Academic journal article China Perspectives

Taiwan's Paradoxical Perceptions of the Chinese Military: More Capable but Less Threatening?

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Taiwan's Paradoxical Perceptions of the Chinese Military: More Capable but Less Threatening?

Article excerpt

Since the 1950s, shortly after the Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist Party) government moved to Taiwan after having suffered defeat in mainland China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Taiwan has been under the shadow of military threat from the Chinese People's Liber- ation Army (PLA). In the 1980s, as mainland China began to open and re- form, prioritising economic development over class warfare and military strengthening, Taiwan observers came to perceive a decline in the level of threat posed by the mainland. By the post-Cold War era, however, as Tai- wan democratised, perceptions of threat returned and were reinforced by events such as the 1995/1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, in which China test-fired ballistic missiles near Taiwan's main ports and launched live-fire military exercises in the East China Sea. China's annual double-digit military budget growth in the past two decades and successive revelations about newly- developed high-end weapon systems also contributed to resurgent anxi- eties about Chinese intentions.

Surprisingly, however, in the mid-2000s, and in spite China's widely- recognised comprehensive military modernisation, the PLA's continuous deployment of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, and Beijing's refusal to rule out the possibility of using military force against Taiwan, a new per- ception began to take root among Taiwanese observers that the likelihood of cross-Strait military conflict was decreasing. This article argues that the PRC's changing policy toward Taiwan combined with the clear US determi- nation to remain the leading power in the Asia-Pacific has led Taiwanese analysts to perceive the likelihood of conflict in the near-term as decreas- ing. This constitutes a major perceptual contrast between long-term threat and short-term stability.

This paper is divided into four sections. The first section deals with Tai- wan's threat perceptions of China and the impact these perceptions have had on the island's defence posture. The second section focuses on the shift in China's military approach towards Taiwan. The third section ana- lyzes Taiwan's evolving defence/military strategy toward the decreasing likelihood of cross-Strait conflict. The final section analyzes Taiwan's de- fence modernisation in the face of China's continuing military threat and the prospect of cross-Strait confidence building.

Taiwan's evolving perceptions of the China threat

Taiwan's long-held perception of an existential military threat from China began to abate in the late 1980s, especially after 1987, when the Taiwan government, pressured by the opposition movement for humanitarian ar- ticulation, approved home visits for retired soldiers, allowing veterans to return to their birthplaces in China for the first time in nearly 40 years. This change of policy on home visits, along with China changing its policy to- ward Taiwan by advocating "peaceful re-unification under one-country, two-systems," ushered in a new stage for Taiwan-China exchanges.

Despite the fact that Taiwan and China started to deal with each other on functional issues from this point onwards and trade and economic ties became closer, the two sides' fundamental political differences remained unchanged at this stage.(1)Taiwan was actively seeking to improve its in- ternational status on the grounds that its achievements in economic, po- litical, and social development should be recognised by the international community and rewarded with a more normal international status. Fur- ther, Taiwan under the name of Republic of China (ROC) has long been a sovereign state, and should be recognised as such with an official represen- tative in all international organisations. Beijing regarded Taiwan's endeavours to achieve international recognition, symbolised most notably by for- mer President Lee Teng-hui's (???) visit to his alma materCornell Uni- versity in 1995 and all-out effort to return to the international community, as synonymous with the pursuit of "Taiwan independence. …

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