FLASHPOINT: Weekly U.S.-China Situation Report

A senior Chinese advisor on Taiwanese affairs said he believes that Beijing is altering and refining diplomatic and military tactics with an eye towards retaking the island nation by force. Li Yihu, the dean of Peking University’s Taiwan Studies Institute, said that China is reinforcing its “carrot and stick” strategy of dealing with forces in Taiwan that want Taipei to declare independence. Li said that Beijing’s “carrots” consist of offers of better-paying jobs, equal treatment, and the promise of access to a far larger market in order to lure Taiwan into China’s sphere. At the same time, “analysts have cautioned that if the sweeteners fail to work, the mainland could bring down its ‘stick’ — moving to forcibly seize the wayward island,” said a Chinese media report.“Cross-strait unification is more urgent when the mainland’s economic power is rising,” Li said. Solving the “Taiwan problem” is a major objective of Xi’s “national rejuvenation” goal, along with growing Chinese military, economic, cultural, and geopolitical power. [source] That assessment comes as President Xi gave a very nationalistic-sounding speech to the Chinese parliament in which he claimed any attempts to divide China were “doomed to fail.” He also reaffirmed his objective of “achieving total unity” with Taiwan — one way or the other. [source]

At the same time, the U.S. is making it more difficult for China to freely operate in the region. The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, left port in Okinawa this week with a contingent of F-35Bs are aboard the ship and will flying their first patrols in the South China Sea and beyond (the “Indo-Pacific region as well). This is the vertical takeoff/landing version of the stealthy plane. [source]

As for the Taiwanese, the island nation isn’t just lying down. Sensing a renewed commitment from the U.S. by the Trump White House, Taiwan is becoming a bit more aggressive in its own defense. After the Liaoning aircraft carrier group entered the Taiwan Strait, the Taiwanese navy sent warships and aircraft to shadow the group. [source] China has ramped up sea and air patrols near Taiwan over the past couple of years as it flexes its superior military might.

Regionally, there have been some diplomatic developments that are noteworthy. China and the Philippines, once rivals, are courting closer economic ties in the form of joint oil exploration in disputed regions of the South China Sea. No deals are done yet, but the fact that both nations are talking about it leads me to believe that eventually a deal will get done and that will put Manila one step closer to Beijing and one foot farther away from Washington. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government, which has also been a long-time rival of the Chinese, is forging closer bonds with the Australian government strictly as a means of countering Beijing. The two countries signed a strategic partnership on 15 March to increase high-level dialogue and diplomacy. It’s a win-win; Vietnam gets a security agreement and Australia gets more access to Southeast Asia where it has business and security interests — both with an eye towards ensuring freedom of navigation and denying China absolute control over the entire body of water.

This brief appeared in the 22 March 2018 Strategic Intelligence Summary. You can read the rest of the report here.

Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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