China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has announced that it will hold live-fire military exercises in the Taiwan Strait on April 18, 2018, making it the first time it has held such drills since September 2015.
This post is part of the Asia-Pacific Policy Report Card series.
The PLA Navy exercises likely have several explicit and implicit objectives:
- Reiterate to the Taiwanese government that China’s military is prepared to use force to prevent a formal declaration of Taiwan independence.
- Demonstrate Beijing’s opposition to the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act by the US government’s executive branch on March 16, 2018, after having passed unanimously in the US House and Senate on January 9 and February 28, respectively.
- Fuel Chinese nationalism about the Taiwan issue by showing the government’s resolve in an appeal to domestic audiences.
Evaluating the impacts of the PLA Navy’s planned military exercises in the Taiwan Strait regarding the various key issues at stake suggests:
- Countering Taiwan Independence: ⬤⭘⭘⭘⭘ Very Negative
For decades, policymakers in Beijing have attempted to use displays of military force to dissuade Taiwanese citizens and government officials from further distancing the island politically from the mainland. Historically, these efforts have never successfully brought Taiwan closer into Beijing’s orbit and have even backfired, as was the case following the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996. Taiwanese government officials have referred to the scheduled drills as insignificant.
- Deterring US Commitment to Supporting Taiwan’s Self-Defense: ⭘⭘⬤⭘⭘ Negligible
US policymakers today are generally skeptical about China’s intentions regionally and globally. Few Democratic or Republican lawmakers have any interest in appeasing China in the current international diplomatic or domestic political climate, and it is even less likely that they would be dissuaded by flamboyant displays of Chinese military force.
- Domestic Support: ⭘⭘⭘⬤⭘ Positive
State-run Chinese media outlets and government officials have praised the drills as a “stern warning” to supporters of Taiwan independence and a display of “confidence and determination”, but domestic audiences are more likely to be swayed by nationalist rhetoric than international ones.
Overall Impacts: ⭘⬤⭘⭘⭘ Negative
The scheduled naval exercises will have no positive impact in terms of persuading Taiwanese policymakers or citizens to seek closer ties with the mainland, nor will international audiences such as US lawmakers come to view Beijing’s role in the region more positively. As for achieving domestic objectives, the drills are but another instance in a decades-long attempt to show Beijing policymakers’ confidence about the Taiwan issue.
Research contributed by Jonathan Spangler.
Published April 17, 2018. Last updated April 17, 2018.
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