On New Year’s Day1979, The Standing Committee of the Fifth National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China abruptly stopped shelling Taiwan’s offshore islands, changed their rhetoric from one of ‘liberation’ to ‘unification’(Laurus 2019) and sent a message of greetings and wishes for a hopeful reuniting of the Chinese people (Fifth National People’s Congress 1979).On the fortieth anniversary of this message, Communist Party Secretary-General Xi Jinping of China in perhaps his strongest messaging to date, warned the breakaway republic of Taiwan that it “must and will be reunited” with mainland China despite interference from foreigners, a not so subtle hint at the United States (BBC News 2019). This strong language was evidence that China was willing to move towards a forceful reunification with Taiwan if efforts for a peaceful reintegration remained stagnant.This paper focuses on what the probable leading indicators are that Japanese and Taiwanese intelligence agencies would focus on to discern signals of Chinese intent to move forward with a forcible reunification of Taiwan.
The Chinese Perspective
China sees the Taiwan issue as one similar to that of Hong Kong or Macau. Both islands have been administered under the “One China-Two Systems” approach after returning to Chinese control following agreements with their former colonizing powers. Macau was released from Portugal in 1987 and Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. Under “One China-Two Systems,” each territory would be autonomous in all matters except foreign affairs and defense-related activities for a period of fifty years. China has proposed a similar reunification plan with Taiwan, which has been routinely rejected. China has always considered the integrity of the nation as a “core interest” which includes “the sovereignty of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang (Nie 2016).”
China has always maintained that it has the right to use military force to compel Taiwan to rejoin China (Chaudhury 2019). However, it has used many other tactics to undermine Taiwan’s resistance. China has moved to sever ties with any country that seeks to establish relations with Taiwan and to exclude Taiwan from participating in international organizations that could confer a semblance of national recognition (Brown and Scott 2014, 64). Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, his language and actions have ratcheted up the calls for reunification with Taiwan and perhaps signaled a stronger possibility for military action.
Xi has made several moves to consolidate his power within the PRC. Most notably his removal of term limits from the constitution, which will allow him to serve indefinitely (Womack 2017, 402). His ‘anti-corruption’ efforts, which he undertook shortly after taking power (Nie 2016, 426), while billed as an effort to root out corruption within the government. Xi’s efforts to remove those seen as disloyal in the higher ranks has created a Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) that is both loyal and firmly in the control of Xi with many calling him “the New Emperor(Brown and Scott 2018, 62).” The PRC has also increased pressure on many fronts following Taiwan’s election of Tsai Ing-Wen: the staging of military exercises including China’s aircraft carrier the Liaoning; live fire exercises near Taiwanese waters; the establishment of a new commercial flight path that encroaches upon Taiwanese airspace; interfering in various non-government and international forums to force the removal of references to Taiwan as being anything other than a part of China (Brown and Scott 2018, 63-65).Under Xi, China appears to be making a full court press to drive Taiwan to what it considers a ‘peaceful unification.’
The View from Taiwan
Taiwan has effectively ruled itself independently of the mainland and has never seen itself as being under PRC control. Polls in Taiwan have consistently shown very high support for independence, normally in the 70% range (Keum and Campbell 2001, 71)&(Jennings and Lai 2019). Support for independence among younger demographics is typically higher as they feel less bonding with the mainland than their parent’s generation (Jennings and Lai 2019). Per capita income for Taiwanese citizens is much higher than that on the mainland(Chiu 1983, 1092). China’s abandonment of promises made to the Tibetan people after it invaded and the continuing erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong and Macau under the “One China-Two Systems” since reunification has also not gone unnoticed (Keum and Campbell 2001, 73).
The National Security Policy of Taiwan states in its opening paragraph on cross-strait negotiations that: “mutual non-recognition and mutual non-denial” means “the two sides do not recognize each other’s sovereignty, nor do they deny each other’s authority to govern (ROC).”Like the PRC, Taiwan sees itself as the only legitimate “true” China and will be unwilling to concede its independence and sovereignty to the PRC as it has long seen mainland China as the one that should come under Taiwanese control (Chang 2014, 303).
Japan Caught in the Middle
Japan has the most complicated position of the three nations, which it must carefully navigate as it has significant military, economic, and diplomatic ties with China, Taiwan, and the United States. Despite having been a former colonial occupier of Taiwan, its relations by and large have been increasingly beneficial between the two countries. While Japan has spoken up at international venues on behalf of Taiwan without establishing formal relations and has supported the development of a high-speed rail system on Taiwan, Japan has been careful not to draw too much ire from the PRC (Bartlett 2018). China views Japan as having fully accepted its One Belt-One Road (OBOR) initiative, despite Prime Minister Abe being somewhat cagy in his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May 2018. Abe admitted that “the possibility of cooperation will be explored on a case-by-case basis, under the proviso that openness, transparency, economic efficiency and financial soundness all accord to international standards (Kawashima 2018).”Abe is seen as a strong leader in Japan and despite his attempts to improve Sino-Japanese relations he has moved to strengthen Japan’s position in the region to counter China’s rise.
While China’s ascendency and the current pre-eminence of the United States as the global power has led many scholars to discuss the impending Thucydides Trap (TT) with the United States (see for example Er 2016), China’s rise also presents a similar TT with Japan. Until recently, Japan and China have not held positions of strength as regional powers at the same time. China surpassing a stagnant Japanese economy in 2010 to become the second largest economy poses economic and security concerns for Japan (Yuan 2018, 4). Additionally, China has announced the planned development of a four-ship aircraft carrier fleet. In response, Japan has sought to increase its submarine fleet from 16 to 22 and has sought to remove constitutional limitations on the Japanese military to increase its flexibility and allow for the development of increased military capability, all designed to counter the Chinese PLA. This could extend to Japan pursuing its own nuclear weapons program if it sees the United States as becoming an unreliable partner in sharing its nuclear deterrence (Er 2016, 43). Japansees a reunification of China with Taiwan as not “a good thing for Japan”with respect to its national security and will move to counter such an event.
Taiwanese/Japanese Intelligence Services and the Search for Leading Indicators
In such a complicated region where global and regional powers are intertwined, what indicators should the Taiwanese and Japanese intelligence services be monitoring to provide warning that China may be moving towards forceful reunification? What capabilities and technologies are these organizations employing in such monitoring?
National Security Bureau (NSB) – The NSB is the official intelligence agency of Taiwan. The NSB’s history was shrouded in a dark past of covert arrests and assassinations until 1994 when legislative changes created the National Security Bureau Organization Act. This act formalized the organization and published the names of its leadership. The first responsibility assigned to the NSB is the “Security for the Taiwan area, intelligence work for the Mainland area and international intelligence work (ROC 2011).” This is an admission that the ROC intends to conduct intelligence activities inside the PRC but the act does not discuss in detail any capabilities, technologies, personnel strength or other related information. Not much is known publicly about the NSB other than its organizational hierarchy and what is published on its website as the NSB has rarely published documents for public consumption. However, due to its advanced economy and technological access, the NSB likely maintains comparable capabilities to most western intelligence agencies. It is known that Taiwan has successfully launched several satellites under Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSO). However, any relation between the NSB and the NSO is not public. The NSB also is likely not adverse to using classical techniques as demonstrated by the PRC accusing Taiwan of using “honey pots” to lure Chinese students into espionage, a charge that Taiwan has publicly denied (NDTV).
Japanese Intelligence Services – Japan maintains a complex organization of several intelligence services including the Naicho – Cabinet Research Office, a small central intelligence agency and coordinating office under the Prime Minister that focuses on foreign intelligence concerns (see figure 1). Japan also has a Defense Intelligence Office and subordinate intelligence agencies in its Ground, Maritime and Air defense forces (fas.org).
Japan’s intelligence capabilities and techniques are similar to its western peers but is smaller in size. It also does not maintain an organization specializing in foreign human intelligence (HUMINT) akin to the CIA and no internal security organization like Britain’s MI5 (Yoshiki 2015, 721). China’s increasing regional hegemony has driven Japan to pursue its own military and space intelligence capabilities and to seek closer cooperation with the United States on intelligence matters to fill these gaps (Yuan 2018, 5).
Japan and Taiwan should direct its national technical means towards monitoring the following indicators. First, since Xi’s anti-corruption campaign resulted in him solidifying control of the military by placing loyalists in leadership roles, any rhetoric from senior military leaders could be perceived as being reflective of Xi’s policies. Should senior military leaders start calling for increased military action against Taiwan, this would be a worrisome sign. Secondly, China’s current amphibious capability needed to transport troops and expertise in deployment has been insufficient for a Taiwanese invasion. A sharp increase in amphibious related exercises or calls for an abnormal increase in the acquisition of amphibious ships and landing craft would also be key preparations for an assault on Taiwan. Third, the PRC has been attempting to isolate the ROC from involvement in international engagements, devaluing Taiwan’s name and image globally (Brown and Scott 2017, 64). A significant increase in these activities could be a policy shift by Xi’s government away from peaceful unification.
A military venture by China to force Taiwan into reunification could result in swift military action by the United States and subsequently would draw Japan into the conflict through treaty entanglements. Such a conflict would undoubtedly be devastating for the region. An uneasy stalemate has existed between China and Taiwan for nearly three decades. Rapprochement between the two respective leaders seems a decreasing possibility and the probability of conflict correspondingly rising. President Xi’s strongman approach to leadership, a desire for the emergence of a powerful China through the One Belt-One Road initiative, and a willingness to absorb short-term suffering for long-term gain may in fact signal the coming end of China’s patience on the Taiwan issue. We live in interesting times, indeed.