The biggest threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) isn’t the U.S. navy, North Korean nukes, or even economic recession. All of these factors pose serious challenges to the CCP rule in China, but the locus of all those problems is Taiwan.
A Real Alternative to the CCP
Domestically, every day Taiwan represents a real political and economic alternative to the ruling CCP. For decades, Taiwan has managed to grow its economy despite not having the CCP in charge. It also enjoys much greater freedoms than Mainland China.
These painful and very obvious facts show the Chinese people that the CCP’s claim that its leadership is the sole path for Chinese economic development is a fraud. That’s why the very existence of the “renegade province” is such a threat to China’s communist leadership.
From 1979 onward, the tacit deal between the CCP and the Chinese people has been the Party will deliver economic prosperity and the people will not challenge the communists’ rule over them. As is widely known, economic growth is the CCP’s main claim to political legitimacy.
But as China’s economy continues to slow, the CCP’s legitimacy wears thinner for more people.
China’s Economic Problems Mount
Regardless of the “official” economic figures on GDP growth and productivity that the state produces, China’s sluggish economy is choking on debt, fraud, waste and corruption. Given the trade war with the United States and the Eurozone’s entry into recession, this recent downward economic trend is expected to continue. It may be China’s worst economy in two decades. At some point, the CCP may well face a crisis in legitimacy that expresses itself in rising civil unrest—if it hasn’t already.
In any case, the rise in state repression in response to U.S. trade tariffs gives a clear picture of the mindset of China’s leadership. Furthermore, the outflow of more than a trillion dollars from the CCP’s grasp is another solid indicator of how many in China view their near-term prospects. Consumer confidence in the direction of the country is low and falling.
As this legitimacy crisis deepens, the regime, like many often do, will also look for ways to deflect attention away from their failures. And, according to CCP doctrine, bringing Taiwan under CCP control is a necessity. Not doing so continues to be viewed by CCP leadership as both a domestic and a foreign policy failure.
Taiwan’s “Military Threat”
Militarily, Taiwan has no ambitions of invading China. But its geographical location puts it athwart of China’s major ports. Coupled with the island nation’s close military cooperation with the United States, in the event of a conflict, Taiwan along with the United States could effectively block material and supplies from entering China from China’s key entry points. That would include up to 86 percent of China’s maritime oil imports and over 50 percent of its natural gas, which would cripple China’s economy and military.
This glaring vulnerability will remain as long as Taiwan is separate from China. What’s more, China’s goals are to push the United States out of the Asian-Pacific region, both militarily and economically. But to do so, it must first gain control of Taiwan.
Taking Taiwan as a Top Military Objective for China
That’s why, with the U.S.–China relations deteriorating, the leaders of Taiwan and Japan, along with U.S. defense establishment view it likely that China will move on Taiwan sooner than later. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s rhetoric has underscored that point on several recent occasions, saying:
“We make no promise to give up the use of military force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means against Taiwanese separatist activities and ‘outside forces’ that interfere with reunification.”
A recent Pentagon report not only confirm Xi’s intentions, but adds that the entire strategic build-up of the Chinese military has been focused upon bringing Taiwan under the CCP’s control. Xi’s call for China’s troops to “prepare for battle” may be bluster at the moment, but it’s also likely an order that his generals will follow immediately. After all, he has publicly announced that “Taiwan independence is a dead end” and that China “must and will be re-unified.”
Taiwan and Others Take China’s Threats Seriously
China has ramped up its rhetoric and military activities aimed at Taiwan since the nation elected pro-independence politician Tsai Ing-wen for president in 2016. In response, President Tsai has ordered the Taiwanese military to increase defensive preparations to counter an attack from China that could occur at any time, noting that Taiwan “must be prepared at all times.”
But Taiwan’s president isn’t the only leader who sees the writing on the wall portending a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Former Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Air Support Commander Orita Kunio predicted that in a recent interview that a Chinese attack on Taiwan could come as early as 2020. Furthermore, he anticipates that such a military action would be the first of many to establish Chinese dominance across the Asian-Pacific region up to and including Okinawa.
US Responds to China’s Threats
The Trump Administration holds similar views about China’s military build-up and their intentions behind it. The U.S. response has been to deepen its military and diplomatic relationship with Taiwan. Concurrently, it has continued to conduct naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait and other sensitive locales in the region against China’s warnings not to. Additionally, American defense spending is increasing in response to China’s growing power and defense planners are shifting more weight into the Asian-Pacific region.
Of course, the trade war also plays a role in China’s perceptions, and perhaps even its strategic decisions.
Taiwan as Both Problem and Solution?
Ultimately, Taiwan may be portrayed by China’s leadership as both the cause and solution to their problems and long-term goals. They would certainly point to Taiwan’s U.S.-assisted military build-up as a provocation and their close ties to the United States as an obstacle to their own U.S. relationship. And as noted earlier, the Taipei presents a whole host of potential threats to the continuation of CCP rule merely by its own existence.
The bottom line is that the CCP must have control over every aspect of Chinese life if it is to remain in power. But in order to maintain control, the CCP must retain legitimacy in the eyes of a significant portion of their society. Even the most committed of communist ideologues knows that a party of around 90 million members can’t rule a nation of 1.4 billion people for very long without legitimacy. For the CCP and Xi Jinping, the “renegade province” may soon provide a convenient and necessary adversary upon which to both lay their own failures as well as a path “to remedy” them in order to retain their monopoly on power.
James Gorrie is a writer based in Texas. He is the author of “The China Crisis.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.