Upcoming Taiwan Election Could Determine China’s Next Move: Experts

While the United States is distracted by domestic and international engagements, concern mounts that Beijing may finally move to end Taiwan’s autonomy.Risk and security analysts are concerned that events in 2024 could spur China to attack Taiwan, including the United States’ involvement with simultaneous military conflicts abroad and the distraction of the November presidential election. Moreover, some experts say the outcome of Taiwan’s Jan. 13 general election will be a critical element in whether Beijing escalates its aggression with the island nation.In his New Year’s address, China’s communist leader Xi Jinping said that reunification with Taiwan was “inevitable.” China increased its military maneuvers and drills near Taiwan’s borders in 2023, and its expanding military footprint are top concerns for the U.S. Department of Defense.“The People’s Republic of China is continuing its efforts to overturn the international rules-based order and is building an increasingly effective military to further these aims,” a senior U.S. defense official said in an October press statement.In the same dispatch, the Pentagon noted that Beijing’s evolving military was the department’s “top pacing challenge,” and there’s an “intensifying pressure” against Taiwan involving military elements. Some of these include show-of-force exercises like ballistic missile overflights, increased flights into Taiwanese air space, and a simulated naval blockade and firepower demonstration.The security and risk assessment group Global Guardians noted that the U.S. will likely continue its “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan as China stays focused on reunification “by any means.”Related Stories12/31/2023The same analysis identified the Jan. 13 presidential election in Taiwan as a potential flashpoint on a probability timeline for conflict. Some believe the election outcome could be the deciding factor on how China will approach its goal of “reunification.”A man takes picture at the harbor where Taiwanese Navy warships are anchored in Keelung, Taiwan, on Aug. 7, 2022.(Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)“Much will depend on the outcome of the January 13th elections in Taiwan. China has always preferred to resolve tensions and its geopolitical ambitions by political means and economic encirclement rather than by conventional military conflict,” security analyst and president of Scarab Rising, Irina Tsukerman, told The Epoch Times.Ms. Tsukerman said, “If China can obtain political advantage through lobbying and political manipulation, or even some sort of an internal soft coup, it will avoid the need for a direct confrontation with the U.S. and its allies.”From her perspective, it appears China is already moving in this direction through one of Taiwan’s leading opposition parties, the  Kuomintang (KMT). The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has governed on a tough-on-China approach, while the KMT tends to see Beijing as less threatening to the island’s national security. As for the third political horse in Taiwan’s election race—the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)—Ms. Tsukerman observed the TPP is mostly staffed by “China-friendly ex-officials.”Election results aside, Beijing’s looming shadow is also a source of concern and debate for Taiwanese people.Difficult DecisionFor Katie, a Taiwanese-American who preferred to be identified by her first name, Taiwan’s uncertain future factors into an important personal decision this year.“We have to decide whether to keep or sell the [family] property now that mom is gone,” she told The Epoch Times.At a glance, selling her mother’s home in Taiwan could be a financial windfall. Housing demand on the island nation is beginning to cool, but affordable housing continues to be a big problem. As one of the world’s most expensive cities, Taipei’s housing price-to-income ratio soared between 2004 and 2022, surpassing London, New York, Toronto, Sydney, and Vancouver.Katie said it’s a difficult decision. On the one hand, selling the home in Taiwan would end any concerns over potential fallout if “reunification” were to happen. Yet sky-high housing costs are also a reason to keep the home in the family.“It could go really, really great, or it could go really bad because China could take it all over,” she said.At the end of the day, it’s still a discussion Katie needs to have with her family. Some of them still live in Taiwan, which she recently visited. Katie noticed local attitudes towards a potential Beijing attack differ drastically, depending on the generation.“The older generation doesn’t care. They’re like the ‘if they wanted to take us over, they would’ve' people. The younger generations are different, though. They’re the ones who are worried,” she said.When asked if she felt a Chinese attack on Taiwan was realistic, she hesitated.  “I really don’t know. My family immigrated to America because they were afraid. And that was back in 1994.”Today, Katie is an American citizen and has lived away from her native cou

Upcoming Taiwan Election Could Determine China’s Next Move: Experts

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While the United States is distracted by domestic and international engagements, concern mounts that Beijing may finally move to end Taiwan’s autonomy.

Risk and security analysts are concerned that events in 2024 could spur China to attack Taiwan, including the United States’ involvement with simultaneous military conflicts abroad and the distraction of the November presidential election. 

Moreover, some experts say the outcome of Taiwan’s Jan. 13 general election will be a critical element in whether Beijing escalates its aggression with the island nation.

In his New Year’s address, China’s communist leader Xi Jinping said that reunification with Taiwan was “inevitable.” China increased its military maneuvers and drills near Taiwan’s borders in 2023, and its expanding military footprint are top concerns for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The People’s Republic of China is continuing its efforts to overturn the international rules-based order and is building an increasingly effective military to further these aims,” a senior U.S. defense official said in an October press statement.
In the same dispatch, the Pentagon noted that Beijing’s evolving military was the department’s “top pacing challenge,” and there’s an “intensifying pressure” against Taiwan involving military elements. Some of these include show-of-force exercises like ballistic missile overflights, increased flights into Taiwanese air space, and a simulated naval blockade and firepower demonstration.
The security and risk assessment group Global Guardians noted that the U.S. will likely continue its “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan as China stays focused on reunification “by any means.”

The same analysis identified the Jan. 13 presidential election in Taiwan as a potential flashpoint on a probability timeline for conflict. Some believe the election outcome could be the deciding factor on how China will approach its goal of “reunification.”

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A man takes picture at the harbor where Taiwanese Navy warships are anchored in Keelung, Taiwan, on Aug. 7, 2022.(Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)
A man takes picture at the harbor where Taiwanese Navy warships are anchored in Keelung, Taiwan, on Aug. 7, 2022.(Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)

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“Much will depend on the outcome of the January 13th elections in Taiwan. China has always preferred to resolve tensions and its geopolitical ambitions by political means and economic encirclement rather than by conventional military conflict,” security analyst and president of Scarab Rising, Irina Tsukerman, told The Epoch Times.

Ms. Tsukerman said, “If China can obtain political advantage through lobbying and political manipulation, or even some sort of an internal soft coup, it will avoid the need for a direct confrontation with the U.S. and its allies.”

From her perspective, it appears China is already moving in this direction through one of Taiwan’s leading opposition parties, the  Kuomintang (KMT). The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has governed on a tough-on-China approach, while the KMT tends to see Beijing as less threatening to the island’s national security. As for the third political horse in Taiwan’s election race—the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)—Ms. Tsukerman observed the TPP is mostly staffed by “China-friendly ex-officials.”

Election results aside, Beijing’s looming shadow is also a source of concern and debate for Taiwanese people.

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Difficult Decision

For Katie, a Taiwanese-American who preferred to be identified by her first name, Taiwan’s uncertain future factors into an important personal decision this year.

“We have to decide whether to keep or sell the [family] property now that mom is gone,” she told The Epoch Times.

At a glance, selling her mother’s home in Taiwan could be a financial windfall. Housing demand on the island nation is beginning to cool, but affordable housing continues to be a big problem. As one of the world’s most expensive cities, Taipei’s housing price-to-income ratio soared between 2004 and 2022, surpassing London, New York, Toronto, Sydney, and Vancouver.

Katie said it’s a difficult decision. On the one hand, selling the home in Taiwan would end any concerns over potential fallout if “reunification” were to happen. Yet sky-high housing costs are also a reason to keep the home in the family.

“It could go really, really great, or it could go really bad because China could take it all over,” she said.

At the end of the day, it’s still a discussion Katie needs to have with her family. Some of them still live in Taiwan, which she recently visited. Katie noticed local attitudes towards a potential Beijing attack differ drastically, depending on the generation.

“The older generation doesn’t care. They’re like the ‘if they wanted to take us over, they would’ve' people. The younger generations are different, though. They’re the ones who are worried,” she said.

When asked if she felt a Chinese attack on Taiwan was realistic, she hesitated.  “I really don’t know. My family immigrated to America because they were afraid. And that was back in 1994.”

Today, Katie is an American citizen and has lived away from her native country for nearly 30 years. However, she said her family has been “living in fear” of China her whole life.

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Air Force soldiers prepare to load U.S. made Harpoon AGM-84 anti ship missiles in front of an F-16V fighter jet during a drill at Hualien Air Force base, in Hualien County, Taiwan, on Aug. 17, 2022. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)
Air Force soldiers prepare to load U.S. made Harpoon AGM-84 anti ship missiles in front of an F-16V fighter jet during a drill at Hualien Air Force base, in Hualien County, Taiwan, on Aug. 17, 2022. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)

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Small Changes

Ms. Tsukerman says the motivation for China to attack Taiwan stands, regardless of the country’s election outcome.

“The proliferation of international crises coupled with a relatively non confrontational U.S. leadership ... presents an obvious opportunity to strike a blow should the [Chinese] political efforts to turn Taipei in favor of reunification fail.”

Evan Ellis, a regional analyst and professor at the U.S. Army War College, agrees. “To me, there’s this very delicate balance, and I feel like we’re at that tipping point right now,” he told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Ellis says opportune timing may not be enough to spur China to end Taiwan’s autonomy though. The Asian giant has considerable domestic challenges to consider alongside its ambitions, including a slumping real estate market, low investor confidence, high youth unemployment, and underperforming import and export markets.

And while he thinks the “fragile” economic factors at home will give China a reason to pause, Mr. Ellis also doesn’t underestimate the allure of a golden opportunity. He says the United States is already spreading itself thin due to the extensive resource investment made in the Russia–Ukraine conflict, and more recently, the war between Israel and Hamas.

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An antiquated 40mm anti-air gun points towards sea at the observation deck on Beigan, part of Matsu Islands, Taiwan, on March 5, 2023. (Johnson Lai/AP Photo)
An antiquated 40mm anti-air gun points towards sea at the observation deck on Beigan, part of Matsu Islands, Taiwan, on March 5, 2023. (Johnson Lai/AP Photo)

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“There’s not a Chinese imperative that they have to do this [attack Taiwan] now. But it’s a pretty good opportunity,” Mr. Ellis said.

He added that the advantage Beijing has now, from a military standpoint, will likely disappear within the next one to three years. That’s because the current amount of U.S. munitions being sent to Ukraine and Israel won’t last forever. But if Taiwan suddenly popped up with a big list of artillery demands this year, he said America could be “taxed out” in terms of what it could offer.

And since the United States is Taiwan’s largest foreign arms supplier, it’s another incentive for China to act sooner rather than later.

Ending Taiwan’s autonomy would also be another “feather in the hat” for Xi, before his third term runs out, according to Mr. Ellis.

But guns aren’t always necessary to attack a country, he said. “It’s not either an all-out invasion, or nothing. There are lots of other ways China can boil the frog.”

Mr. Ellis said Beijing could blockade Taiwan’s shipping industry or “economically strangle” the nation in other ways, further isolating it and creating chaos from within. Ultimately, he said, “small changes and calculations” over the coming weeks and months could swing the pendulum of a potential China–Taiwan escalation in either direction.

And the U.S. election may be one of those factors.

“Beijing also understands that the White House can ill afford another major war before elections and may act more decisively than it has in the past,” Ms. Tsukerman said.

“It may choose to wait out until a transition period between administrations to deal a blow [to Taiwan], using the rest of the year to build up coalitions and capabilities, ensuring maximum chaos.

After the Biden-Xi summit in San Francisco in November, White House officials announced the “resumption of high-level military-to-military communication,” which many hailed as progress in U.S.–China relations.

In the same meeting, President Biden called for China’s restraint in military activity around the Taiwan Strait, but not everyone has confidence that words alone will be a deterrent.

Mr. Ellis said the approach by the current administration, which he called “collaboration and caution,” isn’t a good long-term approach when it comes to China.

“In my professional judgment, this is an unsustainable stratagem,” he said.

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