In his New Year address, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said that reunification with Taiwan is a “historical inevitability.”
“All Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be bound by a common sense of purpose and share in the glory of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” he said.
His comments on Taiwan — echoing similar remarks last year — raised alarms about the future of the self-governing island, particularly as voters head to the polls later this month.
But China watchers suggest that Xi has bigger problems ahead of him in 2024.
Xi’s comments could invigorate anti-CCP vote in Taiwan
Beijing wants the China-friendly Kuomintang Party to regain control of Taiwan’s presidency, but Xi’s comments could backfire on those ambitions. “Xi may not have learned his lesson” after the 2020 re-election of President Tsai Ing-wen, which was largely considered a rebuke of the Chinese leader’s increasing aggression against Taiwan, wrote New Bloom Magazine editor Brian Hioe. Polls have shown that Taiwanese voters are willing to view China more favorably if Beijing ceased military aggression against Taipei, according to the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Research Hub. But until then, many voters appear to favor candidates who will stand up to Xi’s rhetoric. Not many voters “ will choose to compromise or kneel down and surrender like the Kuomintang,” one commentator wrote for The News Lens in 2020.
Xi will want to prioritize economic stability over Taiwan invasion
Despite Xi’s warning, China watchers have suggested that he is too preoccupied with China’s economic viability to risk war. While Taiwan’s unification is an integral part of Xi’s broader mandate and there are some who want it done before 2027, it “is still a non-mainstream view” among Xi and his inner circle, argued Tamkang University’s Wang Bao last year. Rather, experts said that Beijing is expected to spend more time and effort on maintaining domestic stability, especially since the country’s worsening property crisis triggered a wave of protests in 2023. Beijing does not currently have the money to fund an invasion of Taiwan, and even an assertive leader like Xi “has to worry about where his money is going to come from,” said Wang Fei-ling of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Japan and other regional actors have less influence in cross-strait tensions
The bipolar world order between the United States and China is now an “objective reality,” and smaller countries and international organizations have little say over how to mitigate crises, argued Tsinghua University’s Yan Xuetong. This conflict between Beijing and Washington “puts pressure on small and medium-sized countries to pick a side,” and regional actors like Japan, North and South Korea, and the Philippines will be obliged to acquiesce to their demands if a crisis is to escalate. At most, the role of a country like Japan in the conflict would be similar to Poland’s in the Ukraine war, a retired Japanese military general told Nikkei Asia: serving as a gateway to supply Taiwan with weapons and hosting Taiwanese refugees.