Taiwan’s 2020 Elections: What Could be the PLA’s Possible Strategies?
Chinese navy personnel take part in a military display. (Photo: Reuters)
By Peter Kien-hong Yu

Taiwan’s 2020 Elections: What Could be the PLA’s Possible Strategies?

Aug. 01, 2019  |     |  0 comments


China’s State Council Information Office released its white paper on military affairs, China’s National Defense in the New Era, on July 24, 2019. In the document, Taiwan separatists and their activities were mentioned as the “gravest immediate threat” to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the “biggest barrier” to the peaceful reunification of the country.



With the presidential elections in Taiwan in January 2020, we have to be good students of Chinese military affairs and figure out the pattern of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) words and deeds.



It is doubtful that the Chinese PLA will adopt the first strategy: the Hong Kong model when handling the Taiwan issue. It is because the PLA is firmly in control and command of Hong Kong since July 1, 1997.

 

David F. Helvey, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs (since re-named Indo-Pacific Security Affairs), met Major General Chen Daoxiang on a courtesy call at the Chinese PLA’s Hong Kong headquarters on June 13, 2019. Helvey was told that the Chinese PLA would not breach their long-standing principle of non-interference in Hong Kong’s local affairs, amid Hong Kong’s large-scale anti-extradition protests since June 2019 against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill proposed by the Hong Kong government.



What about the second strategy of verbal intimidation and saber rattling, which was adopted about eight months before the March 1996 presidential election in Taiwan? It is very doubtful that the Chinese PLA will repeat that kind of move.  



At that time, the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Jiang Zemin warned his Taiwan counterpart Lee Teng-hui not to play with fire. The People’s Daily even labeled Lee a traitor of the CPC. In July 1995, Jiang authorized a ranking Beijing official in charge of Taiwan affairs to make a telephone call to Lee’s senior advisor Zeng Yong-xian. Zeng was told that the Chinese PLA would conduct a military exercise two or three weeks later and that the Taiwan side should not panic. A few days before the 1996 presidential election, a series of unarmed precision ballistic missiles were lobbed into the waters off the southern Kaohsiung City’s harbor and the northern Keelung City’s port, although no casualties were reported.



It appears that the Chinese PLA is ready to repeat Mao Zedong’s Chang Chun model as the third strategy, that is, to encircle Taiwan in early January 2020 with its airforce and navy, including using submerged conventional and nuclear submarines, if the United States and its French, Canadian and German allies were to provoke by becoming swaggering and irrational. On July 25, 2019, USS Antietam (CG-54), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser of the US Navy, passed through the Taiwan Strait.

 

In the early 1950s, the Chinese PLA was definitely very weak like a paper tiger and it was armed with no experienced airforce and naval force. It did not even have a single air fighter when it attempted to fatally land on Jinmen County in Fujian Province in October 1949.



Over the years, the teeth of the Chinese PLA have definitely grown and sharpened by leaps and bounds. In June 2011, Chinese naval vessels were deployed for the first time beyond the First Island Chain, which is an American demarcation strategy formulated in the early 1950s after the Korean War broke out. Later in December 2016, the Liaoning aircraft carrier group trampled or shattered the same chain for the first time too. In March 2015, the Chinese PLA Air Force’s Xian H-6K, which is a heavily redesigned version capable of carrying air-launched cruise missiles, flew over the First Island Chain for the first time.



If all the 17 countries (that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan) choose to switch their allegiance with Taipei to Beijing before January 11, 2020, thereby transforming Taiwan literally into a state within a state, then the Chinese PLA will not be instructed to directly or indirectly play a role in shoring up China’s territorial integrity. 



The fourth strategy, the Shanghai model, was first applied in May 1949 and it may be used again, in view of the following facts: 1) Beijing leaders still perceive the biggest island province in China — Taiwan — as a golden chicken, capable of laying many eggs. 2) Mainland China’s armed forces are notably constrained by the Anti-Secession Law of March 2005. In other words, the troops have been ordered not to fire the first (unarmed) shot in Taiwan (waters), unless hostile foreign powers initiated the invasion, thereby converting the island into a foreign military base or colony again. 3) Around 1949, more than 1,500 spies were dispatched by the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) to Taiwan, and the inner circle recommended the Chinese PLA to cross the Taiwan Strait in spring of 1950 and no later than the following year, because the waters were usually calm in March, April, and May. As a reminder, the elections will be held on January 11, 2020.



In other words, the Chinese PLA must land on Taiwan soil first, before declaring a success in recovering Taiwan. Once setting foot, the Shanghai strategy or model will then be publicized, guaranteeing that everything will be as usual, as reflected from the slogan, Ma zhao pao wu zhao tiao (“horse racing will continue, just as dancing will still be performed”).



The fifth strategy could be modeled on December 1948’s Peaceful Liberation of Beiping by conducting negotiations. If the Chinese PLA peacefully landed on Taiwan, we can say that the Beiping Peaceful Liberation strategy is at work again.   

 

This strategy was also applied to peacefully liberate Chiang Kai-shek’s last bastions on the mainland. For example, we can learn some lessons from watching mainland China-produced television series on the struggles between the then ruling party, Nationalist Party of China, and the CPC, such as He ping wei shi (Peace Guard) and Fan ji (Strike Back). We clearly see that before Chiang flew to Taipei in December 1949 from Chongqing and Chengdu in that order, many generals in that area were already successfully instigated by the CPC to rebel against Chiang. The Chinese Nationalists also failed to implement the scorched-earth policy, which was aimed to destroy power plant and anything that might be useful to the enemy, before giving up the two places.    



Other strategies can also be applied, such as the Hainan Island full-scale attack from March 1950 to May 1950, if the Anti-Secession Law did not work. In this connection, if all the 17 countries (that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan) choose to switch their allegiance with Taipei to Beijing before January 11, 2020, thereby transforming Taiwan literally into a state within a state, then the Chinese PLA will not be instructed to directly or indirectly play a role in shoring up China’s territorial integrity. 



During his presidency, Ma Ying-jeou was able to help to maintain a peaceful and tranquil relationship on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, as compared to the previous heads. However, Tsai Ing-wen has refused to comply with the November 1992 consensus and it has led to what she had recently said: Although the Democratic Progressive Party lost the November 2018 nine-in-one elections miserably, the elections were merely related to local issues, whereas the January 2020 presidential election will be transformed into a contest between the pan-green and the pan-blue camps over the sensitive issue of supporting either Chinese reunification or Taiwan’s de jure independence.



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