Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party favors a formal declaration of independence from China, a move that could spark a confrontation in the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s most heavily militarized areas. China’s navy this month sailed its sole aircraft carrier into the strait in a show of force reminiscent of similar U.S. operations two decades ago that showcased American military dominance in Asia.
“If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military would not hesitate to go to war,” Chinese military spokesman Wu Qian said as he laid out what officials called a revised national defense policy for “the New Era” — a catchphrase that denotes the imprimatur of China’s assertive leader, President Xi Jinping.
The military blueprint was released amid simmering tensions in the western Pacific and China’s moves to achieve its strategic aims across the region, including in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing views democratically ruled Taiwan, which broke with the communist mainland in 1949, as a renegade province.
Global military competition is rising, with the United States “strengthening its Asia-Pacific military alliances” and engaging in “technological and institutional innovation in pursuit of absolute military superiority,” the document said.
The white paper, China’s first in four years, noted that the Trump administration has “adjusted” the U.S. national security posture to regard China as a rival. It claimed that “hegemonism” is on the rise — a clear reference to the United States.
Washington “has provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense and undermined global strategic stability,” the document said.
The paper assessed the situation in the Pacific as “generally stable.”
Tensions soared this week, however, as China and Russia flew bombers on a joint patrol into airspace claimed by Japan and South Korea, leading Seoul and Tokyo to scramble fighter jets. South Korean military officials said they fired warning shots in response to the Chinese-Russian incursion.
The patrol was widely seen as a demonstration of growing cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, especially given the alleged incursion into airspace claimed by two key U.S. allies in Asia.
“As Sino-Russian relations enter a new era, the Chinese and Russian militaries will continue to push military relations to new, historic highs,” Wu said when asked about the patrol.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, military officials hailed Xi as “commander in chief,” a title that no other Chinese leader has been accorded. Following years of purges within the military to establish its fealty, Xi began assuming the title in 2016 as a symbol of his political control.
Andrew Erickson, an expert on the Chinese military at the U.S. Naval War College, said the new white paper did not outline qualitatively different strategies but sent a political message.
“It reflects Xi’s self-dictated era, strategy, goals, reforms and rhetoric,” Erickson said. “The report contains strong rhetoric doubling down on domestic stability imperatives and sovereignty claims vis-a-vis Taiwan and the East and South China Seas.”
The document said a distinctive feature of China’s strategy is that the country would not seek a sphere of influence or regional hegemony because “since the beginning of modern times, the Chinese people have suffered from aggressions and wars.”
As of 2017, the paper said, China’s defense spending was hovering near a record low as a percentage of government spending, at around 5.14 percent. It said this showed a “clear downward trend” despite Xi’s ambitious modernization drive.