China’s seventeenth party congress, which begins on the 15th October, will witness a number of developments that suggest Beijing is increasingly concerned about the stability of the cross strait status quo. China is particularly troubled by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s proposal to seek a referendum in March next year asking whether the island should apply for UN membership under the name Taiwan. Taken together, Taiwanese and Chinese actions suggest 2008 is likely to be a turbulent year for cross-strait relations.
1) A high level military reshuffle has been quietly taking place. A common thread through most of the promotions is the manoeuvring of military officers into command positions who have experience in planning for war over Taiwan.
Last month Beijing promoted General Xu Qiliang as head of the air force, Gen. Ma Xiaotian, as deputy chief of the general staff and General Chen Bingde as chief of the general staff. All held a number of posts in the Nanjing Military Region, the strategically key region facing Taiwan where China has concentrated preparations for any conflict over the island. They join Admiral Wu Shengli who was appointed last year to head the navy and previously held a number of positions which give him experience of naval operations in the Taiwan Strait.
2) At the upcoming seventeenth party congress, the PLA and armed police force will form a delegation to independently attend the event. In the past such attendees were linked to regional delegations. The consolidation highlights the attention given to the PLA and military concerns at this event.
3) In a further sign that Chinese unease is driving Taiwan up the political agenda, China watchers expect that the Communist Party will issue a stern warning concerning Taiwan and will adopt a new strategy to prevent the self-governing island from moving toward independence.
All these developments suggest that the PLA and cross strait issues will be afforded unprecedented consideration at the seventeenth party congress. They demonstrate that Beijing is increasingly concerned about Taiwan and are designed to signal, not merely to a domestic audience, but also the international community, that China is politically and militarily capable to deal with any future conflict with Taiwan.
Andrew Legon is a Research Associate with the Asian Programme in the International Security Studies Department at RUSI. He is contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.