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  • Adam Terenyi

Digest: Winter 2023 Issue 78

Welcome to the China Leadership Monitor's Winter 2023 Digest, which provides article summaries for those who have not yet explored our most recent issue.

Jump to each article summary here:


Sheena Chestnut Greitens:

New Leaders in “National” Security after China’s 20th Party Congress

New leaders and an evolved national and domestic security policy emerged from last year’s 20th Party Congress and this year’s National People’s Congress. These new leaders’ backgrounds increasingly emphasize various sorts of prior national security experience. Further, Xi Jinping loyalists occupy all important domestic security positions, with their political backgrounds portending a further tightening of state control over Chinese society. By looking into several of these leaders’ personal backgrounds, it is evident the trend of security-oriented appointments and domestic securitization will continue in the medium term as Xi’s philosophy growingly encompasses the state. 

Importance of national security experience in high-level roles

A growing portion of leaders in high level governmental and party bodies come from a national security or military-related background. Roughly half of the State Council and four members of the Politburo worked within the security and military industries. In addition, fifteen new appointments to the Politburo and Central Secretariat have some form of a security-related background. As a result, Xi has prioritized leaders who are a combination of a loyalist and a form of a security-expert; in this vein, many of those appointed are “sparsely networked,” as shown by Victor Shih, and had spent time working alongside Xi in Zhejiang or Fujian.

Evolving biographical trends suggest a move away from technocracy to one more driven by finding leaders with specific experiential, as opposed to educational, traits. These are some examples:

  • Zhao Leji, who possesses less direct-Xi contact from his earlier career than other appointments, now holds top positions in the National People’s Congress and Central National Security Commission (CNSC) and serves as the third-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Zhao aided significantly in recent purges important to Xi while heading the Central Commission on Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

  • Ding Xuexiang, the sixth-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee and key leader for policy decisions covering Hong Kong and Macao, worked alongside Xi in Shanghai with a focus on “internal-security” in the Shanghai Political-Legal Committee. 

  • Cai Qi, the fifth-ranking Politburo Standing Committee member, simultaneously holds the directorship of the CCP Central Office, the first example of a Politburo Standing Committee member concurrently holding such an office since Mao’s leadership. He previously oversaw security for top officials as director of the CNSC Office.

  • Li Xi, the Politburo Standing Committee’s seventh-ranking member, follows Zhao Leji in leading the CCDI. His deputy, Liu Jinguo, also has held significant security-related responsibilities.

  • The Politburo Standing Committee’s additional members also held important security roles. Li Qiang, the second-ranking member, previously enforced Covid-related lockdown measures in Shanghai and spent time in leadership in Zhejiang. Finally, Wang Huning, the Committee’s fourth-ranking member, has played an influential role developing and promulgating Xi Jinping thought and has led Xi’s specific security policy implementations in several leading small groups.

  • Politburo members have also often had backgrounds in the corporate side of state and military security, such as Zhang Guoqing, demonstrating Xi and the party leadership prioritize a wide-range of security-related experience.

As the CCP continues to grapple with unrest and reorient its domestic security policy, it is growing increasingly evident that such a transformation of society has required new leaders, often with security backgrounds.

Key leaders

A fresh slate of leaders hold the top security positions for the Central Political-Legal Commission (CPLC) and the Ministries of State Security and Public Security, detailed here:

  1. Chen Wenqing currently heads the CPLC and is part of the Politburo. He represents an evolution of the CPLC that reflects the tides of change in CCP national security discourse and policy, as he was formerly a minister of State Security when all of the last three CPLC leaders came from ministerships at the Ministry of Public Security, instead. He worked as a police officer and, later, PLA commissar in Sichuan province. Since before his ascension to the CPLC secretaryship, Chen has formulated national security thought in speeches and writings with similar views to Xi’s priorities. In his speeches, he discusses moving China’s security system from a philosophy of “stability maintenance” to one of  “prevention and control.” In this way, he has advocated an expansion of the national security complex’s powers into more avenues of daily life, including establishing a stronger state policing presence in Hong Kong. At the same time, he has dipped into foreign policy, having met with officials from Pakistan, Russia, and several European states.

  2. Chen Yixin, a member of the Central Committee and minister of State Security, worked with Xi Jinping in Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007. Since then, he’s held prominent positions as a deputy director or director for several groups and oversaw the Covid response in Wuhan, where he reportedly shifted focus to “prevention and control,” similar to Chen Wenqing’s national security discourse. As well, at numerous meetings, Chen has called for the implementation of the “new [national] security pattern” and has urged leaders to help implement the Counter-Espionage Law. Apart from helping in the recent shift in national security discourse and policies, Chen has played a significant role in Xi’s anti-corruption efforts, implementing the three-year saohei and then the education and rectification campaigns. Xi has also placed Chen in charge of overseeing greater scrutiny control over foreign business in China.

  3. Wang Xiaohong heads the Ministry of Public Security and is a member of the Central Secretariat. He worked on public security under Xi in Fujian in the 1990s, and has since held several other prominent local public security and policing roles, making him the “first professional police officer to lead” the Ministry of Public Security “in over two decades.” He speaks of the importance of prevention of national security risks, portending further expansion of the security apparatus domestically. Like Chen Yixin, Wang has participated in meetings with foreign officials, playing a role in ASEAN-related multilateral dialogues, for example, and even bilateral talks across the Asia region.

The evolving orientation of Chinese national security discourse and policy has necessitated new leaders skilled in bringing an expanded state presence to fruition, evidenced by the recent trends in ministerial, secretarial appointments. The fusing of foreign and domestic policies also continues.


Patricia Thornton:

Who’s Afraid of Chizuko Ueno? The Party’s Ongoing Counteroffensive against Feminism in the Xi Era

Recent events in Chinese state policing of and societal attitudes toward the country’s women’s rights activists herald a splitting of the feminist movement amidst shifts in national security and social policies. In Beijing last November, a vigil turned anti-government protest initially saw a mild police response. After the fact and over the next months, police began questioning these protestors after accessing their mobile phone data to track their whereabouts; in the end, over one hundred protestors, predominantly young women, were arrested. Reports indicate police questioning focused on topics of feminism, such as whether a detainee was a feminist, lesbian, or fan of Japanese feminist Chizuko Ueno—a scholar who has gained popularity among feminist circles in China since 2019.

As Ueno’s philosophy and writings have flourished in feminist circles, a growing “semi-coordinated” backlash driven by Xi Jinping’s dual focuses on “comprehensive national security” and increasing social cohesion and birthrates through traditional family values has split the feminist movement into competing camps: an accommodationist “pink feminist” camp, which bends under government pressure by selectively aligning feminist values with the state’s, and a critical camp that has become further marginalized online, one of the few remaining media through which feminists regularly self-express.

Who are the Feminist Five?

The treatment of a group of feminist activists, called the Feminist Five, highlights how Xi Jinping maintains a contradictory stance on feminism and the women’s rights movement at large. In some speeches, such as at the UN’s 2015 Global Women’s Summit in the United States, Xi has advocated for and pledged millions to gender equality initiatives. Meanwhile, he has also clamped down on protest and discontent coming from the feminist sector. Wei Tingting, Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan—the Feminist Five—represent a culmination of critical feminism in China in 2015. They and their parent group, Youth Feminist Action (YFA), oriented their protests and messaging to grab attention, and their philosophies to criticize the Chinese state. Yet months before Xi’s speech to the Global Women’s Summit, the police arrested the Five, who, in combination with the YFA, had begun advocating a more holistic feminism painting the “party-state” as the “initiator and creator” of patriarchal inequality.

China’s MeToo movement and civil society

The Five’s arrests led to a retreating feminist movement, with fewer protests and a new focus on creating “online informational hubs” like Feminist Voices and New Media Women’s Network

The rise of the MeToo movement, which occurred eighteen months after the arrests, reflects the party-state’s transition towards heightened censorship of feminist speech. It began with Luo Qianqian’s post on Weibo, where she outlined how she was sexually harassed and identified her “harasser: Chen Xiaowu, her former PhD. supervisor at Beihang” University. Millions viewed her posts and a wave of additional victims shared their stories. In 2021, when professional tennis player Peng Shuai accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Politburo Standing Committee member, of previously having forced her into a sexual relationship, her post about it was censored in less than half an hour. The state began blocking key search terms for these types of posts on Weibo, resulting in users searching for and posting MeToo content with homophones, such that MeToo was replaced with “rice bunny.” As further censorship of these homophones occurred, organizations like Feminist Voices saw their reputations attacked. Possible state-led campaigns smeared Voices as a “tool of ‘hostile foreign forces,’” due to its Ford Foundation funding. Thus, the government began to view feminist movements critical of the state as likely threats to its national security project.


The Pink Feminists and state cooptation of feminism

In 2021, an online feminist chat group on Douban was reinstated after a 2018 ban. Renamed “Douban Goose Group,” its now 700,000-strong membership began to toe the line on feminism, representing a shift: most members identified both as nationalists and feminists and represented a “feminism with Chinese characteristics.” The group often criticized paedophilic and slut-shaming content and media. By subordinating their activities to criticism of individual people and TV shows, the Goose Group’s “pink feminist” agenda signaled a blending of party-state ideology with feminism that was less threatening to the state.

Liang Yu, one of these “pink feminists,” demonstrates the fusing of state and feminism. She founded “Action for Sisters Fighting the Pandemic,” which served as a distribution point for sanitary products; organized donations to women medical workers; and began “Give Her a Hand,” an organization which has delivered hundreds of thousands of menstrual products and sex education to teenage girls. However, in March 2021, she announced she had joined the Chinese Communist Party; indeed, many of her distribution projects in schools relied on the help of the CYL, the Communist Youth League.

Resistance to Pink Feminism: “Female Boxers”

Critics of “pink feminism” argue that it allows feminism’s co-optation by the state, lessening the power of the feminist critique of society and narrowing the space within which feminists can operate online by eliminating party-state critique from their agendas. Ultimately, a split has formed between those feminists critical and uncritical of the state, further destabilizing the movement’s power.

Some pink feminists, however, do not bend to the will of the party-state. They have routinely called out unrealistic propaganda for inaccurately portraying women. However, their actions have seen heightened backlash from the party-state. When the CYL posted a male-centric depiction of generational crisis responses and received feminist critiques on Weibo, its central committee derided these feminists’ “gender antagonism,” calling them a “cancer” and advocating for an end to “female boxing,” a satirical epithet which is a homophone of “women’s rights.”

Xi Jinping’s traditionalism

As a demographic crisis begins, Xi Jinping and the party-state have reverted to a more traditional social messaging and policy after several decades of equality-oriented messaging. The messaging of both national- and regional-level propaganda outlets often connects feminism to the degradation of societal vitality and foreign influences. In one example, the Zhejiang Propaganda Department connected nonheteronormative media to a CIA-led “cultural castration” of China. 

Policies oriented toward women now have an increasing focus on child bearing and encourage straight marriage. Local health associations have begun to use “practical and tough measures” to encourage births; for example, a woman alleged on Weibo that a family planning association used “grassroots” labor to monitor her menstruation cycles. Some associations have resorted to using various incentives to encourage births.

China’s slow-rolling demographic collapse and the growing importance of comprehensive national security have induced the party-state to adopt tougher measures on feminism. This tightening has split the feminist movement, with some women’s rights activists supporting and others opposing the state in their diverging feminist ideologies. Ultimately, however, many of the accommodationist feminists will see their space to operate and criticize be further limited, highlighting the party-state’s control over women’s rights.


Minxin Pei:

How China Responded to its Economic Slowdown in 2023

China’s Covid lockdowns have led to a serious decline in economic growth. Several quarters of a growth slump have followed the zero-covid policy in 2023. Haphazardness characterizes the country’s economic policymaking response to this sluggishness, due to a tension between Xi Jinping’s dual priorities for China’s future: comprehensive security versus prosperity. Demonstrating this tension is the confusing signaling process to local policymakers following Xi’s speech to the Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC), where he argued for the necessity of increasing consumption, economic growth, and the stability of production, supply chains, and housing procurement. Following the CEWC speech, over ten provinces held conferences to discuss how to spur economic growth. However, while Xi might have indicated the need for economic growth in his December 2022 CEWC speech, later speeches—such as one to the Politburo and several Central Committee members—have had scant focus on the economy, lending primacy toward security and internal stability. 

Xi’s deprioritization of economic growth has exposed the rift between national- and local-level experience of economic realities. Whereas provincial leaders are more directly exposed to economic stagnation and indicate their keenness to remediate it, those in Beijing have focused on the response to demographic and geopolitical trends.

Security over development

A combination of speeches and new legislation in 2023 reinforce the view that Xi has oriented the party-state to prioritize security, preferring instead to let the economy recover without policy catalysts, likely due to Q1’s robust 4.5% year-on-year growth. Cushioned by robust Q1 and initially promising Q2 growth, a growing share of high profile publications, memoranda, and committee meeting summaries emphasized security threats.  In late February, for example, the communiqué of the new Central Committee’s second plenum dedicated most of its space to admiring Xi’s accomplishments, with just two paragraphs discussing the economy and no policy alternatives offered for inducing growth. March saw a heightening of Xi’s rhetoric, when he accused the United States of having begun implementing a policy of “containment” and “suppression” against China. In May, at the twentieth CCP National Security Commission’s first plenary session, came the most alarming rhetorical escalation: officials mentioned a “mindset of extreme thinking,” instead of the previous norm of “bottom line thinking.” The reference to “extreme thinking” mindset very likely signals that the party desires leaders to prepare for “worst-case scenarios” in Sino-American relations. 

Finally, the passage of the Anti-espionage Law—which widens the secret police’s mandate—and the Foreign Relations Law—a “formalization of a policy of retaliation against foreign sanctions,” spell out how significantly the party’s priorities fall on security. Importantly, the vigor with which the Chinese party-state has heightened its pro-stability rhetoric has also disconcerted domestic and foreign investors. 

The economic response to a slowdown in Q2 2023

Overlooking slowdown could only go on for so long, however, as more middling numbers signaled slowdown in May and June. Industrial output and consumption grew too slowly year-on-year from an already measly 2022 lockdown base. Fixed asset investments also posted losses while youth unemployment “reached a historic high.” Q1 to Q2 growth clocked in at 0.8% while CPI deflated by 0.2%. A two-faced response followed. First, high level party members, such as Li Qiang, the premier, conducted unusual meetings with economists and e-commerce leaders, indicating a more serious response to slowing growth. However, the Politburo meeting following these high-level discussions persisted in pushing an apologist tone on the economy with a continued emphasis on “progress based on stability.” Therefore, only rhetoric and bare policies were thrown to investors and businesses in the months of July and August.

Companies, however, did not buy the rhetoric, and some policy developments unfolded in late August and September. August saw a cut of the People’s Bank of China’s one-year prime loan rate by 0.1%, from 3.55% to 3.45%, as well as a decrease in minimum down payment requirements from 30% to 20% and mortgage interest rates of 0.5%. September saw more policy changes, such as a cut to reserve requirements to free up credit “equivalent to 0.8 percent of GDP.” China’s high debt-to-GDP ratio for non-financial entities indicates a liquidity trap, explaining the piecemeal response and limiting the scope of policy alternatives.

Q3 growth hinted at greener figures for the Chinese economy, with year-on-year nominal growth between July and September approaching 4.9% and beating expectations. Quarter-on-quarter growth also increased from 0.5% to 1.3%. However, a decline in manufacturing output and an ailing real estate sector somewhat muddied the good news. Regardless, the presence of positive numbers has provided cover for Xi’s focus on stability. But why did Xi Jinping resort to propaganda measures and modest policies to combat an ailing economy in Q2? Several explanations follow:

  1. The economy has structural issues following high debt levels and overextensions that preclude most major policy alternatives. The real estate sector also frustrates any attempts at a simple solution and poses one of the most significant challenges for the party-state in the post-Mao period.

  2. Xi has pursued a policy of strength through state security and stability, and backtracking on this would signal significant weakness and delegitimize anti-corruption campaigns. Pro-economy policies would strengthen power bases in provinces he has less control of and also peril new foreign policy goals of countering containment by the United States. Xi may also hearken back to an analysis of Mao's loss in economic policymaking power following the Great Leap Forward and his resulting need to launch the Cultural Revolution to shore up personal support and root out opponents.

  3. Xi’s economic team lacks independence and implements only his policies. Despite having the credentials to lead an economic recovery, the team’s members, who are Xi-loyalists, find themselves implementing mostly what Xi decrees.


Douglas Fuller:

Tech War or Phony War? China’s Response to America’s Controls on Semiconductor Fabrication Equipment

Over the last four years, the United States has placed progressively restrictive limitations on Chinese firms’ access to high-tech semiconductor technologies and equipment. However, the US has insufficiently enforced its controls, leading to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s ability to continue making Huawei Mate 60 Pro chips. This runs counter to the Biden administration’s October 2022 restrictions’ “stated aim of keeping China” over two generations behind cutting-edge semiconductor technology. Because the signaling from the US’ progressively expanding controls has prompted China to expand its domestic semiconductor sector and R&D capabilities, piecemeal enforcement by the US lends a slight advantage to a motivated China. New export restrictions adopted in October 2023 portend two likely possibilities for Chinese semiconductor fabrication: either well-enforced restrictions or a toleration of loophole exploits by Chinese manufacturers.

Semiconductor fabrication and Biden’s 2022 restrictions

Semiconductor fabrication is a complicated process with many steps and hundreds of production cycles. Each process step has a significant bottleneck at the highest technological levels. For example, etching, or the removal of contaminant materials from the silicon wafer, is mostly dominated by a Dutch company, ASML. The Biden administration’s October 2022 export controls focused precisely on these types of advanced processes. It limited American components found in ASML etching equipment while also restricting equipment going to complex deposition (another step in the chip manufacturing chain) processes. 

Chinese reaction

After the announcement of the Biden admin’s October 2022 restrictions, the Chinese government and businesses reacted by incentivising and funding the industry and upping the production drive. The Big Fund released monies bound for the semiconductor industry and the state lowered taxes for manufacturers not already receiving a tax break. This push has increased domestic provision of low- and mid-level tech for fabrication, but has done little to increase China’s global market share in any segment of the manufacturing process. Chinese manufacturers have since made negligible gains in lithography and process equipment due to reliance on foreign manufacturers like ASML. However, in the etching cycles, Chinese firms like AMEC and NAURA have seen modest gains in market share and production. Significant gains in deposition cycles for trailing-edge nodes have also followed October 2022. 

Chinese firms are eager to proclaim significant progress, but the data they use is incomplete and unrepresentative, and therefore unreliable. Gains in one process might be touted, but the presence of thousands of steps and many different levels of complication in the fabrication process means these advances are drops in a bucket. What is worse is the possibility of a “Galapagos effect,” whereby China’s inability to access innovation catalysts causes China’s innovation to fall far behind competitors. 

US’ piecemeal implementation

The October 7, 2022 export controls were unique in the sense that they had restricted the sales and licensing of less-advanced fabrication equipment in highly technical terms. In particular, the October 2022 controls invoked the US Persons rule, which allowed for export controls to touch not just specified firms, but American equipment made abroad. Many feared these controls would be too expansive and prohibit more advanced fabrication equipment procurement. The authors’ anonymous interviewee alleged “industry insiders” had helped write the export controls to be loose, instead of sweeping and comprehensive, as then they could “not apply to any existing equipment.” 

In the year following the announcement, the complicated language of this announcement led to Chinese firms either openly contracting with advanced manufacturers or using special tactics to procure equipment through shuffling orders for high-tech equipment through less-advanced fabrication facilities. The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), responsible for implementing these export controls, approved so many licenses that even TSMC could manufacture the Huawei Mate 60 Pro’s almost state-of-the-art seven nanometer chip.

October 2023’s initially weak controls

Following the news of Huawei’s improved Mate 60 Pro, the BIS and the Biden admin launched a new series of export controls on October 17, 2023. First, instead of addressing the issue of overly-loose language allowing for sweeping licensing, the BIS narrowed the scope of already-loose language. Therefore, following this year’s round of controls, it is likely that even more licenses will be approved. There are also a number of loopholes available for Chinese firms to exploit, including the US Persons rule’s exemption of “third-country firms already operating in China” and a separate exemption on R&D equipment. 

Finally, because semiconductor fabrication is tied into the Dutch and Japanese markets, these countries have helped in tightening the BIS’ narrowed language, especially on lithographic processes, possibly helping increase enforceability.

With the revised October 2023 controls, three possible paths follow. First, the revised controls significantly limit Chinese firms’ abilities to maneuver with regards to lithography. This would rely on the BIS enforcing its controls with vigor and would significantly derail the most advanced manufacturing capabilities China currently possesses. Second, toleration of loophole abuse could follow due to a large number of remaining loopholes; it would allow small gains in capabilities. The third possibility, of continued loose enforcement, would allow Chinese companies to continue advancing more efficiently. This final scenario is inherently unlikely, due to political pressure on the Department of Commerce to increase its scrutiny.


Jude Blanchette:

Coercion Cul-de-Sac: Upcoming Taiwan Elections and Beijing’s Broken Cross-Strait Relations Approach

Upcoming elections in Taiwan for the presidency and the Legislative Yuan provide an additional opportunity to analyze the effectiveness of and potential forward paths for China’s current Taiwan policy. Taiwan, after eight years of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Tsai Ing-wen’s leadership, faces increasing military threats from China and a difficult economic outlook; meanwhile, China faces the possibility of another DPP victory, but with a fresh face in the presidency due to term limits. A victory by Lai Ching-te and the DPP would pose additional challenges to the PRC, which would likely expand its coercive policy toward Taiwan.

Xi Jinping and Taiwan

When Tsai Ing-wen initially won office in 2016, she pursued a somewhat conciliatory tone when discussing cross-strait relations and managed to calm the influence of pro-independence camps within the DDP. The PRC, however, ratcheted up the rhetoric when Tsai declined to affirm the 1992 Consensus. The treatment of Tsai only highlights how the PRC has failed to comprehend Taiwan’s domestic politics for several decades, such as with the 2014 protests against the Kuomintang’s attempts to pass the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with the PRC. The phone call between former US president Donald Trump and Tsai in 2016 threw another wrench into Xi’s Taiwan policy, as well as the US’ overall deepening ties with the island in years following. Xi reacted in a January 2019 speech by changing the conventional language discussing Taiwan: he now referred to a “peaceful unification,” instead of a violent form, while indicating it may not respect the one country, two systems rule post-unification. When former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited the island in 2022, the PRC revised its policy on Taiwan yet again and elevated the base level daily military exercises and flyovers it uses to intimidate the island.

These changes, however, reflect not policy innovation, but stagnation. Beijing’s Taiwan policy has remained consistent, signaling Xi and the PRC are boxed in, whether intentionally or not, on Taiwan. As a result, Beijing still focuses on isolating Taiwan diplomatically, maintaining an overwhelming military presence near it, and coercing and intimidating the island’s people to convince the public of the inevitability of reunification. 

Wang Huning on Taiwan 

Since January of 2023, Wang Huning has held the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and therefore has been the front man for PRC’s Taiwan policy. Initially thought of as someone who would reshape the PRC’s policy toward the island, he has strengthened in it two key aspects: integrated development rhetoric and coercive politics. Increased focus on integrated development is supported by several Wang-affiliated reports, as well as by the announcement of the “Cross-Strait Integrated Development Demonstration Zone,” which advocates for increased economic and cultural ties between Fujian province and Taiwan. Second, there has been further coercion of Taiwan using targeted economic policies to either decrease DPP support or increase opposition unity, such as when the PRC placed Terry Guo, the Foxconn chief who had been running for president in Taiwan, under investigation. This was likely to induce him to drop out of the race and increase Kuomintang support. He ended up dropping out in November. 

Effects of a DPP victory

Beijing has treated the DPP and Lai Ching-te with disdain in its propaganda, instead clearly preferring the Kuomintang as an alternative. Lai’s comments indicating some levels of support for independence also serve as fuel to the fire. Yet the PRC is committing a fundamental error in assessing how the people of Taiwan and, indeed, the DPP itself, think about independence: they have begun to understand that there is little functional difference between the status-quo and independence, decreasing the importance or seriousness of independence rhetoric. 

A Lai victory would mean less dialogue and further antagonism from China, as well as heightened tensions for the United States. Detailed here are possible developments following a Lai victory:

  • Economic: A termination of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), signed in 2010, is a possible outcome. Taiwan, however, would be little impacted by this measure due to limited exposure save for its “petrochemicals and textiles,” for example. The PRC could also increase targeted economic restrictions on industries and companies operating in regions that are the DPP’s political strongholds. It could also limit investments between it and Taiwan or pursue the ineffective policy of limiting tourism on the mainland, which is already near zero.

  • Military: The PRC increasing its military posture is very likely considering its previous responses to DPP victories and controversial Taiwan-US meetings. However, the scale of the response is difficult to ascertain, and can range from increasing People’s Liberation Army activity to unmanned aerial vehicle overflights of Taiwan or breaches of its contiguous zone.

  • Legal warfare: Following the 2004 reelection of the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian, the PRC’s National People’s Congress passed the Anti-secession Law, which laid out red lines that, if crossed, would provoke arms reunification of Taiwan. This is a type of legal warfare/“lawfare” to limit policy options for the Taiwanese government. Rumors of a newer and stricter law, called the “National Reunification Law,” being passed in case of a Lai victory have circulated in recent years.

  • Diplomatic: Beijing may focus on flipping an additional state of the 13 still holding official recognition of Taiwan instead of the PRC; with vast economic resources and an advantaged trade balance with most of the Pacific island nations still recognizing Taiwan, the PRC has a fair chance of successfully using this option. 

The PRC has repeatedly miscalculated its understanding of Taiwanese public opinion and narrowed the scope of options it can take when approaching Taiwan. Within the toolkit it still possesses, increasing the incentives for unification see little support in Taiwan, and public opinion and misinformation see little effectiveness, as well. Second, the Taiwan issue is also increasingly seen as part of the Sino-American great power game, meaning Taiwan itself has a shrinking agency in the discourse. Ultimately, a low likelihood exists for a fundamental shift in PRC Taiwan policy; instead coercion remains the top tool Beijing uses.


Quarterly digests compiled by Adam Terenyi.


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