The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) held the Taiwanese Association Forum in Beijing on October 16 to undermine the sovereignty of the ROC (Taiwan).
  4. Reuters reported on October 13 that General Liu Zhenli could become the next Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwanese Presidential Election

The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) agreed to debates between their presidential candidates and will likely form a joint presidential ticket before the January 13 election. Officials from the parties agreed on October 14 to hold three debates between KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih and TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je to determine who should lead a joint presidential ticket.[1] The parties still need to resolve disagreements over the method of selecting a presidential candidate, however. Forming a joint ticket would enable the parties to combine their support and mount a challenge to the leading Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te.[2]  The agreement to hold the debates is consistent with ISW’s standing assessment that the KMT and TPP could form a joint presidential ticket before the January election.[3]

  • KMT campaign officials King Pu-tsung and Justin Huang and TPP campaign officials Huang Shan-shan and Chou Yu-hsiu held a three-hour meeting to discuss electoral cooperation on October 14.[4] The agreed upon debates would have to occur before the November 24 presidential candidate registration deadline with the Central Election Commission.[5]
  • The KMT and TPP disagreed over how to select the presidential nominee for a joint ticket during the October 14 meeting. The TPP negotiators advocated for opinion polls while the KMT advocated for an open primary.[6]

A KMT-TPP joint presidential ticket is unlikely to capture the entirety of each candidate’s support base. An alliance risks alienating voters who are reluctant to accept divergent views on cross-strait issues given the centrality of cross-strait relations to the election narrative. Hou Yu-ih’s support of the 1992 Consensus stands in contrast to Ko Wen-je’s reluctance to identify with the stigmatized term. Support for the parties and Taiwanese statehood are also divided along demographic lines. A September voter poll by Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) reveals a demographic divide on opinions toward Taiwan’s status vis-a-vis China. A majority of voters aged 44 and below favor an independent Taiwan over maintaining the status quo or cross-strait unification, whereas voters 45 and up show comparatively stronger support for the status quo and unification.[7] The meaning of independence in Taiwan refers to a governing framework different from the current Republic of China. The Republic of China (Taiwan) is already an independent state apart from the People’s Republic of China.

  • The age discrepancy is also reflected in each party’s support base. An excerpt from a September TPOF poll notes Ko has a distinct advantage among voters aged 44 and below, while Hou finds stronger support with voters 54 and up.[8] This suggests young green voters supporting the TPP may struggle to accept a joint ticket with the outspokenly anti-independence KMT.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, October 13, 2023

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, October 13, 2023  

Authors: Nils Peterson of the Institute for the Study of War 

Data Cutoff: October 12 at Noon ET 

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. The Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party are discussing a joint presidential ticket and may form one before the January 13 election.
  2. The Chinese Communist Party blamed the United States and Europe of “biased” support for Israel, indicating that the party aims to delegitimize the United States as a responsible regional actor.

Taiwanese Presidential Election 

The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) are discussing a joint presidential ticket and may form one before the January 13 election. The KMT aims to overcome its third place standing in the presidential race by partnering with the second place TPP to create a competitive challenge to the leading Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te. The second place TPP also seeks a joint ticket to increase its competitiveness against Lai. KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih and TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je have expressed openness to working together over the past two months but have not agreed on specific measures for cooperation. The KMT and TPP leadership began planning for pre-negotiation discussions during the past week and scheduled the first staff dialogue for October 14.[1] The parties taking tangible steps towards dialogue is consistent with ISW’s October 5 assessment that the TPP could form a joint presidential ticket before the January election.[2]

  • Ko has been open to cooperating with Hou to forge a winning electoral strategy since August but without working toward a joint ticket.[3] KMT Chairman Eric Chu and Hou also have expressed a willingness to work with the TPP in late August.[4] Several local district level KMT leaders called for cooperation between Hou and Ko on September 20.[5]
  • Ko proposed on October 10 to hold three debates with Hou before a third-party poll that would determine the presidential candidate for a joint KMT-TPP ticket. He also nominated his campaign chief Huang Shan-shan and campaign office chair Chou Yu-hsiu for negotiations with the KMT on organizing the debates.[6]
  • Ko leads Hou by 7.4 percentage points in the presidential election, according to the most recent poll by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation from September 25.[7]

ISW assesses that the CCP holds the following leverage points over each of the Taiwanese presidential candidates:

ISW assesses that a joint Ko-Hou presidential ticket would have the following implications for the CCP leverage points over the Taiwanese presidential candidates:

Chinese Communist Party in the Middle East

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) blamed the United States and Europe for “biased” support for Israel, indicating that the party aims to delegitimize the United States as a responsible regional actor. The CCP condemned violence between Palestine and Israel but did not condemn Hamas.[8] The party called for all involved parties to remain restrained and immediately implement a cease fire on October 8 and October 9. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed support for the October 11 resolution passed by the Arab League that called for an immediate cessation of Israeli military action in Gaza.[9] CCP English-language propaganda outlets accused American and European countries of hindering the creation of a Palestinian state because of “biased” support for Israel.[10] This narrative places the blame for the current instability in the Middle East on the West. This aligns with the CCP’s messaging during Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine which blamed the United States and NATO expansion for instigating the crisis.[11]

  • The CCP’s October 8 statement called for an immediate ceasefire in order to protect civilians and prevent the situation from deteriorating.[12] PRC Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mao Ning stated on October 9 that the party’s top priority was for the war to end as soon as possible.[13] She also declined to label Hamas’ actions as “acts of terrorism” and refused to state whether the PRC urged Iran to restrain Hamas.[14] This statement came after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping on October 9 in Beijing. Schumer urged him to “stand with the Israeli people and condemn [Hamas’] cowardly and vicious attacks.”[15]
  • The CCP-controlled English language Global Times claimed on October 10 and 11 that American and European “biased” support for Israel would worsen the situation and reveal the greed of the American military-industrial complex. The outlet also questioned the motives of Secretary of State Blinken’s Israel trip. It asked “But what is he supporting exactly? Is it a retaliatory mass killing?”[16]

The CCP is portraying itself as an ostensible neutral broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PRC MFA pushed for a two-state solution amid the war.[17] The CCP also framed itself as a neutral broker in the Ukraine War.[18] The similarities in CCP-propagated narratives between Ukraine and Israel indicate that the party will use the claim of neutrality to portray itself as a responsible power compared to the allegedly irresponsible West.

  • The party began portraying itself as a neutral broker via Special Envoy on the Middle East Zhai Jun, who called the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 10 to offer PRC assistance to broker an “immediate ceasefire and cessation of violence, and to provide humanitarian support to the Palestinian people.”[19] Egypt has not publicized its response.  
  • This framing of ostensible neutrality would allow the CCP to build off its March 2023 mediation of Saudi-Iran diplomatic normalization to enhance its political stature in the region.[20] This also advances the CCP narrative of a PRC-led world order as founded on principles of non-intervention and peace compared to the alleged militarism of the United States.[21]
  • The English language CCP propaganda outlets China Daily and Global Times framed the United States' move to deploy the USS Gerald R. Ford near Israel as evidence that the American military-industrial complex perniciously exploits the conflict for profit.[22] Such articles propagate the narrative that the United States is a destabilizing world power.

Hamas' attack on Israel is the focus of international attention, and the CCP may exploit the situation to advance its coercion campaign targeting the Republic of China (Taiwan). The table below lists some of the CCP’s coercion efforts, their status, and how the party could advance them.

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, October 5, 2023

Taiwanese Presidential Election

The Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) could form a joint presidential ticket before the January 13 election. The KMT aims to overcome its third place standing in the presidential race by partnering with the second place TPP to create a competitive challenge to the leading Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te.[1] KMT Chairman Eric Chu and KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih both separately expressed a willingness to work with the TPP in late August.[2] Several local district level KMT leaders called for cooperation between Hou and Ko on September 20.[3] ISW previously assessed on September 29 that the KMT and TPP were unlikely to obtain a compromise deal because KMT-leaning Broadcasting Corporation of China Chairman Jaw Shaw-kong insisted on preconditions to negotiations in September.[4] Jaw’s precondition that KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih be the nominee on a joint ticket amounted to a call for TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je to drop out of the race. [5] Ko responded on September 30 by calling for an independent third party poll to determine the presidential candidate on a joint KMT-TPP ticket. [6] Ko called for this approach because he currently leads Hou in the polls. There is no precedent in Taiwanese politics for determining a presidential ticket via this method between two parties. The KMT has neither publicly agreed to this suggestion nor publicly engaged Ko about any such poll since September 30.[7] Chairman Eric Chu made a statement on October 4 expressing willingness to engage in dialogue with the TPP without preconditions, removing the obstacle to cooperation presented by Jaw’s demands.[8] Neither Hou nor Ko has shown a willingness to drop out of the race. It remains unclear how the two parties would choose a presidential candidate for a joint ticket or resolve dissimilar policy views about mechanisms, such as the 1992 Consensus, for engaging with the Chinese Communist Party.[9]

  • Ko leads Hou by 7.4 percentage points in the presidential election, according to a September 25 poll by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation.[10]

Online activist Lin Yu-hung reportedly requested that death threats be made against himself related to the imported egg scandal, shifting the electoral narrative away from cross-strait relations this week. The dominant narrative of the election as a choice between peace and war is likely to reemerge in the next week, however. The Democratic Progressive Party-led government imported 145 million eggs over the summer to alleviate supply shortages. Several million of these eggs had mislabeled expiration dates, which gave rise to public concern about the safety of the imported eggs. Multiple Taiwanese media outlets reported on October 3 that Lin criticized the DPP over the egg scandal and requested that death threats be privately sent to himself by a friend in the KMT named Hsu Che-pin.[11] The egg scandal is now entering its third week.[12] The media focus on other scandals during this election cycle has generally lasted no more than three weeks. The emerging scandal surrounding former Taiwan naval advisor Kuo Hsi accusing KMT legislator Ma Wen-chun of leaking classified secrets related to Taiwan’s indigenous submarine to the PRC is also pushing the electoral narrative back to national security and cross-strait policy.[13] The multi-year trend of cross-strait relations shaping Taiwanese presidential elections, along with the emerging national security-related scandal, suggests that the narrative of the election as a choice between peace and war will be the central issue of the 2024 presidential election.

  • The DPP-led government imported the eggs between March to July to address shortages caused by the avian flu.[14] Egg processing plants mixed imported and domestic eggs to create liquid egg products and mislabeled the products as made in Taiwan.[15] The government destroyed 54 million eggs that had expired in storage facilities.[16] The agriculture minister resigned on September 17 and Premier Chen Chien-jen responded to the controversy before the Legislative Yuan on September 22.[17]
  • Lin stated that he solicited the fake threats because the Kuomintang failed to hold the DPP accountable.[18] Lin also announced that he was a DPP member and planned to resign from the party on October 3.[19] The KMT confirmed on October 3 that Hsu was a KMT party worker and that there would be an investigation into his actions.[20] Both Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen and Justice Minister Cai Qingxiang stated on October 3 that they would continue to investigate and search for more accomplices.[21]
  • The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense announced on October 3 that it is cooperating with the judicial authorities to “clarify the facts” regarding the allegation against Ma but will not comment on the situation.[22] Ma filed a defamation lawsuit against Kuo on September 30.[23]

Chinese Communist Party and Europe

Sino-German economic agreements on October 1 demonstrate that the CCP is utilizing international governmental agreements to offset the image of a poor business environment in China. The raiding of foreign firms and exit restrictions from China for select foreign employees since the anti-espionage law came into effect in April projects an image of hostility to foreign investment in China.[24] This aligns with CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s contradictory pursuit of increasing private sector growth while simultaneously making the business regulatory environment more stringent on national security grounds since the 20th Party Congress in October 2022. CCP Vice Premier He Lifeng and German Finance Minister Christian Lindner agreeing on October 1 to deepen unspecified financial cooperation buttresses China’s image as a favorable location to do business, which is contradictory to the party’s actions such as raiding foreign firms.[25] The CCP also loosened capital control restrictions in Shanghai throughout September to buttress this image.[26]

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, September 29, 2023

Taiwanese Presidential Election

The Kuomintang (KMT) seeks to lead a joint presidential ballot with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and is unlikely to obtain a compromise deal with the TPP in the coming two weeks. The KMT aims to overcome its third place standing in the presidential race by partnering with the TPP to create a competitive challenge to the leading Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te.[1] KMT leadership at the party and grassroots levels support cooperation between KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih and TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je. This is consistent with ISW’s September 15 assessment that hostility between KMT leadership and independent presidential candidate Terry Gou may prompt the KMT to reconsider cooperation with the TPP in the presidential election.[2] Ko has been open to cooperating with Hou since August but rejected a precondition articulated by KMT-leaning Broadcasting Corporation of China Chairman Jaw Shaw-kong in September that Hou automatically be presidential candidate.[3] The two parties have dissimilar views about the mechanisms, such as the 1992 Consensus, for engaging in dialogue with the Chinese Communist Party, which are hurdles to the two candidates running on a joint ticket.[4] Neither candidate has shown the willingness to drop out of the race to form a KMT-TPP joint ticket. Either party expressing willingness to engage in dialogue without preconditions would prompt a reevaluation of this assessment.

  • Several local district level KMT leaders called for cooperation between Hou and Ko on September 20.[5] The KMT-leaning Broadcasting Corporation of China Chairman Jaw Shaw-kong met with former KMT presidential nominee Han Kuo-yu on September 26 and claimed to have “reached a consensus on promoting ‘opposition integration’” between the KMT and TPP, with negotiations alleged to begin in mid-October.[6]
  • Ko stated in late September that cooperation cannot be “purely reduced to distribution of power” and that cooperation requires consensus and the combination of ideas.[7] Ko is polling ahead of Hou by 7.4 percentage points, according to a September 25 poll by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation.[8] Ko reportedly told an internal TPP meeting on an unspecified date in September that the KMT could “go to hell.”[9]
  • The KMT interprets the 1992 Consensus to mean that there is one China, the ROC, and sees it as a means for engaging in dialogue with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[10] Ko does not align with the 1992 Consensus because it has become politically contentious in Taiwan.[11] He does support dialogue with the CCP that avoids the domestic Taiwanese political polarization around using the term 1992 Consensus.
  • The trend is for media coverage surrounding controversy in the election, such as Jaw’s comments, to not last substantially into a third week. The sexual assault and barbiturate scandals that occurred in May and June that affected the DPP and KMT lasted no more than three weeks.[12]
ISW assesses that the CCP holds the following leverage points over each of the Taiwanese presidential candidates:[13]
 
A joint Ko-Hou presidential ticket would have the following implications for the CCP leverage points over the Taiwanese presidential candidates:
 

The imported egg scandal shifted the presidential electoral narrative away from cross-strait relations over the past two weeks, and the dominant narrative of the election as a choice between peace and war is likely to reemerge in the next two weeks. The Democratic Progressive Party-led government imported 145 million eggs over the summer to alleviate supply shortages. Several million of these eggs had mislabeled expiration dates, which gave rise to public concern over prior and future consumption of the imported eggs. Other scandals during this election cycle lasted no more than three weeks. The multi-year trend of cross-strait relations shaping Taiwanese presidential elections, along with the short-lived length of prior scandal coverage, suggests that the narrative of the election as a choice between peace and war will be the central issue of the 2024 presidential election.

  • The DPP-led government imported the eggs between March to July to address shortages caused by the avian flu.[14] Egg processing plants mixed imported and domestic eggs to create liquid egg products and mislabeled the products as made in Taiwan.[15] The government destroyed 54 million eggs that had expired in storage facilities.[16] The agriculture minister resigned on September 17 and Premier Chen Chien-jen responded to the controversy before the Legislative Yuan on September 22.[17]
  • The sexual assault and barbiturate scandals that occurred in May and June that affected the DPP and KMT lasted no more than three weeks.[18] The egg scandal is now entering its second week.[19] 
  • The framing of the election as a choice between peace and war has been ongoing since at least January 2023 and remains salient in Taiwanese and Chinese media outlets.[20] The last two Taiwanese presidential elections, which occurred in 2016 and 2020, centered around the candidates’ differing views of cross-strait relations.[21] The 2024 presidential election coverage also focused on cross-strait relations with brief interludes of political scandal.

Chinese Communist Party Coercion toward Taiwan

The CCP aims to economically integrate the ROC-controlled offshore island of Kinmen with the PRC province of Fujian, which could allow the CCP to exacerbate domestic ROC internal divisions over cross-strait engagement with the PRC.[22] Economically integrating the island with China would provide an avenue for the CCP to exacerbate ROC internal divisions over cross-strait engagement with the PRC. The ROC opposition parties are willing to engage in expansive economic, cultural, and political engagement with the PRC whereas the DPP is not. Exacerbating internal ROC divisions benefits the CCP by portraying the ROC government as incompetent to the Taiwanese public. A consternated populace would be more receptive to CCP messaging promoting unification.

  • The CCP put forth a plan on September 12 titled “Opinions on Supporting Fujian in Exploring a New Road for Cross-Strait Integrated Development and Building a Cross-Strait Integrated Development Demonstration Zone.”[23]
  • This proposal comes amid proposals by KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih since August to build a bridge between Kinmen and Xiamen.[24] TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je also supports the construction of the bridge.[25] The Chinese Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian voiced support for constructing the bridge on September 27.[26]
  • An unnamed Taiwanese official stated on September 20 that building such a bridge would “accelerate the ‘Crimeaization’ of Kinmen, and it will eventually be annexed by China.”[27]  

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, September 23, 2023

Taiwanese Presidential Election

Terry Gou aims to unify with the KMT and TPP against the DPP ahead of the 2024 presidential election and is unlikely to succeed in bridging differences between the parties. Gou’s electoral strategy and chances of winning rely on joining forces with one of the other opposition candidates rather than prevailing in a four-way race. The KMT and TPP have not expressed willingness to merge their campaigns with Gou. Polling released on September 20 after the announcement of Tammy Lai as his vice-presidential candidate still shows Gou in a distant fourth place.[1]

  • Gou’s campaign spokesperson Huang Hsih-hsiu reiterated on September 17 that the purpose of Gou's entry into the presidential race is to “unite the opposition.”[2] Huang suggested that newly announced vice-presidential candidate Tammy Lai is prepared to step aside if Gou forms a combined ticket with another of the current presidential candidates.[3]
  • KMT Chairman Eric Chu on September 15 said Gou should “focus on the big picture” and “put self-interest aside.” A recent Taiwanese media report suggests Ko has decided against working with Gou.[4] A Storm Media report from September 19 stated that high-level KMT officials claim Ko Wen-je’s team indicated that Ko has already ruled out the possibility of collaboration with Gou, which is in line with his late August statement that such a pairing would be “impossible.”[5]
  • Gou’s previous outreach to TPP candidate Ko Wen-je on the topic of cooperation did not produce a combined ticket, however.[6] Ko stated that Ko-Gou cooperation is impossible and called on Gou to first discuss cooperation with the KMT.[7]

The consensus among major Taiwanese political parties to defend the Republic of China’s (ROC) sovereignty provides the CCP with opportunities to advance its coercive unification campaign. Messaging by KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je to the American foreign policy community in conjunction with the DPP’s attacks on Hou shows the Taiwanese political consensus over defending the ROC’s sovereignty. The parties agree on the necessity of defending the ROC’s sovereignty. However, their arguments demonstrate that they disagree over what the term means. This disagreement presents the CCP with opportunities to exacerbate leverage points over each of the three mainstream presidential candidates as a means to achieve unification.

  • Hou stated that Taiwan should strengthen dialogue to decrease the chance of war at a forum hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy on September 15.[8] Hou promoted his “3D” strategy that calls for deterrence, dialogue, and de-escalation in a speech on September 18 before scholars at the Brookings Institute and in an article published on the same day in Foreign Affairs magazine.[9]
  • On September 19, the DPP criticized Hou’s article for ignoring China as “the biggest source of regional tension.”[10] The party also criticized Hou for supporting the 1992 Consensus without viewing it as a vehicle for the CCP to unify with the ROC.[11]
  • Ko stated during a September 13 interview with Bloomberg that he would prefer to rename the 1992 Consensus, which would allow him to publicly reject the 1992 Consensus while opening dialogue with China.[12] Ko stated that “we cannot always tell [China] no, because after ‘no,’ there is no other step.”[13]

Meaning of ROC Sovereignty for Leading ROC Presidential Candidates

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 TPP conceptually supports the 1992 Consensus but rejects openly supporting it due to its polarizing effect in Taiwanese politics. The DPP does not support the 1992 Consensus.

The CCP could falsely message to Taiwanese and international audiences that cross-strait economic and political dialogue on the party’s terms is a means to maintain cross-strait peace. This would expand the CCP’s capacity to create cross-strait engagement agreements through which to coerce the ROC into unification.

Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army Decision Making

The CCP purged Defense Minister Li Shangfu in September 2023 following investigations into corrupt equipment procurement. The Central Military Commission Equipment Development Department announced the investigations in July 2023. Li oversaw the department from 2017-2022.[18] Li’s dismissal is the latest in a trend of purges of high-ranking PLA officers. The CCP purged PLA Rocket Force commander Li Yuchao and two of his deputies in July 2023 following corruption investigations.[19] They were replaced later that month by Wang Houbin and Xu Xisheng, two commanders with no prior experience serving in the Rocket Force. The purges indicate Xi’s perspective that the PLA is not sufficiently loyal to the party and his willingness to risk projecting instability within the CCP in order to establish loyalty within the party.[20]

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) launched a record number of 103 aircraft as part of a violation of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on September 17.[21] This development is part of a trend of increasing PLAAF ADIZ violations. The PLAAF began employing new flight patterns on August 24 in Taiwan’s ADIZ. The new flight patterns involve longer horizontal incursions across the median line and counterclockwise flights in the sensitive northern part of Taiwan.[22] Horizontal refers to a parallel flight path to the Taiwan Strait median line, which runs between the PRC and ROC. The PLA very likely increased the number of ADIZ violations in order to wear down Taiwanese military readiness, force difficult decisions regarding ROC resource allocation, as well as create a sense of impenetrable siege among the Taiwanese population.

The PLA also conducted naval exercises in the Yellow Sea from September 17 to 23 in response to the September 15-19 trilateral US-Canada-South Korea exercise further southeast in the Yellow Sea.[23] These exercises messaged CCP displeasure at what it considered sensitive exercises in the Yellow Sea. Exercises in the Yellow Sea are sensitive from the party’s view because of their relative proximity to Beijing. This is consistent with ISW’s September 15 assessment that the CCP may stage a similar reaction to the upcoming US-Canada-South Korea exercise in the Yellow Sea.[24]

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, September 15, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

Kuomintang (KMT) leaders threatened party disciplinary action against the party members supporting independent presidential candidate and former KMT member Terry Gou, which is unlikely to bolster the KMT’s unity before the presidential election. The KMT’s leaders have threatened “strict party discipline” against the pro-Gou members ranging from censure to party expulsion.[1] The KMT leaders also criticized Gou and his supporters for causing division in the party and giving an advantage to the governing Democratic Progress Party (DPP).[2] Prominent pro-Gou KMT members declined to renounce their support.[3] Gou stated that the KMT’s rhetoric towards his supporters was harsher than the party’s rhetoric towards the DPP.[4] The animus between the KMT and Gou indicates the hurdles to unifying the KMT’s support for a single candidate.

  • KMT Chair Eric Chu (Chu Li-lun) stated that “there is no room for ambiguity, party discipline will be strictly enforced” against publicly pro-Gou KMT members.[5] KMT Disciplinary Committee Chair Huang Yiteng also warned against supporting the election of non-party candidates.
    [6] The KMT stripped party power from the Standing Committee of the Central Committee member Fan Chenglian for two years after he appeared with Gou at a campaign event.[7] The KMT stated that this was to promote party unity and support the KMT-nominated candidates.[8]

  • Several KMT legislators and party members publicly urged Gou to rethink his candidacy. KMT members stated that they would support Hou over Gou and framed Gou’s presidency as handing the election to the DPP.[9] The KMT leadership’s rhetoric is framed as uniting behind Hou as opposed to building bridges with Gou.[10]

  • Pro-Gou KMT members have stated that they are unafraid of party discipline. Pro-Gou members have quit the KMT and appeared at rallies with Gou.[11] Gou has criticized the KMT for criticizing his campaign more harshly than the DPP.[12]

The hostility between KMT leadership and Gou may prompt the KMT to reconsider cooperation with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) in the election. KMT Chairman Eric Chu previously considered cooperation with the TPP, even before Gou entered the race in late August, which KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih opposed.[13] Chu repeated this call for KMT-TPP cooperation in mid-September, while Hou expressed openness to potential working with the TPP.[14] TTP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je has remained noncommittal to working with the KMT.[15] A KMT-TPP coalition would result in competitive races with the governing DPP candidates in the legislative and presidential elections.

  • Chu has implemented a joint-campaign headquarters to consolidate KMT leaning county and local officials behind Hou.[16] Chu stated on August 24 that he is willing to work with the TPP in the interest of defeating the DPP.[17] Chu caveated his calls for cooperation by stating the KMT will only cooperate with parties that have a consensus on cross-strait policies and constitutional reform issues.[18]

  • Hou’s campaign issued a statement that it is “happy to see the possibility of cooperation with opposition forces.”[19] Hou stated he is open to working with the TPP.[20]

  • Ko has repeatedly stated he is open to dialogue with other opposition leaders and that “anything is possible” when asked specifically about cooperation with Hou.[21] Ko’s and Chu’s offices are rumored to be in contact about electoral cooperation.[22] An unnamed Ko staffer allegedly stated that Ko is more likely to work with Hou than Gou because of the grassroots strength of the KMT.[23] Ko has explicitly denied that the TPP and KMT have come to any agreement about cooperation and denied reporting that he and Chu communicated.[24]

China Developments

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

The CCP responded to the US-Canada-Japan Noble Stingray exercise last week with a naval “show of force” and may stage a similar reaction to the upcoming US-Canada-South Korea exercise in the Yellow Sea. The CCP dispatched the Shandong aircraft carrier and associated People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships east of Taiwan in response to the trilateral Noble Stingray exercise that involved a transit through the Taiwan Strait, which the CCP views as provocative.[25] The United States, Canada, and South Korea will conduct a trilateral exercise in the Yellow Sea from September 15-19, which will be the first “large scale” exercise in the vicinity of the PRC’s northern coast in a decade.[26] Exercises in the Yellow Sea are sensitive from the party’s view because of their relative proximity to Beijing. PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently framed American regional Asia-Pacific military engagement as interference necessitating a “resolute” retaliatory response.

  • The United States, Canada, and Japan conducted the trilateral naval exercise Noble Stingray in the waters of Okinawa on September 8. Two of the four ships that participated in the exercise, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson and frigate HMCS Ottawa, transited through the Taiwan Strait on September 9.[27]

  • The PRC’s Shandong aircraft carrier group sailed in waters 60 nautical miles off the southernmost point of the Taiwanese home island on its way to the western Pacific on September 11.[28] The PRC state-media outlet Global Times framed the event as a “show of force” in response to the transit of the Ralph Johnson and Ottawa.[29] The Global Times claimed that a “large” PLAN task force transiting through the Miyoko Strait to the western Pacific would join the Shandong carrier group to conduct a coordinated exercise. [30][31]

  • The United States, Canada, and South Korea will conduct a trilateral naval exercise to commemorate the 1950 Battle of Incheon from September 15-19. The exercise will consist of over 20 ships, 10 aircraft, and 3,000 service members.[32] The China-based South China Morning Post noted that this will be the first large-scale US exercise” near China’s northern coast in approximately ten years.[33] The PRC Foreign Ministry officials have framed U.S.-South Korean exercises as adding to regional “tension and confrontation” and vowed that US “interference” in the region will be met with “vigilance and opposition.” [34][35]

Chinese Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Zhang Youxia expressed concerns about the quality of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) equipment, which suggests that the PRC’s defense industrial base is not performing to the satisfaction of the CCP leadership. Zhang spoke at a PLA military equipment conference in Beijing in late August.[36] He said that the PLA needs “supplies that can meet our needs in any real battles and struggles.”[37] He also stated the necessity of mobilizing the civilian and military apparatus to enhance equipment quality.[38] Zhang’s emphasis on the need for supplies for battles suggests that the PRC’s defense industry is not performing to the party’s expectations. The lack of commonplace ideological references in official state media reporting on the event indicates that the equipment quality problems are deeply rooted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing met to discuss enhancing Sino-Russian economic relations during the Eastern Economic Forum on September 12. Putin praised Sino-Russian trade volume in 2023 and claimed that the two countries will reach 200 billion USD by the end of 2023.[39] Zhang stated that China is ready to “deepen mutually beneficial cooperation” with Russia.[40] Zhang’s current purview is China‘s advanced manufacturing sector, which has played a key role in Xi Jinping‘s goal for manufacturing self-reliance since the 20th Party Congress in October 2022.[41] Zhang previously spent over twenty years at NORINCO, which is a leading Chinese state-owned defense manufacturing and sales company.[42] His professional background and current responsibilities suggest that increases in Sino-Russian trade volume will involve goods to support the Russian war effort in Ukraine. The CCP has provided Russia with military assistance such as rifles and smokeless powder at varying points in 2023.[43]

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, August 31, 2023

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 president of the Republic of China (ROC) 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 that 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 toward 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. 

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 military or economic response by the CCP.[29] The CCP inaccurately portrays the DPP as radicals pushing for Taiwan's 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's independence align 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 the 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 an 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 resource 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 achieved 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 on 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 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]

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, August 24, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

The Republic of China (Taiwan) Vice President and Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te transited through the United States on August 12 and August 16. ISW will produce a forthcoming follow-up article to the pre-transit August 9 publication.

The Kuomintang (KMT) is facing several internal disputes as the party falls further behind in the presidential election polls. A faction in the party sought and failed to replace the KMT Chairman Eric Chu, who risked drawing the KMT into another scandal. Several KMT officials also recently left the party and raised concerns over the KMT’s internal decision-making process.[1] An August 21 Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation Poll shows Hou as polling at 13.6 percentage points of support compared to the leading candidate, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te, at 43.4 percentage points.[2] This is a change from July when Hou polled 20.2 percentage points while Lai polled 36.4 percentage points.[3]

  • KMT Chairman Eric Chu publicly stated his support for Taiwan People’s Party Hsinchu Mayor Kao Hung-an after the Taipei District Prosecutors indicted her for corruption on August 14.[4] This angered KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih’s campaign manager Jin Pucong because he did not want the Hou campaign to become involved in the scandal.[5] A faction within the KMT also unsuccessfully submitted a proposal on July 19 to replace Chu as the party chairman.[6] Chu also stated in July that party “guns should be [focused] externally.”[7]
  • Several local KMT officials have also left the party. Former Miaoli County Magistrate Hsu Yao-Chang left the KMT on August 22 criticizing the KMT’s “minority decision-making and backroom politics.”[8] Hsu previously caused controversy by stating that “we not only want the DPP to step down, we also want to take down the KMT” at a rally with Terry Gou.[9] Gou is an ROC billionaire who maintains a popular base of support in the KMT.

The failure of the KMT to address these internal disputes and regain its footing in the polls likely would deny the CCP its most preferred ROC presidential candidate to influence cross-strait policy. ISW assessed in May that the CCP is framing the ROC presidential election as a choice between peace and war, which provides the party leverage points over the cross-strait policy of the three major Taiwanese political parties.[10] ISW also assessed that this electoral framing would confer leverage over a KMT administration. It would enable the CCP to frame cross-strait economic integration and political dialogue on the PRC’s terms as necessary to maintain peace.[11]

China Developments

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to China and the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP).https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-weekly-update...

The flagship CCP journal Qiushi republished a February article by Xi Jinping on August 15 that emphasized “Chinese-style modernization.” This content of the publication and its reprinting indicates that the party aims to buttress support for spreading its political and economic governance models in formerly colonized countries. Xi drew on the historical memory of Western modernization as one “full of bloody crimes such as war, slavery, [and] colonialism” that caused developing countries great suffering. He stated that China experienced “the tragic history of aggression and humiliation by Western powers” and will “never repeat [this] old path.”[12] Xi parlayed this shared historical memory of colonial grievance into a counter narrative that “Chinese-style modernization” is purely peaceful and economically responsible.[13] The timing of the release in the week before the ongoing BRICS summit, as well as the article’s harsh anti-Western tone, suggests the party’s aim was to degrade Western influence while exporting its own authoritarian model to developing countries.

The spread of CCP governance and economic influence in developing countries previously undermined the international definition of human rights in October 2022. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) successfully garnered votes from several African countries to help defeat a motion in the United Nations to debate human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This came after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on August 31, 2022, that assessed PRC actions in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”[14] The PRC’s success in voting down the debate despite the report demonstrates the international implications for global governing norms that arise from the party’s authoritarian economic and political support in developing countries.

The CCP outlet Red Flag Manuscript published an article on August 14 about the necessity of recapturing the spirit of “revolutionary patriotism” embodied by the Chinese military during the Korean War.[15] The content of the article indicates that creating ideological alignment amongst PLA leadership is becoming increasingly necessary to prepare for future wars.

The article entitled “Carrying Forward the Great Spirit of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea” discusses the heroism and patriotism of the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV). It also conveys the lessons on instilling a revolutionary mindset that the Chinese people should carry into the modern day.

The main audience of Red Flag Manuscript includes PLA leadership, CCP party theorists, and everyday party cadre. Readers of this article would likely recognize that its evaluations on the state of the modern PLA reflect several enduring self-criticisms that can be traced back to 2012 when Xi Jinping stated his intention to increase the PLA’s combat abilities across all services.[16] The most commonly mentioned weakness within PLA academic journals and publications such as PLA Daily is the lack of effective PLA leadership. One of the most commonly cited criticisms is known as the “Five Incapables,” which states that many PLA officers are not capable of judging situations, understanding the intentions of higher authorities, making operational decisions, deploying troops, or dealing with unexpected situations.[17] This description of many PLA officers as incapable of basic military leadership stands in stark contrast to the heroic historical figures discussed in the article. This contrast emphasizes how lacking modern PLA leaders are by comparison. As the article mentions, significant attention within the PLA has been given to reforming ideological education and political work to instill patriotic values in the ranks of PLA soldiers. While this may result in future generations of PLA leadership more closely adhering to party ideology, current educational reform efforts do not address the full extent of problems within current PLA leadership.

The article’s timing reflects the continued salience of these ideas and their current relevance to the PLA. In an October 2020 speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean War, Xi Jinping characterized the war as a victory for China against U.S. injustice and imperialism.[18] According to Xi, the “martial spirit” displayed by the CPV should guide the Chinese people to overcome today’s challenges. Xi then reminded the audience that it is sometimes necessary to “use war to prevent war,” and use the military victory to win respect. The phrase “using war to prevent war” refers to the party’s idea that escalation and smaller conflicts can be useful tools in preventing a large-scale war.

The author of the article, Fan Jing, has researched theories of military political work on behalf of the Military Political Work Research Institute of the Academy of Military Sciences for many years.[19] The Academy of Military Sciences is a high-level research institute of the PLA, and the Military Political Work Research Institute conducts research concerning the political work done within the PLA. Fan has published over 60 articles on the subject, including a longer piece on the lessons of the Korean War published a year earlier.[20] While the general sentiment of these two pieces is similar, the first article provided a purely historical overview of the conflict, whereas the more recent article stated that the heroism of the past should characterize the PRC’s future actions as it works towards the goal of national rejuvenation.

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, August 18, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

Lai Countered CCP-KMT Messaging in a Bloomberg Interview

Republic of China (ROC) Vice President and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te gave an interview with Bloomberg in Taiwan on July 27, which Bloomberg released on August 14.[1]  Lai emphasized maintaining the status quo with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) across the Taiwan Strait while explaining the basis for ROC’s sovereignty to an American audience. Lai stated he is willing to engage with the PRC so long as there is “parity and dignity.”[2] He elaborated on this phrase by highlighting the basis for cross-strait relations lies in the sovereignty of the ROC. Lai stated the reality that “Taiwan is already a sovereign, independent country called the Republic of China. It is not part of the People’s Republic of China. The ROC and PRC are not subordinate to one another. It is not necessary to declare independence.”[3] This means Lai’s call for engagement with the PRC with “parity and dignity” is based on the PRC treating the ROC as a sovereign equal. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never been willing to meet this condition nor met with a serving DPP leader. The CCP and KMT separately framing Lai as a radical worker for Taiwan's independence serve as political attack lines.[4] These lines inaccurately portray the DPP as working to subvert the existing status quo and do not represent the DPP's position of strengthening their already independent state: the ROC.

The publication of Lai’s statements in a leading English-language magazine helps him project his message to a wider American audience compared to attacks from the CCP and KMT that aimed to undermine Lai’s legitimacy. The DPP-leaning Liberty Times reported on August 1 that KMT Acting Representative in the United States Victor Chin spread rumors in US-Taiwan policy circles that Lai sought to visit the Washington area during his upcoming transit.[5] The KMT sought to portray Lai as a provocateur in the US-ROC relationship in spreading this rumor. Lai’s English-language rejection of Taiwan's independence in favor of Taiwanese sovereignty countered this rumor. KMT Chairman Eric Chu also argued on August 3 that Lai made foreign observers nervous as the “golden grandchild of Taiwan independence.”[6]  The People’s Republic of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Spokesperson Zhu Fenglian issued a statement in response to the interview claiming that Lai is a “troublemaker” and that his “arguments are a complete lie.”[7] The Vice Chairman of the Kuomintang Cultural Association Lin Jiaxing independently echoed this PRC attack on Lai by stating that Lai’s comments and interviews with foreign media have caused confusion and “deepened the world’s worries” about his “pro-independence” stance.[8]

Election Update: Civil Nuclear Policies

KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih emphasized nuclear energy policy during a press conference as a means to burnish his national security credentials. Hou promised to restart the two decommissioned nuclear power plants at Jinshan and Kuosehng and resume maintenance and safety inspections at both sites. He also promised to extend the lifespan of the single remaining operational plant at Maanshan. Hou further stated that he would review the decision to discontinue the construction of a fourth nuclear power plant at Lungmen.[9] Taiwan halted construction at the site in 2014 following years of political, legal, and regulatory delays.[10]  Hou also cited the necessity of maintaining a stable energy supply as an imperative national security matter as part of his justification to use nuclear energy.[11] Hou stated that power shortages without nuclear energy are also a concern of Taiwanese citizens, implicitly criticizing the ruling DPP’s energy policy.[12] The DPP criticized Hou for not detailing how he would deal with the plants’ nuclear waste.[13] The ROC Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Tseng Wen-sheng also questioned the validity of restarting the decommissioned plants.[14]

Hou emphasized his energy policy to portray the KMT as a responsible party on national security without having to address cross-strait policy, an issue where the ROC’s populace heavily favors the DPP.[15] The KMT’s cross-strait policy emphasizing economic and cultural relations with the PRC is deeply unpopular among the Taiwanese electorate. Recent polling numbers demonstrate the KMT’s unpopularity. Hou is polling last among the three presidential candidates at only 16 percentage points on the question of who could best protect Taiwanese sovereignty.[16] He is also polling last by 16 percentage points in the presidential election.[17]

The points Hou raised during the press conference also distinguish his views on nuclear energy from the DPP’s platform. The DPP has maintained a nuclear-free Taiwan as its party platform since 1999 and has promised to phase out nuclear power by 2025.[18] DPP presidential candidate and Vice President Lai Ching-te has broadly supported President Tsai Ing-wen’s efforts to de-nuclearize Taiwan but advocates for maintaining nuclear plants for emergency use.[19] This discrepancy between the party’s platform and his policy demonstrates that Lai will sacrifice ideological purity on the nuclear issue due to the utility of nuclear energy in select circumstances.

China Developments

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to the People’s Republic of China and the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Centralization Slowed CCP Response to Typhoon Doksuri

Typhoon Doksuri made landfall in China on July 28. Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered “all-out efforts” on search and rescue and the maintenance of “overall social stability” on August 1.[20] This included mobilizing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Central Theater command to support response and rescue operations, as well as assist with evacuation efforts. It also included mobilizing more than 500 rescuers from organizations such as the Blue-Sky Rescue Team, which is the PRC’s largest non-governmental humanitarian organization.[21] The typhoon significantly impacted China’s Hebei Province, which wraps around Beijing, bringing the most rainfall that the capital had experienced in 140 years.[22] The state-controlled Global Times reported on August 4 that 133,000 citizens of Zhouzhou, which is 50 miles southwest of Beijing, needed to be evacuated.[23] CCP-aligned news outlet The Paper also attributed the PRC’s slow response to Doksuri to a November 2022 directive from China’s Ministry of Emergency Management. The directive requires any non-public relief organization that seeks to assist in response efforts to obtain an official letter from the Ministry of Emergency Management.[24] The Blue-Sky Rescue Team, for example, explained that its response time was significantly delayed due to having to wait for official permission to deploy to affected areas.[25]

 

This demonstrates the negative impact that centralization had on incentivizing low level party cadres to take risks and work effectively with the rescue teams to address the emergency. The CCP has historically severely punished officials whom it has judged to lack effectiveness during crisis response.[26] This resulted in local officials not taking charge during this crisis before, according to former Chinese water systems engineer Wang Weiluo, Xi ordered so on August 1.[27]  The failure of the local cadres to integrate emergency response teams in response to Typhoon Doksuri fits into this pattern.

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, August 10, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

Elections

The Taiwanese (Republic of China) political spectrum is largely divided between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP broadly favors Taiwanese autonomy, Taiwanese identity, and skepticism towards China. The KMT favors closer economic and cultural relations with China along with a broader alignment with a Chinese identity. The DPP under President Tsai Ing-wen has controlled the presidency and legislature (Legislative Yuan) since 2016. This presidential election cycle also includes the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je who frames his movement as an amorphous alternative to the DPP and KMT. It is normal for Taiwanese presidential elections to have third party candidates, but none have ever won. The 2024 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 13, 2024, and the new president will take office in May 2024. Presidential candidates can win elections with a plurality of votes in Taiwan.

The KMT has echoed PRC attacks on Lai Ching-te’s association with “Taiwan independence” in the lead up to his mid-August US transit, indicating the KMT sees political gain in framing even Lai’s unexceptional actions as dangerous and provocative. ­­The DPP-leaning Liberty Times reported on August 1 that KMT Acting Representative in the United States Victor Chin spread rumors in US-Taiwan policy circles that Lai aimed to visit the Washington area during his upcoming transit.[1] The Biden administration has emphasized Lai will not visit Washington.[2] KMT Chairman Eric Chu later stated on August 4 that Lai has made foreign observers worried because of his Taiwan independence “DNA” and called Lai the “golden grandchild of Taiwan independence.”[3] Chu’s comments came in response to a reporter’s question about the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office’s (TAO) August 3 statement calling Lai a “troublemaker” after condemning his upcoming transit.[4] Chu did not mention the transit explicitly in his comments, but both Chin’s and Chu’s messaging aligns with the PRC narrative that Lai’s transit poses a threat to cross-strait stability.[5]

An unverified KMT English-language press release from August 4 stated that the party supports Lai’s transit, indicating it seeks to allay potential American concerns about its commitment to strong ties with the United States.[6] The statement explained that the KMT “welcomes” Lai’s transit and “strongly favors” closer relations with the United States. It also rejected allegations that the KMT hopes to benefit from the perception that Lai’s transit is provocative or that the party was the source of rumors regarding a potential Lai visit to Washington. Brian Hioe, a Taiwanese journalist, and former Sunflower Movement activist frequently critical of the KMT, posted the release on Twitter. The KMT did not post the release on its website, and ISW was unable to find the press release elsewhere online at the time of writing. [7] That the KMT did not publish the statement indicates the party sought to avoid drawing additional attention to the negative allegations the statement rebuts. The lack of a Chinese-language version or any similar statement to the Taiwanese press indicates the KMT did not intend to make support for US transits a focus of its domestic messaging.

The KMT’s messaging on Lai’s transit indicates the party does not prioritize addressing critiques that it is too pro-PRC in Taiwan.[8] The unreleased English-language press statement demonstrates sensitivity to such concerns in US policy circles, however.[9] Framing Lai as harmful to cross-strait stability is a major KMT talking point in its 2024 election campaign, and the TAO’s attacks on Lai reinforce this framing.[10] Failing to rebut PRC criticism of US transits blurs the distinction between mainstream objections to Lai’s record by DPP opponents and the PRC’s position of categorical opposition to high-level US­­-ROC officials interacting in any capacity, however. The KMT’s tendency to echo PRC positions for political gain complicates its efforts to reassure Washington about its commitment to Taiwan’s autonomy.

The KMT’s amplification of PRC criticism of Lai’s transit could aid the PRC’s efforts to reduce US transits and US-ROC contact more broadly. Turning US transits into an occasion for launching partisan attacks would impose political costs on Taiwanese leaders considering such trips. Chu’s criticism prompted Lai to defend himself in an August 7 interview during which he explained his prior comments on “Taiwan independence” and rejected the “golden grandson” label.[11]

High-profile KMT parroting of PRC talking points indicates the success of the PRC’s efforts to influence discourse in Taiwan and could advance the PRC’s goal of broadening support for peaceful unification. The KMT and other DPP opponents have consistently cautioned against stances they view as provocative to the PRC, effectively allowing the PRC’s demands to acquire political weight in Taiwan.[12] Building cross-strait “trust” and “understanding” is a central element of the CCP’s stated cross-strait goals.[13] General Secretary Xi Jinping has directly linked the concept of cross-strait “mind-spirit alignment,”[14] which includes building cross-strait understanding, to increasing Taiwanese “identification with unification.”[15]

Other

The Republic of China (ROC) arrested active-duty Republic of China Army (ROCA) personnel for allegedly passing on national security secrets to China. Taiwan detained ROCA Lieutenant Colonel Hsieh and ROCA Major Ho on charges of spying for China.[16] Hsieh is also accused of developing a spy ring of past and present ROC military personnel for the PRC.[17] Seven unspecified collaborators, including active duty and retired military personnel as well as civilians, comprise the additional defendants.[18] Deputy Secretary-General to the Presidential Office Alex Huang called the incident “shameless” and called for more investigations.[19]

The arrests are part of a decade-long trend. Reuters reported that a least 21 serving or retired Taiwanese officers with a rank of captain or above have been convicted of spying for China during the last decade.[20] The Taipei District Prosecutors Office prosecuted retired ROC Air Force Major General Chien Yao-tung and retired ROCA Lieutenant Colonel Wei Hsien-yi in January 2023 for working with Chinese intelligence operative Xie Xizhang. Chien and Wei received fines and suspended prison sentences of less than two years.[21] Taiwanese Institute for National Defense and Security Research Director Su Zi-yun previously stated in May that the average sentence for Taiwanese espionage suspects is 18 months while espionage cases in the United States and Europe receive on average 19-year sentences.[22] The pattern of ROC military personnel spying for China in conjunction with light espionage punishments indicates the ineffectiveness of ROC’s current laws in deterring potential spies.

China Developments

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

CCP media published English-language reports about the recent party calls for the Chinese people to participate in counter-espionage work. The Ministry of State Security (MSS) called for the normalization of mass participation in counter-espionage work on August 1 through its first publicly available WeChat message, which was in Chinese.[23] The MSS also unveiled an anonymous reporting system for users in Chinese and English, indicating that the party aims to coopt both PRC and foreign nationals in their new counter espionage drive.[24] US State Department Spokesman Matt Miller expressed concern on August 2 regarding the MSS’s counter espionage efforts encouraging citizens to spy on each other.[25] The CCP-controlled Global Times responded on August 3 by criticizing Miller and alleging the United States had double standards on surveillance security efforts.[26] The Global Times stated that the counter espionage law helps prevent China from becoming “a haven for Western spies.”[27] The Global Times also stated the law does not “target the activities of foreign organizations in China” in response to a Bloomberg article reporting the cancellation of a TEDx event in Guangzhou sparked by the counter-espionage law.[28]

This English-language messaging comes as the CCP aims to increase foreign investment in China which has reached a 25-year low while the country also experiences economic deflation and falling exports.[29] The Global Times articles fit into this context and indicate that the CCP seeks to reassure foreign firms that they can safely engage in commercial activity in China.

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, August 3, 2023

Taiwan Developments  

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

The Republic of China (Taiwan) Vice President and Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te is scheduled to transit through the United States in mid-August. ISW will produce a forthcoming forecast for CCP responses to this transit.

China Developments

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

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mao Ning’s condemnation of imperial-era Japanese military aggression indicates that the party aims to portray itself as a pan-Asian leader to legitimize its military buildup. Mao cited the history of “Japanese militaristic aggression” and increases in the Japanese defense budget in order to justify her condemnation of the 2023 Defense of Japan White Paper. The annual paper outlines Japan’s defense priorities for the coming year. It specifically mentioned Chinese military modernization as well as the CCP unilaterally changing the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas as threats to regional order.[1] Mao urged Japan to change course to “win the trust of its Asian neighbors.”[2] Her comments draw on the historical memory of the imperial Japanese past of the 1930s and 1940s in order to portray Japan as a threat to all of Asia and undermine Japan’s role as a regional leader. On July 3, CCP Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi accused Japan of needing to know “where our roots lie” while stating that “no matter how blonde you dye your hair, how sharp you shape your nose, you can never become European or American, you can never become a Westerner.”[3] His comments portray Japan as subservient to Western powers and abandoning their Asian roots. Wang laying claim to Pan-Asianism demonstrates that the CCP aims to win the trust of its Asian neighbors by justifying its military buildup to protect Asia against foreign powers, such as Japan and the United States. This CCP rhetoric supports the party’s internal narrative that China is righteous in throwing off foreign domination, which in this case it views as the United States-led security architecture. Pan-Asian narratives also allow the party to argue it promotes “win-win cooperation” across the region rather than what it portrays as ongoing United States hegemony and imperialism.[4]

The purge of People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) leadership indicates that Xi Jinping needs to reestablish confidence in portions of the military leadership. The anti-corruption purge included the PLARF leader Li Yuchao as well as his deputies Zhang Zhenzhong and Liu Guangbin.[5] Xi promoted General Wang Houbin to become the new PLARF leader. Xi also promoted General Xu Xisheng to become the new PLARF political commissar.[6] Wang and Xu have service experience in the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, respectively, but not the PLARF before this posting. The Financial Times cited an unnamed foreign government official as stating that the trigger for the purge was foreigners gaining an overall better understanding of the PLARF and the CCP suspicion that PLARF leadership divulged secrets.[7] The choice to promote from outside of the PLARF indicates that Xi lacks confidence in the lower echelon of PLARF general officers, who could have internal patronage networks pertaining to the past leadership. This purge fits into Xi’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign targeting economically and ideologically corrupt officials that began when he entered office in 2012.

Xi stated in late July that he aimed to strengthen military governance by ensuring party control over the military, indicating he thinks that the PLA is still not sufficiently ideologically loyal to the party.[8] He explicitly repeated this message and the need for the PLA to reject corruption on August 1, the 96th anniversary of the PLA.[9] This purge demonstrates to a new generation of PLA general officers that anti-corruption is still a top priority for Xi and an active tool to ensure their loyalty to the party.

The Ministry of State Security (MSS) called for the masses to participate in counter-espionage work, which may lead to the new expansion of the party’s online security apparatus. The MSS called for the normalization of the masses in participating in counter-espionage work on August 1 via creating and posting its first publicly available WeChat message, which state media also repeated.[10] This demonstrates the MSS’s aim to communicate directly to the Chinese people as WeChat is a dominant communication platform in the PRC. ISW previously assessed that the anti-espionage law could include the participation of individual citizens to serve societal policing functions either in an online or in person capacity via anonymous reporting systems.[11] The MSS has confirmed this assessment by unveiling an anonymous reporting system for users in Chinese and English, indicating that the party aims to coopt both PRC and foreign nationals in their new counter espionage drive.[12] The anonymous reporting system and opening of an MSS WeChat account indicate that the party aims to expand its influence on individual user behavior to enforce state sanctioned norms.

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, July 27, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

Elections

The Taiwanese (Republic of China) political spectrum is largely divided between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP broadly favors Taiwanese autonomy, Taiwanese identity, and skepticism towards China. The KMT favors closer economic and cultural relations with China along with a broader alignment with a Chinese identity. The DPP under President Tsai Ing-wen has controlled the presidency and legislature (Legislative Yuan) since 2016. This presidential election cycle also includes the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je who frames his movement as an amorphous alternative to the DPP and KMT. It is normal for Taiwanese presidential elections to have third party candidates, but none have ever won. The 2024 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 13, 2024 and the new president will take office in May 2024. Presidential candidates can win elections with a plurality of votes in Taiwan.

The KMT called for coordinating with the TPP during the 2024 Legislative Yuan elections, which indicates that the KMT aims to expand its ability to win legislative seats even if it loses the presidency. KMT Chairman Eric Chu made the call on July 23.[1] KMT presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih’s campaign stated it did not know to what Chu was referring.[2] Hou is reluctant to endorse Chu’s call because it could signal the party lacks faith in him as their standard bearer going into the presidential and legislative elections.

Chu called for this coordination because the KMT is trailing in the presidential polls. Hou is polling 16 percentage points behind the frontrunner DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te.[3] One way of salvaging the upcoming election for the KMT is to aim to gain a majority in the legislative elections. The DPP currently controls 61 of the 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan while the KMT controls 38.[4] All 113 members of the Legislative Yuan will be up for reelection during the 2024 election. Hou’s unpopularity indicates that the KMT would need a coalition to be part of a majority in the Legislative Yuan. Legislative election cooperation with the TPP is one avenue open to the KMT that could allow it to increase its representation in the Legislative Yuan even if it loses the presidential election.

The KMT and TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je never agreed to run a joint presidential campaign.[5] The two parties disagree on the degree of cooperation they should engage in for legislative elections. Ko stated that any potential cooperation should “go with the flow” and remained non-committal about it potentially come to fruition in the coming months.[6] KMT Chairman Eric Chu called for coordination between the TPP and KMT when nominating their separate legislative election candidates to enhance the likelihood of defeating the DPP.[7]

Ko is lukewarm about alignment with the KMT because the KMT presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih remains third in the polling at roughly 20 percentage points of support.[8] Ko is second in the polling at almost 28 percentage points of support while DPP presidential nominee Lai Ching-te is in the lead at 36 percentage points of support.[9] Ko aligning with the KMT could cause him to lose swing voters who view him as an alternative to the DPP-KMT dominated Taiwanese political structure.

Other

The CCP’s United Front apparatus coordinated attacks on DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te’s July 4 The Wall Street Journal op-ed “My Plan to Preserve Peace in the Taiwan Strait” to reduce support for his candidacy by framing him as pro-war. The United Front group All-China Taiwan Compatriot Friendship Association[10] published articles from over 50 purported representatives of Taiwanese diaspora groups that criticized the op-ed.[11] Various United Front media organs then republished the articles.[12] Many “Taiwan compatriots” quoted in the articles contended that Lai’s overture to peace was a deceitful ploy to win votes.[13] They claimed the true purpose of Lai’s op-ed was to further “Taiwan independence” and the “suppression” of China by building American support for his candidacy.[14] The quoted individuals were affiliated with groups based in countries including the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, and the People’s Republic of China.[15] That the coordinated United Front attacks centered the views of ostensibly non-political “Taiwan compatriot” organizations indicates the CCP sought to portray opposition to Lai as the consensus of the Taiwanese diaspora. These messages put Lai on the defensive by making him contest such criticism under the dominant but contested narrative that the election is a choice between peace and war.

The coordinated attacks differ from prior United Front responses to “provocations,” such as then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022 and President Tsai’s meeting with Speaker McCarthy in April 2023. Prior responses featured criticism from communities of “overseas Chinese” groups explicitly aligned with the CCP’s goal of “peaceful unification,”[16] as well as groups claiming to be from the “international community.”[17] These communities’ opinions would have less influence on Taiwanese voters compared to that of other Taiwanese due to the groups’ explicit alignment with the CCP. In this wave of attacks on Lai’s op-ed, the United Front portrayed itself as speaking for the Taiwanese diaspora. This shift could provide the CCP with leverage points to manipulate international public opinion during a crisis by using United Front groups to falsely show Taiwanese disunity.

The DPP-controlled Taiwanese Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) may allow limited future cross-strait exchanges to blunt domestic criticism that the party is not sufficiently engaging with China since President Tsai took office in 2016. A delegation of Chinese students visited Taiwan at the invitation of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation from July 19 to 24 after approval by the MAC. The students visited several Taiwanese universities and cultural sites before returning to China.[18] Taiwan’s MAC approved the students after rejecting several students for having ties to the United Front or being members of the CCP.[19] Several DPP legislators opposed the move.[20] Ma announced his intentions on July 24 to start a “cross-strait university principal forum” to enable higher education cross-strait exchanges.[21] Both the KMT and TPP have criticized the DPP for not engaging enough with China.[22] The KMT and TPP frame cross-strait exchanges as necessary to reduce cross-strait tensions.[23]

The DPP has previously responded to criticism of not engaging enough with China by reopening the passenger ferries between Taiwan’s Matsu and Kinmen islands and China’s Fujian Province.[24] This occurred over opposition within the DPP.[25] China previously criticized the DPP for “unilaterally restricting” restricting cross-strait exchanges and heavily urged the DPP to restart the passenger ferries.[26] The KMT had also criticized the DPP closing the ferry service and had previously called for them to be opened as Taiwan relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.[27] Lai has stated that the DPP is open to cross-strait exchanges on the basis of parity and mutual respect but does not want to engage in exchanges solely on Beijing’s terms.[28] The similar criticism facing the DPP in this situation and the subsequent decision by the party to blunt that criticism by opening up the ferry service suggests the MAC will follow a similar course of action by allowing for future limited cross-strait exchanges.

China Developments

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

The CCP announced the creation of the National Data Bureau (NDB) in March to manage the PRC’s public and private data. The organization may serve as a coordination vehicle between the CCP’s economic and national security organs. The NDB falls under the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which deals heavily with economic planning.[29] The development of the NDB is part of the CCP’s broader effort to centralize control of the internet via the enforcement of cyber security and data norms.[30] The state-owned China United Network Communications Chairman Liu Liehong will be the first head of the NDB.[31] Liu has over thirty years of experience that culminated in leading Chinese state-owned electronics and IT companies that bridge national security and economic policy areas. He served as Deputy Director of the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission while also being Deputy Head of the Cyberspace Administration of China from 2018 to 2020 before becoming Vice-Minister of Industry and Information Technology from 2020 to 2021.[32] Liu also has considerable experience with internet governance, which the CCP views as critical to national security, and advanced in July through the Cyberspace Administration of China’s renewed crackdown on “self-media.”[33]

The NDB is part of the CCP’s strategy to create a socio-economic business environment devoid of threats to the party through stronger regulations of the PRC’s internet and economy. The CCP does not view security legislation as a hindrance to attracting economic investment and economic growth. The party is willing to tolerate a business environment less attractive to foreign investment due to expansive national security laws in order to change the norms for foreign economic activity in China. The party aims to make foreign cooperation with state security services an aspect of doing business in China that foreign investors must tolerate. The CCP pursues this goal while simultaneously holding Ministry of Commerce news conferences to increase foreign investment in China.[34]

Higher-ranking Chinese officials decided to meet with Henry Kissinger rather than US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry during their recent visits to China. Kissinger met with CCP officials such as General Secretary Xi Jinping, Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu, and Director of the CCP Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi.[35] Kerry met with lower-ranking officials such as Premier Li Qiang, Vice President Han Zheng, as well as Wang Yi.[36] That higher-ranking CCP officials met with Kissinger indicates that the party will use access to CCP policy-makers as leverage to induce American policy-makers to enact the party’s preferred policy outcomes.

CCP Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission Office Director Wang Yi stated that the United States needed “Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom” and should “avoid confrontation” with China.[37] This statement coupled with the CCP’s complaints of American hegemony indicate that these are two policy areas that the party aims to shift the policy positions of the United States.[38] Wang’s comments place the onus for resolving tension in Sino-American relations solely on the United States. He is pushing this message for an external American audience as well as an internal Chinese audience. The internal audience is relevant because his narrative legitimizes the CCP by exculpating the party from blame for international tension.

Wang Yi re-assumed the role of foreign minister on July 25and will very likely serve in the role as an interim caretaker. Wang is a veteran diplomat who served as foreign minister from 2013 to 2022, and as Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director since the start of 2023. Wang’s age[39] and the length of his previous term suggest that he will not be in the role for 5 to 10 years, which is the typical length of time that officials serve in that position. The choice of a seasoned diplomat such as Wang indicates the Party’s desire to stabilize the foreign ministry and project continuity in China’s foreign relations domestically and abroad. Since the 1990s the only times officials have concurrently held the role of foreign minister and been Politburo members are during transitions between foreign ministers.[40]

 

Selecting Wang to replace Qin after the latter’s month-long absence indicates that the Party is still unsure of how to handle the fallout of Qin’s disappearance. Immediately after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee made the announcement, the Foreign Ministry website began quickly deleting all pages relating to Qin, but as of July 27 the page on foreign minister was still blank. This indicates that whoever oversees updating the Ministry site was not informed of Wang’s re-appointment in advance. Otherwise, they could have prepared to put up a page with information on Wang immediately after he was re-appointed so as to project continuity. The specific wording of the July 25 announcement also indicates the Party is still in the process of deciding Qin’s fate.[41] The announcement relieved Qin of his position but did not remove his Party membership.

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, July 20, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

Elections

The Taiwanese (Republic of China) political spectrum is largely divided between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP broadly favors Taiwanese autonomy, Taiwanese identity, and skepticism towards China. The KMT favors closer economic and cultural relations with China along with a broader alignment with a Chinese identity. The DPP under President Tsai Ing-wen has controlled the presidency and legislature (Legislative Yuan) since 2016. This presidential election cycle also includes the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je who frames his movement as an amorphous alternative to the DPP and KMT. It is normal for Taiwanese presidential elections to have third-party candidates, but none have ever won. The 2024 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 13, 2024 and the new president will take office in May 2024. Presidential candidates can win elections with a plurality of votes in Taiwan.

Foxconn founder Terry Gou published an article in the Washington Post urging high-level dialogue between the ROC and PRC. Gou was a leading contender for the opposition KMT presidential nomination, but the party selected Hou Yu-ih as its candidate for the 2024 election. He framed the United States, China, and Taiwan as all sharing responsibility for cross-strait tension.[1] He repeated the KMT position that the PRC and ROC engaged in fruitful cross-strait dialogue under the 1992 Consensus even while holding different interpretations of “One China.”[2] Gou argues that President Tsai’s inflexibility on the 1992 Consensus places the onus for cross-strait tension on the DPP for allegedly aggravating the threat of war.[3] The 1992 Consensus refers to a mutual yet contested understanding of “One China” that the CCP and KMT claim emerged from a series of 1992 meetings in Hong Kong between the semiofficial Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits. The KMT interprets “One China” to refer to the ROC while allowing the ROC and PRC to have conflicting interpretations of China. The CCP interprets “One China” as referring to the PRC, including Taiwan. The DPP has never fully accepted the consensus and has sought to move away from any “One China” framework.[4]

The article likely will further CCP information operations that aim to exculpate the party from blame for exacerbating cross-strait tensions. This assessment is independent of Gou’s intentions behind publishing the article. Placing the blame for cross-strait tensions on the current DPP administration ignores the CCP’s military and economic coercion measures that exacerbate cross-strait tensions. This coercion involves normalizing violations of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone as well as suspending Taiwanese imports before resuming them as the election neared.[5] Failing to address these measures allows the party to frame itself as willing to resolve cross-strait tensions while ratcheting up its coercive activities that contribute to that tension.

Gou’s blaming of cross strait tensions predominantly on the DPP is consistent with KMT presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih’s rhetoric. ISW previously assessed that this rhetoric exacerbates CCP leverage points targeting the DPP under the dominant but contested “war versus peace” election narrative.[6]

China Developments

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

The Taiwanese media outlet United Daily News (UDN) falsely alleged the United States pressured Taiwan to develop biological weapons. UDN leans heavily toward pan-blue parties such as the KMT. The UDN report falsely claimed that the United States urged the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense's National Defense Medical Center to develop biological weapons.[7] These claims are consistent with false CCP messaging over the past three years regarding United States biological laboratories operating in other regions of the world.[8] Taiwanese Presidential Office Spokesperson Lin Yuchan stated that Taiwan does not and will not in the future have any plans to develop biological weapons.[9] An unnamed spokesperson from the US Department of State also stated to the Taiwanese Central News Agency that UDN’s report had no factual basis.[10]

The UDN’s allegation likely will further CCP information operations that aim to decrease the confidence of the Taiwanese population in the United States as a reliable partner. The purpose of the UDN article is to harm the DPP’s standing in the presidential elections by falsely framing the party as irresponsible for seeking to develop biological weapons with the United States.[11] This is in line with the CCP’s objective to degrade the pan-blue electorate’s trust in the United States. In the event of a future KMT president, this could create a leverage point for the CCP to coerce Taiwan away from US security collaboration. The CCP does not risk blowback from the article because it is not overtly linked to the publication.

The CCP is likely to fuse human and technological surveillance methods in implementing its anti-espionage law. The anti-espionage law came into effect on July 1 and expands the definition of espionage to any item related to national security interests, without a clear definition of that term.[12] Chinese Minister of State Security Chen Yixin wrote an article instructing party cadre on how to implement the anti-espionage law in which he emphasized the “subversive characteristics” of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, but also the necessity to utilize them more effectively to carry out the law.[13] Chen also referred to the anti-espionage fight as a people’s war, the same terminology CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping used to refer to Chinese society’s efforts to fight COVID-19, indicating his intent for broad societal implementation of the anti-espionage law.[14]

Prior societal control mechanisms in China during the pandemic also relied on combining human and technological surveillance. The CCP divided urban communities into grids beginning in 2013 in order to “let high-tech digital platforms, social volunteers, and local police jointly and actively find and handle social issues.”[15] This unit of organization played a key role in the party’s resource allocation and social control response during the pandemic by allowing for “nationwide instructions, policies and rules to reach every resident” regardless of citizenship status.[16] This grid system combined with the mobilization of party cadre and migrant laborers converted to rule enforcing healthcare workers demonstrated the party’s usage of technological surveillance conjoined with community policing for governance.[17]

In the online environment, the Cyberspace Administration of China renewed the enforcement of digital state censorship by cracking down over the past week on “self-media,” content published online by individual autonomous users rather than through traditional state outlets, as well as announcing a measure aimed at restricting generative artificial intelligence that is scheduled to come into effect on August 15.[18] The party also draws on offline societal policing groups like the Wulin Aunties to ensure “correct” behavior that does not stray from the party’s political line or breach societal norms.[19] The CCP’s fusion of human and technological surveillance during Covid and for enforcing digital as well as societal norms suggest that the party will take a similar approach for implementing the anti-espionage law.

The CCP criticized Japan’s release of over one million tons of water from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, possibly to buttress the party’s image as a responsible regional power. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved Japan’s discharge plan by stating that it complied with global safety standards and would have “negligible radiological impact to people and the environment.”[20] Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin framed the release as an irresponsible regional action that endangers the environment by treating the Pacific Ocean as a sewer.[21] Chinese state media published articles to exacerbate rifts over the nuclear discharge between the Japanese government and domestic constituents like fishermen as well as regional partners like South Korea.[22] The CCP’s portrayal of Japan as acting irresponsibly contrasts with the party’s long standing narrative of China as a responsible international stakeholder.[23] This framing indicates that the party aims to increase the prominence of this narrative by portraying itself as the rhetorical champion defending the rights of fellow Pacific countries that it frames as the victims of the IAEA-approved nuclear discharge.

Chinese Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi stating that China aims to expand “mutually beneficial cooperation” at the ASEAN summit underscores the party’s messaging to portray itself as a responsible regional power. He claimed that China promotes regional stability and prevents interference in Southeast Asia.[24] His comments about regional interference imply that the United States is the irresponsible provocative power in the region. In both the context of Japan and ASEAN, the party rhetoric suggests that it is a reasonable power compared to America and its regional allies.

 

The CCP messaged its alignment with Russia’s view of NATO as an instigator in other regions’ affairs to signal its opposition to greater NATO involvement in East Asia. NATO’s Vilnius Summit Communiqué condemned the People’s Republic of China’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies” as it “strives to subvert the rules-based international order” via decisions such as its strategic partnership with Russia. [25] Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin criticized the communiqué and urged NATO to stop “smearing China.”[26] Chinese state media also endorsed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s framing of NATO as an instigator of European and Asia-Pacific regional instability.[27] The promulgation of this narrative portrays China as the victim of aggression in order to shift attention away from destabilizing Chinese regional military activity such as normalizing daily People’s Liberation Army Air Force violations of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone over the past three years.[28]

China–Taiwan Weekly Update, July 13, 2023

Taiwan Developments

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

Elections

The Taiwanese (Republic of China) political spectrum is largely divided between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP broadly favors Taiwanese autonomy, Taiwanese identity, and skepticism towards China. The KMT favors closer economic and cultural relations with China along with a broader alignment with a Chinese identity. The DPP under President Tsai Ing-wen has controlled the presidency and legislature (Legislative Yuan) since 2016. This presidential election cycle also includes the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je who frames his movement as an amorphous alternative to the DPP and KMT. It is normal for Taiwanese presidential elections to have third party candidates, but none have ever won. The 2024 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 13, 2024 and t