Not only since the Ukraine war has the world been concerned about Beijing and the aggression against the island of Taiwan. China’s Xi Jinping could try the small Taiwanese island of Kinmen to see how far he can lean towards Taiwan.
At least since the visit of US politician Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in early August, the world has been wondering whether and, if so, when China’s ruler Xi Jinping will attack the neighboring island democracy. The ruler insists on his position that Taiwan is a “breakaway province” of the People’s Republic. Beijing has not ruled Taiwan for a single day since the communist state was founded in 1949.
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Beijing wants to rule the island for two reasons: On the one hand, the power clique is afraid that the exemplary democracy (ranked 8th internationally, 1st in Asia) will offer the Chinese an alternative to the corrupt rule of the CP, and on the other hand, they want it Xi to absorb the whole western Pacific, which cannot succeed without Taiwan.
Fears that Beijing would go to war after Ms. Pelosi’s departure were thankfully unfounded. The United States showed its readiness to defend Taiwan when it sent two warships through international waters, the Strait of Taiwan, that separated democracy and dictatorship.
Beijing has not reacted to this, which suggests that there should be no war of aggression for the time being. Xi observes with concern that Putin’s blitzkrieg in Ukraine has failed. The Kremlin ruler also had to make a report when the two met in Uzbek Samarkand and thus react to China’s “questions and concerns”, as Putin himself said.
But Xi Jinping has leaned so far out of the window with his threatening gestures against Taiwan, every day fighter jets penetrate the country’s airspace or cross the unofficial water border between the two that he now gives his compatriots, who are plagued by numerous crises, anything like success in the fight against the “renegade” province protected by his nemesis America. In view of this muddled situation, the small island of Kinmen could become Xi’s lifeline.
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The islet is only two kilometers off the Chinese mainland, but belongs to Taiwan. Besides Kinmen, there are three other Taiwanese islands, Liechuy, Tatan, and Ertan, which are also held by Taiwan. There is a garrison on Kinmen and the atmosphere is tense. During Pelosi’s visit, Beijing provoked the soldiers stationed there by flying drones over them. They were blinded by the Taiwanese army so they couldn’t take pictures of the terrain. One of them was shot down on September 1st – a novelty in the history between the two nations, which was not short of dangerous situations.
Since Xi Jinping has aspired to achieve “reunification” with Taiwan during his lifetime, but he cannot currently guarantee success militarily, a new strategy for the ruler could be to conquer Kinmen and/or the other three small islands. He could then sell that as a success in the People’s Republic. Since Kinmen is defended by the Taiwanese army, even such a prank would demand blood on both sides. In any case, China is already rattling its saber: After Nancy Pelosi’s visit, tanks were driven up on the beach across the way.
Older Taiwanese on Kinmen remember times when the island was under constant fire from the People’s Republic. That was in the two decades following the end of the 1949 civil war, which Mao Zedong won. The political leadership of the Republic of China, which was only founded in 1911, had to flee from the Maoists and withdrew to Taiwan. The small offshore islands served as a buffer between the territory of the new People’s Republic and what remained of the Republic of China. Taipei will certainly not give up these islands without a fight. However, Xi Jinping is likely to speculate that Tsai Ing-wen’s government will not receive any international support if “only” the small islands are attacked.
Ruler Xi could certainly sell this small conquest as a success because, just like on Kinmen, even older Chinese remember that attempts have been made to conquer the islets since Mao. If that were to succeed, it would be credited to their national pride. At the same time, Beijing has hit a hard nut to crack on these islands. Success is not guaranteed here either. A risk that Xi must now weigh.
Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute at Oxford University and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.
Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann
From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.