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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times The consequences of war for China

The consequences of war for China

From May 31 to June 2, 37 ministers of defense attended the 21st International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, including Chinese Minister of National Defense Dong Jun (董軍).

Anyone who tried to separate Taiwan from China would be “crushed to pieces,” he said during the premier defense summit.

In response to the threat, US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Paparo revealed the US military’s “Hellscape” strategy, with the aim of thwarting a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

The strategy involves turning the Taiwan Strait into an “unmanned hellscape” before Chinese forces can cross it, Paparo said in an interview with Josh Rogin from the Washington Post. The move intends to buy crucial time for Taiwan, the US and allied forces to prepare and respond effectively.

Beijing often resorts to inflammatory language. Past Chinese defense ministers have made similar threats to those of Dong. Yet, these warnings ring hollow: Taiwan has continued to thrive despite them, while the ministers appear to have vanished from the face of the Earth.

Dong Jun himself has only been in his position for a matter of months, and even he does not know how long he will last. Even if he wished to revive the ancient “death by a thousand cuts” form of torture, he would probably would not be in office long enough to see it through.

The “Hellscape” strategy, which requires vast amounts of drones and uncrewed ships, is still in the planning stages. However, the US has made its intentions clear regarding this “offshore battle” — it aims to deter China from launching a sudden attack.

Minister of National Defense Wellington Koo (顧立雄) has reiterated that Taiwan’s focus is not on initiating a “first strike,” but on exercising the right to self-defense.

He said that Taiwan would defend itself if China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attacked its aircraft or naval facilities, struck its outlying islands, or if any aircraft entered Taiwan’s 12 nautical miles (22km) of airspace or territorial waters without permission. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) should bear in mind Koo’s red line.

Besides a purely military perspective, domestic political issues must also be taken into account.

Although Taiwan has long grappled with its national identity, more than 90 percent of Taiwanese oppose being under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and having their way of life changed.

China’s problems differ greatly from Taiwan’s: Military morale is chronically unstable and commanders are on tenterhooks, living in fear of being “taken away” on Xi’s orders and disappearing like their predecessors.

Additionally, there is the issue of Xi’s crippling fear of death and civil unrest. He has recently ordered the removal of sculptures depicting historical figures associated with peasant revolts. In Changping County, a statue of the peasant rebel leader Li Zicheng (李自成) was taken down, while in Hunan Province, the “Peaceful Military Spirit” sculpture at Tianxin Pavilion — commemorating the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom peasant uprising — was demolished.

As the saying says: “The North of China has Li Zicheng, the South has the Taiping Rebellion.” The north and south have the potential for revolt — a terrifying prospect for Xi.

Beyond domestic tensions, the emergence of independence movements in autonomous regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia is raising alarm. Once all hell breaks loose in the Taiwan Strait, China worries that others would follow suit.

Given the low morale of the Chinese military, can the armed forces really afford to battle on four different fronts simultaneously?

Xi has recently appointed Zhu Jun (朱軍) as Beijing Garrison Command Commissar to ensure the security of the Third Plenum of the CCP Central Committee next month. Although he officially started duty on Thursday last week, there is no available background information on him.

From Dong to Zhu, it seems as if Xi has a penchant for employing officials with Jun (軍, meaning “military”) in their names. Born during the Cultural Revolution, their parents likely named them “Jun” out of support for the military and following the nationwide wave of “learning from the PLA.” Perhaps having these individuals in charge sets Xi’s heart at ease.

As wars often break out under unexpected circumstances, the US might as well inform the CCP that should a conflict occur, it would mainly target Xi’s belligerent policies and would not involve other parties.

Each military region, theater command and province could remain neutral, similar to the Mutual Defense Pact of the Southeastern Provinces (東南自保) during the Eight-Nation Alliance invasion in 1900. If even half of these regions or provinces prioritized safeguarding their own economic growth and social stability over engaging in war, Xi could find himself highly isolated — potentially leading to his downfall or a fate akin to Empress Dowager Cixi’s (慈禧太后) retreat to Xian.

With provinces and cities adopting autonomous neutrality, post-war China could rebuild itself into a federal republic.


Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Gabrielle Killick

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/06/16

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