A defense analyst said on Monday that as tensions between the two sides intensify, China’s military hardline attitude towards Taiwan may continue in the next 12 months.
Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND think tank, said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”: “I think this is largely due to China’s desire to attract the attention of the United States.”
Grossman said: “I mean, Beijing is very, very frustrated with the deepening of relations between the United States and Taiwan in all aspects, especially in the area of security.”
China claims that Taiwan is part of its own territory and has been exerting pressure on this democratic island to accept Beijing’s rule.
What needs to be clear is that the Chinese Communist Party ruling in Beijing has never controlled Taiwan. But China claims that the island is an out-of-control province and must be reunified with the mainland, using force if necessary.
Xi Jinping vows to “peaceful reunification”
Tsai Ing-wen said: “We will continue to strengthen our national defense and show our determination to defend ourselves to ensure that no one can force Taiwan to follow the path China has set for us.”
“This is because the path that China has pioneered has neither provided Taiwan with a free and democratic way of life, nor has it provided sovereignty for our 23 million people,” she added.
China has previously provided Taiwan with a “one country, two systems” governance model-just like Hong Kong. But Grossman of RAND said the proposal was “very unpopular” in Taiwan.
A few hours after Xi Jinping’s speech, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the Chinese Government stated in a Mandarin statement translated by CNBC that Tsai Ing-wen “advocates Taiwan independence, incites confrontation, divides history, and distorts facts.”
Earlier this month, China dispatched a record number of military aircraft to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone-raising international concerns about military accidents.
The United States has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, through the “Taiwan Relations Act,” Washington is committed to providing defensive weapons for the island and maintaining peace and stability in the Western Pacific.
Follow the next president of Taiwan
Grossman said that Taiwan’s next presidential election in 2024 will be an important event that may affect the development trajectory of tensions between China and Taiwan.
Tsai Ing-wen is her second and final four-year presidential term.
Grossman said that China is “very worried” that the current Taiwanese Vice President Lai Qingde will become the ruling Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate.
“They think he actually wants to be independent,” he explained.
The defense analyst added that Xi Jinping seemed to ease his language by vowing to “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. In contrast, Xi Jinping stated at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in July that China “must take resolute action to completely defeat any attempt to independence for Taiwan”.
Grossman said: “I think Xi Jinping wants to be more subtle, because the last thing you want to do is to convince the people of Taiwan to elect Lai Weiting in 2024.”
“Beijing has always distrusted Tsai Ing-wen, even though she is a truly pragmatic president-they call her a private independence supporter and separatist,” he said. “But here is a Lai Weiting who has publicly called for Taiwan independence, so I think there are some subtle operations going on.”