TAIPEI—For political and military leaders on this democratically self-ruled island, the view across the Taiwan Strait looks a lot more ominous.
On Saturday, the Chinese Communist Party amended its charter to include the phrase “firmly oppose Taiwan independence,” amplifying language that had previously only called for strengthening unity among all Chinese nationals. The following day, as
embarked on his third five-year term as Communist Party leader, the party shuffled China’s political and military leadership, elevating a military commander familiar with Taiwan to a top spot within the Chinese equivalent of the Pentagon.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What do you expect relations between mainland China and Taiwan to look like in the coming year? Join the conversation below.
Gen. He Weidong, the former commander of the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command, which oversees forces closest to Taiwan, is now vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. The appointment marks an unusually rapid rise for Gen. He, who will serve as one of Mr. Xi’s two deputies in running the People’s Liberation Army.
The changes indicate Beijing is likely to only get tougher on Taiwan, according to government officials and analysts on the island, which the Communist Party has never ruled but claims as part of China.
The situation across the Taiwan Strait “isn’t just grim,” Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said while addressing Beijing’s recent moves with local lawmakers on Monday. “With even a small lapse in caution, it could turn quite serious.”
Senior American and Chinese officials both appeared to reinforce the idea that Beijing is impatient to take control of Taiwan.
U.S. Secretary of State
said on Wednesday that Beijing “wanted to speed up the process by which they would pursue reunification,” reinforcing comments last week that China is moving on a “much faster timeline” on Taiwan.
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said this week, “We are closer, more confident and capable of realizing the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation than at any time in history.” He restated Beijing’s determination to “resolutely defeat any interference by external forces and separatist acts by the forces of ‘Taiwan independence.’”
The Taiwan Affairs Office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Tensions between China and Taiwan have flared recently, especially after House Speaker
visited Taipei in August. Beijing responded to that trip by conducting live-fire exercises around Taiwan and encircling the island in a mock blockade—a military operation carried out under the direction of Gen. He.
The success of those exercises is likely one reason Gen. He won such a large promotion, said Mr. Chiu, who noted that Beijing appointed several other noteworthy young commanders to the Central Military Commission as well.
“They all have solid grass roots experience, especially in combat and drills targeting Taiwan, meaning they’re going to get very tough on this aspect,” he said.
In addition to the military promotions and party-charter amendment, China’s leadership excluded
director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, from the Communist Party’s new Central Committee lineup. Some analysts say that signaled a potential shift in Taiwan policy.
Mr. Liu’s failure to make the Central Committee could be read as a sign of Mr. Xi’s dissatisfaction with the work of the Taiwan Affairs Office, according to Shen Ming-shih, acting deputy CEO of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a military-backed think tank in Taipei. Beijing’s effort to win support in Taiwan by courting Taiwanese business and cultivating personal connections on the island had largely failed to change negative attitudes toward China, he said.
Mr. Shen said it is clear now that Taiwan won’t accept a “one country, two systems” arrangement like the one Beijing applied in Hong Kong following the British colony’s handover to the mainland in 1997. As a result, Mr. Xi will likely intensify military pressure and threats, he said.
With public frustration growing in China over the government’s zero-tolerance Covid policies and faltering economy, Taiwanese national-security officials warned that Beijing might use the cross-Strait dispute as a means to distract the country’s 1.4 billion people from domestic problems. The officials cited an unusual protest in Beijing days before the start of the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade national congress, including banners that criticized Covid lockdowns and called for Mr. Xi to be deposed.
At a press conference in Taipei this week, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Sun Li-fang, said the PLA “will continue to strengthen its preparations for attacking Taiwan.”
Mr. Chiu, the defense minister, said Monday that Taiwanese forces will continue to prepare for war. Taiwan’s military is exploring options for extending conscription, with a decision expected to be announced by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the island’s forces have been carrying out more live-fire drills.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt that intimidation toward Taiwan will only intensify,” Wellington Koo, secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, said in an interview on Yahoo! TV in Taipei on Wednesday.
Mr. Koo said his dire view of the political situation in China was partly influenced by the sudden exit of former Chinese leader
from the closing ceremonies of the Communist Party congress on Saturday. Images from the episode, which spread widely on Taiwanese TV and social media, show top party leaders staring straight ahead as the 79-year-old was led away after initially appearing reluctant or unable to stand up.
Chinese state media have suggested Mr. Hu’s exit was health related but offered no details. Many in Taiwan described the sight of top Communist Party leaders failing to react to their elder being unexpectedly led away as symbolic of hard-line politics taking over in Beijing.
“It’s extremely terrifying,” Mr. Koo said.
Write to Joyu Wang at [email protected]
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8