By William Tucker
Following the recent visit to Taiwan by U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her subsequent meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, China expressed its anger at the alleged violation of its sovereignty by engaging in a series of war games around the disputed island. China’s anger at Pelosi’s visit was expected though public vitriol; China’s foreign minister threatened to have Pelosi’s plane shot down.
However, Pelosi’s visit will not lead to war between Taiwan and mainland China for the time being. Beijing’s desire to reintegrate Taiwan into the Chinese fold is well-documented, but China has not been able to make this integration happen so far. Beijing does not yet have the military capability to accomplish this goal, and it is unsure how far the U.S. would be willing to go to defend Taiwan.
With these war exercises, China can demonstrate its ability to disrupt trade and show its domestic audience its willingness to push back against the U.S. However, internal pressures in China will have a larger impact on how China will pursue its interests.
Taiwan Largely Unfazed by China’s War Exercises
For its part, Taiwan seems largely unfazed by the Chinese demonstration of strength right off its shores. Taiwan is certainly no stranger to crises with China, and some observers have called this recent bout of angry disagreements the “Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis,” although both Taiwan and the U.S. have shown little interest in escalating this diplomatic spat.
At most, Taiwanese fighters have warned off Chinese pilots who’ve strayed too far into Taiwan’s territory. Taipei has scheduled some small-scale war games soon, but there is just no interest in countering China’s military demonstration.
The Internal Problems of China
For all its bluster, China is constrained in what it can do now, because failure would undermine Beijing’s desire to show its neighbors that it is a regional force. These exercises are not a waste of time for China, however. The amphibious landings that would be needed to seize Taiwan are dangerous, so complex military operations and rehearsals of military capability are key to future planning.
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China’s military demonstration masks a significant problem that can derail its ambitions, however. Between Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID policy and a global economic slowdown, China’s economy is taking a significant hit.
The COVID policy has induced many Western companies to leave China because a handful of cases can shut down an entire city. Such uncertainty is simply bad for business.
Domestic business sectors are suffering as well. Crackdowns on China’s tech sector and insolvency in the housing sector have led to massive layoffs. If the past is any indicator of the future, China doesn’t manage high unemployment very well.
China is also facing a demographic crisis that will undercut its ambitions. The Chinese population is rapidly aging, and its overall population is shrinking faster than expected.
So if China wants to move against Taiwan, it will have to do so sooner rather than later. Otherwise, Beijing will have to rely heavily on peacefully bringing Taiwan back into its control.
China is facing a multitude of external constraints in pursuing its foreign policy goals. But its internal problems will have the greater impact on how China behaves in the future.