China’s plans to annex Taiwan moving ‘much faster’ under Xi, says Blinken
Comments by US secretary of state come after Xi told Communist party Congress Taiwan is core to plans for China’s ‘rejuvenation’
Taiwan holds military drills in July. US secretary of state Antony Blinken said China is pursuing its plans to annex Taiwan on a ‘much faster timeline’ under president Xi Jinping. Photograph: Annabelle Chih/Getty Images
Helen Davidson in Taipei
@heldavidsonTue 18 Oct 2022 06.11 BSTLast modified on Tue 18 Oct 2022 06.12 BST
China’s government is pursuing its plans to annex Taiwan on a “much faster timeline” under Xi Jinping, the US secretary of state has said, reiterating warnings of global economic disruption if Taiwan was taken over.
The comments by Antony Blinken come as China’s ruling Communist party meet for their twice-a-decade congress, the most important meeting of its political cycle. In a major speech opening the conclaves on Sunday, Xi made clear that his plans for Taiwan remain core to his plans of China’s “rejuvenation”.
In conversation with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice at Stanford University on Monday, Blinken said peace and stability between China and Taiwan had been successfully maintained for decades, but Beijing had changed its approach.
“Instead of sticking with the status quo that was established in a positive way, [Beijing has made] a fundamental decision that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and Beijing is determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline,” Blinken said.
“If peaceful means didn’t work then would employ coercive means, and possibly if coercive means don’t work then maybe forceful means to achieve its objective. That is what is profoundly disrupting the status quo and creating tremendous tensions.”
In recent years the CCP and its military, the People’s Liberation Army, have intensified acts of intimidation and harassment towards Taiwan, including near daily sorties into its air defence identification zone and other grey zone actions. In purported response to a visit by US speaker Nancy Pelosi, the PLA staged major military drills around Taiwan’s main island in August, and have since significantlyincrease of military crossings over the median line.
While Beijing has made clear it intends to take Taiwan, the timeline for such a scenario varies greatly. Senior US and Taiwanese military figures have warned the PLA will have the capability within a few years, while analysts point to Xi’s goal of national rejuvenation by 2049 – the centenary of the People’s Republic of China – as a potential deadline.
“It is possible that Secretary Blinken is concerned about the pace and scope of China’s military modernization, which clearly is focused on Taiwan, but China’s military capability alone does not indicate intent to use force in the near term,” Drew Thompson, a scholar with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and former US state department official, said.
“That said, Xi Jinping’s intent could change in an instant, where as capability takes years to develop, as does building up Taiwan and US defences against PLA power projection. The considerable time it takes to build defences is a strong rationale for expressing a sense of urgency.”
China expert, Bill Bishop, noted there was nothing in public documents or Xi’s speech to indicate an accelerated timeline on the part of Beijing.
“So is the US in possession of some intel that indicates a shift?” he queried on Twitter.
US intelligence on China is believed to be minimal compared to its intelligence on Russia, for example. In 2010, Chinese authorities were reported to have dismantled a US spy ring inside the country, killing or imprisoning up to 20 CIA sources.
Thompson said he didn’t see any indication in Blinken’s remarks that he was responding to “exquisite intelligence or an alternative assessment that differs from China analysts relying on open source indicators”.
Analysts are parsing Xi’s Sunday speech and longer “work report” which lays out Xi’s vision for the next term, looking for signs of his plans for Taiwan. Some noted that the early appearance of Taiwan in the speech was a sign of its increased prioritisation. Others suggested the language showed Xi had neither escalated or dialled back his rhetoric on the island itself, but demonstrated increasing frustration with “foreign interference” in what he considers a domestic matter.
China’s president Xi Jinping at the opening the 20th National Congress of the Communist party. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
The question on Taiwan was put to Blinken in the final minutes of an hour long conversation. He warned that destabilisation of the Taiwan Strait was of “profound concern to countries around the world”.
“The amount of commercial traffic that goes through the Straits every day and has an impact on economies around the world is enormous,” he said. “If that was to be disrupted as a result of a crisis, countries around the world would suffer. [On] semiconductors – if Taiwanese production were disrupted as a result of the crisis, you would have an economic crisis around the world.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Blinken pointed to a global crisis beyond China, saying the Ukraine war had brought the “post Cold War-era to an end”, and technology is what would come to define competition between world powers.
“We are at an inflection point,” he said. “Technology will in many ways retool our economies. It will reform our militaries. It will reshape the lives of people across the planet. And so it’s profoundly a source of national strength.”
The US this month introduced restrictions on Chinese technology export, which has begun to have major impact on the country’s ability to increase its domestic chip-making.