China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 3, 2023
China-Taiwan Weekly Update, August 3, 2023
Author: Nils Peterson of the Institute for the Study of War
Data Cutoff: August 1 at 11:59pm ET
The China–Taiwan Weekly Update focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s paths to controlling Taiwan and relevant cross–Taiwan Strait developments.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mao Ning’s condemnation of imperial-era Japanese military aggression indicates that the CPP aims to portray itself as a pan-Asian leader to legitimize its military buildup.
- 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 Ministry of State Security (MSS) called for the masses to participate in counter-espionage work, which may lead to the new expansion of the CCP’s online security apparatus.
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.
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. Mao urged Japan to change course to “win the trust of its Asian neighbors.” 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.” 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.
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. Xi promoted General Wang Houbin to become the new PLARF leader. Xi also promoted General Xu Xisheng to become the new PLARF political commissar. 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. 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. He explicitly repeated this message and the need for the PLA to reject corruption on August 1, the 96th anniversary of the PLA. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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