Hat China a timeline and strategy for “reunification” with Taiwan? US Secretary of State Antony Blinken floated that question when he said this week that the Chinese leadership is “determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline.” Beijing has “made the fundamental decision over the past few years that the status quo is no longer acceptable”. However, Blinken did not say what time frame he has in mind and whether his statements are based on new information.
Various timing considerations play a role in the debate about a possible military conflict over Taiwan. On the one hand, there are strategic analyzes of the window in which China would be most likely to be militarily able to take the island by force. That depends on their own armaments projects and on Taiwanese and American capacities. On the other hand, there are assessments of the political intentions of Chinese head of state and party leader Xi Jinping.
The People’s Republic has been pursuing the goal of “reunification” with Taiwan since it was founded in 1949. Since 2005 there has been a law that prescribes “non-peaceful means” if Taiwan declares independence or “all possibilities for peaceful unification have been exhausted”. Xi’s predecessors pushed the issue along without any time constraints. According to many observers, Xi was the first to commit to a 2049 timeframe, calling “reunification” a vital part of the so-called resurgence of the Chinese nation. According to the understanding of the Communist Party, this “resurgence” should be completed by the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, i.e. 2049.
Xi’s words show determination
Since Xi has linked this goal so closely to his name, one can assume that he wants to achieve it under his leadership. “Xi Jinping sees himself on a historic mission, as a history-making leader,” says armaments expert Zhao Tong of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank. In view of Xi’s advanced age of 69, this means a time window of ten to fifteen years. The Taiwanese government expects tensions to rise after Xi is handed a third term until 2027 this Sunday.
In his speech last Sunday, he said, “We will continue to work for peaceful reunification with the utmost seriousness. But we will never promise to renounce the use of guns.” This formulation is not new. But in the context of the unprecedented military maneuvers in August and the release of a new white paper on Taiwan for the first time in 22 years, Xi’s words underscore his determination. In contrast to the past, it also seems hard to imagine that a peaceful “reunification” is possible.