Analysis from the China understander: The Ukraine war serves as a template: What dictator Xi is now planning to do with Taiwan
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, landed in Taiwan on Tuesday – despite threats from China. The situation on the island is tense. What is China up to now? To assess this, it is worth taking a look at Dictator Xi.
The current showdown between the People’s Republic of China and the United States over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan begs the question: Why is China’s ruler so obsessed with taking the neighboring democratic island at all costs?
Xi Jinping has completely turned the People’s Republic upside down: absolute internal state control, bullying of the neighbors due to new military strength and the will to subject the entire international order to China’s will characterize the ten years that he has been in office so far.
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Xi’s Chinese dream is ‘the Communist Party’
Xi’s ideology is opposed to opening up and modernizing the country. All his efforts are aimed at giving the Chinese a better life in an economic sense, without at the same time conceding civil liberties, as has happened in free countries around the world.
The “Chinese Dream” Xi speaks of in this context is “the Communist Party,” according to a party organ. This means that all movements in the country have to be subordinate to the will of the party. With a small, select number of people, the Politburo, Xi directs the fortunes of the entire country.
People who have rendered outstanding service to the party and its goals are appointed to the National People’s Congress, which meets once a year. Contrary to what the name might suggest, this body is not a parliament. Congress neither introduces nor discusses legislation. Rather, it approves the resolutions of the supreme body in a ceremonial meeting that takes place once a year.
Xi is the “Son of Heaven” at the center of his dictatorship
Xi Jinping transformed the People’s Republic into a totalitarian, fascist dictatorship. At the center of this dictatorship is the president, who, following Confucian doctrine, is regarded as the “Son of Heaven” who has “a mandate from Heaven” to rule.
With this pseudo-religious charging of the top party and state office, Xi wants to pretend that the Communist Party is a direct, legitimate descendant of previous Chinese forms of rule. According to Xi, the essence of being genuinely Chinese is reflected in “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. What Xi means above all is that the Chinese are genetically incapable of democracy.
In connection with freedom and human rights, this is a western invention. Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream is the Party’s all-encompassing rule aimed at “rejuvenating the nation.” To achieve this rejuvenation, Xi said, he must conquer the People’s Republic of Taiwan and “reunite” it with the mainland. In truth, however, Taiwan was never part of the People’s Republic.
Xi has pushed China to the brink of economic collapse
As in any dictatorship, Xi needs external and internal enemies to distract from his own failures. And indeed, Xi has created a whole host of problems that are driving the People’s Republic to the brink of economic collapse: corruption, which Xi swore to eradicate at the beginning of his rule, still reigns in the country.
Critics say he only used his anti-corruption campaign to get rid of colleagues he didn’t like. Banks in Henan province have been cheating savers across the country, probably with the knowledge of the local government.
Since this became evident a few weeks ago (people have not been able to withdraw funds from their accounts since April), there have been protests in the country that the party has found difficult to quell.
Taiwan is a natural foreign enemy for Xi
The real estate industry, unregulated by the state, has overheated and spiraled downward. Millions of middle class people are losing their homes and savings right now. Xi’s wrong Covid policy has brought the country falling productivity and consumption.
In addition to this banking, real estate and economic crisis, there is also a credit crisis: Debtors who have borrowed money from China as part of the New Silk Road can no longer pay it back. Beijing needs to restructure these loans and has already lost more than $100 billion in value.
So Xi has little to show for being proclaimed president for a third time this fall and, like Mao before him, securing the door to lifelong rule. Here, Taiwan is the born external enemy, which, with the support of arch-enemy USA, maintains its democracy and free way of life.
Xi has also instigated border disputes with other countries
China’s aggressive policy is not just limited to Taiwan. Under Xi Jinping, the People’s Republic has started border disputes with all its neighbors. In 2020, there was a skirmish with neighboring India in the Himalayas. China claims ownership of territories belonging to the Philippines, Japan, South Korea.
China’s military machinations aim to make the entire Western Pacific a territorial body of water for the People’s Republic. Currently, these are international waters open to world trade. China wants to control this region of the world, which would have unforeseeable consequences for the entire world.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague has rejected Beijing’s claim that the Spratley Islands belonging to the Philippines are Chinese. China never challenges that. Rather, the People’s Republic has invested in the military and equipment and today has one of the largest fleets in the world, only surpassed by the United States of America.
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China has established a naval blockade around Taiwan
Chinese forces have encircled the island in response to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. According to the Taiwanese government, what is presented as a maneuver is in fact a naval blockade of the country.
Indeed, the Chinese navy has advanced to six strategically important points and is now able to block trade routes to and from Taiwan. Xi has gone so far as to announce reunification with Taiwan that he must act now.
The Ukraine campaign of his dictator friend Putin serves as a template for this: The Kremlin also prevented grain exports from Ukraine for weeks with a naval blockade, thereby exacerbating global hunger.
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The Taiwan conflict has already escalated – China has played its military card
If Xi prevents the chips that are important for the global economy from leaving the country, no car will roll off the assembly line in Germany either. The conflict has escalated, China has played the stronger military card for the moment.
The US military must now find a route from Taiwan for Ms Pelosi safe for the 82-year-old House Speaker amid fears her plane could be shot down. Pelosi’s visit has provided dictator Xi with an excuse to begin subduing the island’s democracy.
In the last confrontation between China and the US over Taiwan in 1995/96, it was enough for the US to let an aircraft carrier sail through the Taiwan Straits. Beijing then gave in. It won’t be like that this time.
About the guest author
Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The linguist and theologian, who has a doctorate, teaches democratic theory in Germany, Austria and Spain as an honorary professor at Leuphana University. In the 2017-18 academic year, he was at National Taiwan University and City University Hong Kong doing research on China’s rise. He is currently researching new technologies at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute and how they are used in democracies and abused in dictatorships.