In the aftermath of Taiwan’s 2024 election, where the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secured a significant victory, the global community is bracing for a heightened response from China. The victory of Vice President Lai Ching-te, known as William Lai, as Taiwan’s president-elect, signals a continuation of Taiwan’s trajectory towards asserting its independence, a move that directly contradicts Beijing’s claims over the island.
U.S. Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, expressed grave concerns about China’s potential response to Taiwan’s election results. “The pressure campaign against Taiwan continues, and we’re watching it in the wake of the elections,” Adm. Aquilino stated. This observation underscores the tense atmosphere surrounding China-Taiwan relations and the anticipated escalation from Beijing.
The election results are a clear defiance of Beijing’s preferred political landscape in Taiwan. The ruling DPP, which has historically advocated for Taiwan’s sovereignty and independence, successfully repelled the challenges from parties viewed as more amenable to engagement with mainland China. This outcome represents a stern rebuke to China’s efforts to sway Taiwanese politics in its favor.
Since the election, the Taiwan Defense Ministry has reported a modest but noticeable increase in Chinese military activity near Taiwan. The ministry documented instances where Chinese aircraft and navy vessels intensified their presence around the island, with some aircraft even crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial but widely recognized boundary. While the numbers of these incursions have fluctuated, their continued occurrence points to a deliberate strategy by Beijing to exert military pressure on Taiwan.
The situation has garnered close attention from U.S. officials and military commanders, who view the stability of the Taiwan Strait as crucial to regional and international security. Admiral Aquilino’s remarks about closely monitoring Chinese military movements reflect this concern and highlight the importance of deterring China from any aggressive military actions against Taiwan.
President-elect Lai, during his campaign, promised to continue the policies of outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, focusing on maintaining the status quo between China and Taiwan and ensuring that Taiwan’s future remains in the hands of its people. These policies stand in stark opposition to Beijing’s stance, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that it is determined to reunify with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Beijing’s reaction to the election has been relatively muted so far, but its state-run media outlets have issued warnings and criticisms. The Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, stated that Mr. Lai should abandon the path of Taiwan independence. “In the four months prior to taking office, Mr. Lai should abandon the Taiwan independence path and not try to package or disguise it,” the outlet advised.
China Daily, another state-run newspaper, accused the U.S. and its allies of “encouraging and goading [Taiwan] to take actions that would increase hostilities across the Taiwan Strait.” The newspaper warned that if Mr. Lai “pursues a separatist agenda,” it would not be beneficial to Taiwan, its people, or the world.
Experts anticipate that Beijing might respond with more aggressive and coercive tactics, potentially including military operations. Retired Navy Captain Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, expressed the likelihood of provocative actions from Beijing. “We should expect the Chinese Communist Party, led by Xi Jinping, to conduct a provocative military operation against Taiwan,” he said. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is expected to continue combat training for a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, as evidenced by large-scale exercises conducted in the past.
Admiral Aquilino has emphasized that deterring China from military action against Taiwan remains his top priority. The United States and its allies are preparing for what might come next, including the need to counter misinformation and understand China’s potential responses.
The election of Mr. Lai has made a conflict between the United States and China more likely, according to Michael Beckley, a political scientist at Tufts University and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Determined to maintain their autonomy, the people of Taiwan are drifting farther from China and won’t come back voluntarily, elevating military action as one of the only options left for China to effect the unification with Taiwan that it has long sought,” Mr. Beckley stated in a recent op-ed article.
China’s determination has not waned. They did all they could to sway the election but they new the odds of winning through elections were slim and have stated over and over they will not give up.
Is military action next?