Tracking the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis (Updated August 12)

Tracking the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis (Updated August 12)
Tracking the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis (Updated August 12)
Tracking the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis (Updated August 12) Top

    Latest Updates: This page was updated on August 12 to reflect new data and developments. August 11 featured a major update analyzing China’s new white paper on Taiwan and what it means for understanding this crisis and Chinese policy moving forward. Click here to navigate to the section on the white paper.

    As U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan on August 2-3, China responded with forceful and coercive military, economic, and diplomatic measures. Developments are still unfolding, but the large-scale and unprecedented military exercises taken by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) far exceed the operations China engaged in during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis that took place in 1995-1996. Chinese escalation has precipitated the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis, leading to international calls for China to immediately halt its military activities. 

    This page tracks and analyzes key developments as they occur and will be updated regularly. Click the links below to jump to a specific section of the page:

    Timeline of Key Chinese Military Activities

    Prior to Speaker Pelosi’s Arrival

    In the leadup to Speaker Pelosi’s travel to Taiwan on August 2, the PLA took a series of actions to demonstrate its resolve and willingness to escalate, with the hope of deterring Speaker Pelosi from setting foot on the island and backing up China’s increasingly stern public warnings with action. This included military drills and operations across multiple theater commands, including to the north, west, east, and south of Taiwan.

    • On July 28, China began testing Taiwan’s defenses by sending unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over Taiwan’s Dongyin Island, a well-defended Taiwan outpost that is part of its Matsu Islands located close to mainland China. This marked the first time that China has sent drones over Taiwan’s airspace.
    • By August 1, China placed the PLA Eastern Theater Command (ETC), which leads military operations against Taiwan, on high alert. There was significant movement of troops and equipment within the ETC in the regions closest to Taiwan. 
    • The PLA further repositioned key military assets from other regions to the Eastern Theater Command. The PLA Navy’s two operational aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong, had previously deployed from their respective home ports of Qingdao and Sanya, and were moving in the waters around China. Large Chinese towboats were also spotted en route towards Taiwan. 
    • China announced military exercises and live fire drills in the South China Sea from August 2–6. The PLA’s Southern Theater Command (STC)—which is responsible for operations in the South China Sea and some operations around Taiwan—was placed on high alert
    • On August 2, PLA aircraft flew close to the Taiwan Strait centerline. A number of civilian flights at multiple airports in Fujian Province were canceled, suggesting that China was clearing the airspace in the Taiwan Strait to engage in military operations. 

    All these activities caused speculation among Chinese netizens that the PLA may have been ready to engage in some military operation against Pelosi’s entourage if her plane flew the typical route to Taipei, traveling through the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait to reach Taipei. Although it is unlikely that China considered shooting down her plane or engaging in aggressive intercepts of her airplane—which could risk a deadly accident or miscalculation—it is possible that China may have wanted to send planes to “escort” her flight. The PLA may have also considered limited operations against U.S. or Taiwan planes accompanying her plane. 

    Instead, her aircraft (and accompanying escorts) took a detour that avoided the PLA exercise in the SCS and flew to Taipei via the east of Taiwan. It would have been significantly more risky for China to engage in military operations to the east of Taiwan given the prepositioning of multiple U.S. military assets in the vicinity and the difficulty of supporting PLA operations at longer distances and during nighttime.

    After Speaker Pelosi Landed in Taipei

    After China failed to deter Speaker Pelosi from landing in Taiwan, the PLA rapidly transitioned to punishing Taiwan and exercising China’s capabilities to engage in a range of military operations against the island. This involved PLA live-fire rocket and missile launches on August 4 as well as significant joint military operations from August 4 to August 7. At the same time, China stepped up air intrusions against Taiwan’s offshore islands located close to China, namely Kinmen and Matsu. These actions were accompanied by an aggressive disinformation operation to exaggerate the extent and scale of China’s capabilities. Despite these efforts, and up until August 8, PLA aircraft have not intruded into the airspace of Taiwan’s main island and Chinese military vessels have stayed outside of the main island’s territorial waters.

    The timeline below lists key Chinese actions starting after Speaker Pelosi’s arrival. The timeline reflects publicly available information as of 12 PM EDT on August 12.

    Tuesday, August 2

    • Shortly after Speaker Pelosi landed, China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) said that it is on “high alert” and will launch a “series of targeted military operations as countermeasures.” 
    • Chinese state media announced that the PLA would conduct military exercises from August 4-7 in six zones throughout the Taiwan Strait and around the island of Taiwan. State media detailed that the exercises would include: a series of joint military operations around Taiwan; joint air and sea exercises in the sea and airspace of the northern, southwestern, and southeastern Taiwan Islands; long-range live ammunition firing in the Taiwan Strait; and test firing of conventional missiles in the waters east of Taiwan. Notices warned civilian and commercial traffic to avoid exercise areas. 
    • At the same time, Taiwan’s MND refuted false Chinese rumors that Su-35 fighter jets crossed the Taiwan Strait when Pelosi’s plane entered Taiwan’s airspace. Instead, for August 2, the PLA flew 21 aircraft into the southwest portion of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), including 10 J-16 fighters, eight J-11 fighters, one KJ-500 airborne early warning and command (AEW&C) aircraft,1 one Y-9 electronic warfare (EW) aircraft, and one Y-8 electronic intelligence (ELINT) aircraft.

    Wednesday, August 3

    • By Wednesday, the PLA began exercising in regions around Taiwan. The ETC announced that China had “organized joint combat training exercises in the northern, southwestern and southeastern waters and airspace” near Taiwan and the exercises involved most PLA elements under the ETC. The PLA focused on training for “joint blockade, sea target assault, strike on ground targets, and airspace control operation, and the joint combat capabilities of troops.” The actual extent of China's operations remain unclear: for example, Chinese media shared alleged videos of J-20 fighter jets taking off, but Taiwan’s MND clarified that no J-20s had operated in Taiwan’s ADIZ on August 3.
    • Reports emerged that China had established a seventh zone for the exercises, located east of the island. It was set to last from August 4–8, meaning it would go one day longer than the six other zones.  
    • The PLA flew 27 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. Six J-11 fighters and 16 Su-30 fighters crossed the Taiwan Strait median line and six J-11 fighters flew into the southwest corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ. 
    • Two Chinese UAVs penetrated the airspace over Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, located just off the coast of mainland China. This marked the first time PLA drones have done so. Taiwan’s Kinmen Defense Command responded by firing flares to warn the drones to leave Taiwan's airspace.

    Thursday, August 4

    • The PLA began exercises in the six designated zones. China launched long-range rockets and conventional ballistic missiles from four main regions within China into multiple exercise zones to the north, east, and south of Taiwan. Japan’s MND reported nine missiles were fired by China into four exercise zones, while China and Taiwan reported 11 missiles, with some Chinese reports suggesting only three zones were hit. Video footage posted by official Chinese media suggested that at least some of the missiles were DF-15B short-range missiles. At least five missiles splashed down in Zone 4, on Taiwan’s east coast within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Japan’s MND estimated that at least four of the missiles flew over the island of Taiwan—an unprecedented move by China. However, Taiwan downplayed the danger noting that the ballistic missiles flew in a high path more than 100 km and were therefore not within Taiwan’s airspace.
    • The PLA fired missiles from Zone 1, near Taiwan’s Matsu islands, and fired long-range rockets near Matsu, Wuqiu, Dongyin, and other outlying islands, contributing to concerns in Taiwan of China’s intent around the islands. 
    • China’s Eastern Theater Command said that it was mobilizing more than 100 fighter planes, bombers and other aircraft, as well as more than 10 destroyers and frigates, to “carry out joint closure and control operations.” Images showed military helicopters flying past Pingtan island, one of Taiwan's closest points to mainland China. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, joined the exercises around Taiwan accompanied by at least one nuclear-powered attack submarine. 
    • The PLA flew 22 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. This included 12 Su-30 fighters crossing the median line northwest of Taiwan and eight J-11 and two J-16 fighters crossing the median line southwest of Taiwan. 
    • Taiwan reported that drones flew over the waters surrounding the Kinmen, Dongyin, and Matsu Islands on Thursday. UAVs were also spotted in the waters near Japan. During the morning and night, a Chinese reconnaissance drone and another reconnaissance/attack drone flew into the East China Sea, passing between the main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima and into the Pacific Ocean, and then turned to head south of the Sakishima Islands. They then turned and traced the same path in the opposite direction. Another presumed Chinese drone flew in from the East China Sea and flew circles over the area. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighters. 

    Friday, August 5

    • The PLA ETC announced it conducted air and sea combat drills to the north, east, and southwest of Taiwan to test troops’ joint combat capabilities. According to the Taiwan MND, the PLA dispatched 68 aircraft and 13 vessels as part of military activities around the Taiwan Strait. This included PLA assets crossing the median line that divides the Taiwan Strait. 
    • The PLA flew 49 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ and across the median line. This included 24 Su-30 fighters and six J-11 fighters crossing the median line northwest of Taiwan and 10 J-16 fighters, seven J-10 fighters, one Y-8 EW aircraft, and one Y-8 ASW aircraft crossing the median line southwest of Taiwan. This was the second-highest number of aircraft ever recorded entering Taiwan’s ADIZ in a single day, superseded only by 56 aircraft on October 4, 2021. More broadly, PLA ADIZ incursions averaged nearly 26 aircraft per day between August 2–8, a major uptick from an average of roughly three aircraft per day from January 1–August 1, 2022.
    • Four PLA drones flew over the waters around Kinmen Island and nearby Lieyu Island and Beiding Islet. In response, the Kinmen Defense Command fired warning flares to repel the drones. Around the same time, similar aircraft were detected flying over Liang Island and Dongyin Island, which are part of Taiwan’s Matsu Islands.

    Saturday, August 6

    • On the third day of exercises, the PLA focused on testing troops' land attack and sea assault capabilities with joint air and naval operations in the sea and airspace to the north, east, and southwest of Taiwan. These missions aimed at clearing paths for amphibious landing forces to launch beach assaults against Taiwan. PLA ETC naval forces deployed warships, warplanes, and coast-based anti-ship missiles. Taiwan’s MND reported multiple PLA vessels (later numbered at 14 ships) around the Taiwan Strait, with some having crossed the median line and some possibly simulating attacks against "HVA" (high-value assets).
    • China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced zones in the Yellow Sea where exercises would take place from August 5–15. China also announced exercises in the Bohai Sea set to start Monday, August 8, and last until September 8. 
    • The PLA flew 20 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. This included 10 Su-30 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossing the median line northwest of Taiwan and four J-16 fighters, one Y-8 ASW aircraft, and one Y-20U aerial refueling aircraft flying into the southwest portion of Taiwan’s ADIZ. 
    • Six PLA drones flew over waters around Kinmen and Beiding Islet. 

    Sunday, August 7

    • On the scheduled final day of the exercises, Taiwan’s MND reported 14 PLA Navy vessels and 66 PLA aircraft in the area. The PLA ETC said it conducted live-fire drills in the waters and airspace around Taiwan "as planned."
    • While exercises in the initial six zones were set to end, the seventh zone (later added and reported by Taiwan’s government) would continue until Monday. 
    • A commentator on Chinese state television said the Chinese military would now conduct "regular" drills on the Taiwan side of the line, largely confirming fears that China was aiming to use the exercises to shift the status quo and make recent unprecedented moves the norm. 
    • The PLA flew 22 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. This included 10 Su-30 and four J-11 fighters crossing the median line northwest of Taiwan and six J-16 fighter, three H-6 bombers, and one Y-8 ASW aircraft entering the southwest area of Taiwan’s ADIZ. 
    • During the morning, the PLA flew multiple drones in areas around the Taiwan Strait. In the evening, there was one batch of drones found around the Kinmen area. 

    Monday, August 8

    • China extended military operations around Taiwan by announcing new military exercises to engage in “joint anti-submarine and sea assault operations.” There was no publicly announced exercise restriction zone and no live-fire. Taiwan’s MND reported 13 PLA Navy vessels and 39 PLA aircraft were detected in the areas around Taiwan. 
    • Taiwan’s MND shared that between August 1 and August 8, China engaged in multiple cyberattacks against Taiwan political and military targets and 272 attempts at political warfare and disinformation. Chinese disinformation attempts peaked on August 4 and 5. 
    • The PLA flew 21 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. This included eight Su-30 fighters, six J-11 fighters, two JH-7 fighter-bombers, four J-16 fighters, and one KA-228 ASW aircraft. 
    • Matsu Defense Command reported spotting nine “unidentified light spots” presumed to be UAVs that passed over the Matsu area. The Matsu Defense Command fired flares as a warning signal. The PLA also flew one drone around Kinmen. 

    Tuesday, August 9

    • China continued exercises that focused on joint containment and joint support operations, such as aerial refueling and sea support. Taiwan’s MND reported a total of 45 PLA aircraft and 10 ships detected around the Taiwan Strait, as joint air and sea operations continued. 
    • The PLA flew 16 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ, all of which flew over the median line of the Taiwan Strait. Eight Su-30 fighters and four J-16 fighters flew across the northern portion of the median line. Four J-11 fighters flew across the central part of the median line, approximately due west of Taipei—the first time ADIZ incursions have taken place there.
    • In response to China’s continuous exercises, Taiwan kicked off a two-day military exercise, known as Tianlei. It featured more than 700 troops and included live-firing of 114 artillery shells into the water.

    Wednesday, August 10

    • The PLA ETC announced that operations around the island had concluded. Senior Colonel Shi Yi, a spokesman for the ETC, regarded the recent exercises around Taiwan as successful, “with all tasks accomplished and the troops’ combat capabilities in integrated joint operations effectively verified.” However, the PLA will continue to monitor the region, conduct military training and preparations, and regularly organize combat patrols in the Taiwan Strait, as China intends to maintain its presence in the region. 
    • As part of the PLA’s operations, the Taiwan MND reported 10 PLA Navy vessels and 36 PLA aircraft around the area of Taiwan. 
    • The PLA flew 17 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ, all of which crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait. This included nine SU-30 fighters crossing near the center of the line (but further north than the preceding day’s incursion) and eight J-11 fighters crossing toward the southern portion.

    Thursday, August 11

    • Despite China’s official conclusion of the exercises around the island, Taiwan’s MND reported 6 PLA Navy vessels and 21 PLA aircraft around the island.
    • The PLA flew 11 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. One JH-7 and six Su-30 flew over the northern portion of the median line and 11 J-4 aircraft flew over the median line to the southwest of Taiwan.

    Friday, August 12

    • Taiwan’s MND reported a total of 6 PLA Navy vessels and 24 aircraft in areas around the island of Taiwan.
    • The PLA flew 10 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ. Four Su-30 aircraft crossed the northern end of the median line. Four J-16 and two J-10 aircraft flew into the southwest portion of Taiwan’s ADIZ, near the median line.

    Mapping the PLA’s Unprecedented Six Exercise Zones around Taiwan

    Of the various Chinese activities detailed above, the most significant to date is a series of large military exercises and live-fire drills that took place from August 4-7. As a whole, these exercises are much closer to the main island of Taiwan than prior ones, showcasing the PLA’s increased confidence in its capabilities to operate near Taiwan. The six exercise zones are within Taiwan’s ADIZ and encircle Taiwan from multiple directions. Several exercise zones are far from the Chinese mainland and beyond the Taiwan Strait, venturing into Japan’s and the Philippine’s EEZ. Three of the exercise zones intrude into Taiwan’s territorial waters and lie dangerously close to Taiwan’s capital and key cities. It is also worth noting that these exercises were rolled out at once, while the exercises during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis took place in multiple stages from July 1995 to March 1996.

    Statements by Chinese military analysts have made clear that the PLA chose the location of each exercise zone for specific purposes. Below are details on the importance of each zone to PLA operations and to Taiwan’s security. Click to expand details about each zone.

    This zone is positioned off the coast of mainland China’s Pingtan Island at the narrowest part of the Taiwan Strait. It is also close to the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands that sit immediately off the coast of mainland China’s Fujian Province. PLA operations there could signal Chinese threats to seize the offshore islands. PLA analysts have noted that operations by this narrow neck could position China to close off the northern entrance to the Taiwan Strait. This zone was also chosen to intentionally breach and undermine the legitimacy of the “median line” running through the Taiwan Strait, where PLA forces typically operate to the west of the line.

    Located north of Taiwan, this zone intrudes into Taiwan’s territorial waters and is 22.5 kilometers (km) away from the tip of the island and approximately 50 km from Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. It is near both the Port of Taipei and Keelung Harbor, a key port for both military and commercial activity. Both ports are critical to Taiwan’s economy and together handle approximately 20 percent of total cargo to the island. Zone 2 is also located near Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, the island’s busiest airport, as well as Taipei Songshan Airport, which serves as a military airbase and saw over six million passengers in 2019. This zone is located close to beaches and coastal areas to the northwest and west of Taipei that military planners believe to be suitable for a potential PLA amphibious landing on Taiwan.

    Located 18.5 km northeast of Taiwan, this zone is near the only beaches on the east coast of Taiwan that may be suitable for a PLA amphibious invasion. The southeast corner of Zone 3 intrudes into Japan’s EEZ and is a short distance from the hotly contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are administered by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan. Zone 3 thus further positions the PLA to conduct operations against both Taiwan and Japan. Similar to Zone 2, this zone is close to Taipei and Keelung Harbor. Control of both zones could make it difficult for the United States or Japan to flow forces into Taipei from the northeast side and could enable the PLA to blockade Keelung Harbor. Operating from Zones 1, 2, and 3 could allow the PLA to move quickly to seize Taipei from three different directions and may be particularly important if the PLA seeks to engage in a decapitation attack against Taiwan’s leadership.

    Zone 4: This zone rests approximately 130 km from Taiwan’s eastern shores in the Pacific Ocean. Because of the distance to China and relatively mountainous terrain on Taiwan’s east coast, the PLA has historically engaged in fewer operations and exercises in this region than on the western side of Taiwan. This zone directly faces two air force bases at Hualien and Taitung, which are among Taiwan’s most important military bases. Placing forces there would enable the PLA to launch attacks on Taiwan’s eastern shores and bases and help deny the United States and other countries from flowing forces into Taiwan from the east. This zone also overlaps with Japan’s EEZ. Sandwiched between this zone and Zone 3 is Japan’s Yonaguni Island, which hosts a military base, radar, and other equipment and serves as a critical outpost near Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands. 

    Zone 5: This zone is positioned southeast of the southern tip of Taiwan. It sits between Taiwan’s Orchid Island and the islands comprising the Philippine Province of Batanes and intrudes into the Philippine EEZ. This stretch of seas, known as the Bashi Channel, is a critical choke point separating waters within the First Island Chain from the Philippines Sea and the broader Pacific Ocean. The Bashi Channel is also home to several undersea cables, which could be severed to severely disrupt internet access and communications in the region.

    Zone 6: This zone is located at the southwest corner of Taiwan and is the largest of the six. It is close to a region that has been a stronghold of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP), the party that President Tsai Ing-wen leads and Beijing views as pushing for Taiwan independence. The southwest corner of Taiwan’s ADIZ is where the PLA has engaged in the most air intrusions, but typically at a distance much farther from the main island of Taiwan than the exercise zone. This zone reaches into Taiwan’s territorial waters, near the large cities of Kaohsiung and Zuoying, which are both home to key military bases. Kaohsiung also boasts Taiwan’s most important commercial port—which handled nearly 59 percent of Taiwan’s total shipping throughput in 2021—and Taiwan’s second-busiest airport. Similar to the zones in northern Taiwan, this zone is close to beaches and coastal areas suitable for an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. Military operations from Zone 6 could target DPP supporters, significantly undermine Taiwan’s economy (as part of a blockade), and support a potential invasion of the island.

    The Significance of the PLA's Exercises

    These unprecedented exercises serve at least four main objectives. First, they are intended to impose political costs on Taipei and undermine morale and support for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen among Taiwan’s public. Part of this involves making clear that Taiwan will bear the brunt of Chinese punishment for closer relations with the United States. Beijing hopes that this will drive a wedge between Taipei and Washington.

    Second, these exercises are part of larger Chinese deterrence and signaling efforts toward the United States, Taiwan, U.S. regional allies, and the broader international community to demonstrate how capable and determined China is to exert control over Taiwan and enforce its One China Principle. The exercises involve direct costs for Japan, and to some extent the Philippines, because of PLA operations (and firing of missiles) within both countries’ claimed waters. PLA activities are also meant to deter countries from supporting Taiwan by showcasing how much China is willing to escalate. More broadly, the PLA exercise led to rerouting of commercial air and maritime traffic around Taiwan to avoid the exercise zones, demonstrating China’s ability to “control” activities near and around Taiwan.

    The PLA’s decision to ambiguously extend (and then end) parts of the exercises also fit into China’s playbook for using military exercises for deterrence signaling. Science of Military Strategy, a relatively authoritative textbook published by China’s National Defense University, highlights PLA strategic thinking on the role of exercises in creating confusion and uncertainty. It states exercises can be directed at adversaries with the goal of “making them uncertain about our intentions and making it difficult to determine whether we are conducting routine training, maintaining close diplomatic relations, or taking the opportunity to move into actual combat operations, thereby causing psychological panic and conduct a deterrent effect.”

    Third, these exercises allow the PLA to rehearse how to conduct a variety of military operations that could form part of a larger-scale military operation - such as seizing one of Taiwan’s offshore islands or PLA blockade or invasion of the main Taiwan  island - or a standalone operation by itself. This includes not only activities directed at Taiwan, but operations to prevent potential third country intervention in a China-Taiwan conflict.

    Fourth, and longer term, Beijing aims to use the exercises to establish a new status quo in the Taiwan Strait. China is specifically seeking to erase the notion of the median line that divides the strait and aims to constrain PLA operations west of the line. China also seeks to establish a new normal in which the PLA no longer respects Taiwan’s claims to a separate airspace and territorial waters. These exercises are likely only the beginning of PLA operations close to and above Taiwan. 

    China’s 2022 White Paper on Taiwan

    On August 10, 2022, the Chinese government published a white paper titled “The Taiwan Question and China's Reunification in the New Era.” The white paper has been under development for some time, and it was released to coincide with and mark the ending of China’s unprecedented August 2022 military exercises. As a result, it serves as a powerful Chinese messaging tool to explain why China escalated with military force and what to expect from China’s policy toward Taiwan moving forward, including further changes to come after China’s 20th Party Congress, which is set to be held this fall.

    The white paper sought to convey that China’s overall policy toward Taiwan has not changed—that China remains committed to peaceful unification and “one country, two systems” despite the escalation of military force against Taiwan. Even as the PLA seeks to establish a “new normal” of military operations closer to Taiwan, Beijing is trying to signal that China would prefer to resolve the Taiwan question without use of significant military force. In other words, the August 2022 exercises is an example of China having no choice but to use military force to fight Taiwan separatism and external interference.

    A detailed reading of this new white paper, however, shows mixed messages about China’s willingness to use force. The white paper also reflects Beijing’s toughened positions against Taiwan, and it no longer contains guarantees that Taiwan can maintain its democracy or military post-unification.

    What Is New in the White Paper

    The white paper represents authoritative and official Chinese policy toward Taiwan under President Xi Jinping. It is the latest Chinese white paper on Taiwan that follows two prior white papers in 1993 and 2000. There are significant differences between the 2022 and 2000 white papers that reflect the influence of three Chinese leaders—Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Xi Jinping—on China’s Taiwan policy. The new white paper also demonstrates that cross-Strait dynamics and the balance of power have shifted drastically in the last two decades.

    The 2022 white paper defines resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s "complete unification" as a "historic mission." Although Jiang and Hu have used the term complete unification to characterize the desired end state for Taiwan, both leaders generally placed more emphasis on peaceful or national unification in their speeches and white papers. Under Xi Jinping, there are increased references to complete unification. The 2000 white paper did not use the term historic mission and this term suggests Xi’s elevation of the importance of unification, the importance of making progress on unification, and linking of unification with "national rejuvenation,” which was also absent from the 2000 white paper.

    The 2022 white paper clarifies that China’s national development and progress set the direction of cross-Strait relations (and unification). Broadly increasing people-to-people contacts and economic and cultural exchanges between the two sides is no longer sufficient to drive cross-Strait relations in the direction that Beijing wants. China must rely on its growing political, economic, technological, and military power to shape and coerce Taiwan’s trajectory. To some extent, this also suggests that China is not in a hurry or rush to achieve unification because its growing power could give China even more advantage in the future.

    The new white paper specifies “use of force would be the last resort taken under compelling circumstances.” This sentence was an addition that was not in the 2000 Taiwan white paper or the 2005 Anti-Secession Law. Because China already engages in near daily military operations against Taiwan, this sentence likely refers to either kinetic or larger-scale use of military force, which Beijing demonstrated with its August 2022 exercises. Although this sentence suggests that China should be less willing to use significant military force, it must be paired with other portions of the white paper that warn of the dangers posed by active separatist forces on Taiwan and prominent external interference (namely, the United States). The document urges China to have the courage, skill, extensive unity, and solidarity “to mobilize all factors to fight,” with “fight” referring to leveraging the range of Chinese capabilities, including military means. In other words, there are likely to be more instances of “compelling circumstances” and, if diplomacy does not work, China may have to use military force.

    In terms of what Taiwan can expect after unification, the new white paper writes that China's principles of peaceful unification and One Country, Two Systems “take full account of Taiwan’s realities and are conducive to long-term stability in Taiwan after unification.” The addition of long-term stability suggests that Beijing wants to avoid the “instability” it suffered from the massive protests in Hong Kong. Beijing must be able to impose a sufficient degree of control over Taiwan to ensure there is no repeat of Hong Kong in Taiwan. The document offers that, “Provided that China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests are guaranteed, after unification Taiwan will enjoy a high degree of autonomy as a special administrative region.” This means that Taiwan’s autonomy is highly conditioned. This is a far cry from the 2000 white paper that laid out what Taiwan could enjoy after unification without stipulating the conditions under which Beijing might revoke such offers.

    What Is Missing from the White Paper

    The 2022 white paper is missing a host of key items that illustrate China’s toughening position against Taiwan and the degree of control Beijing will need to exert over the island:

    • Most tellingly, the English version of the document does not mention the word “negotiate” when describing how the two sides can proceed to unification. It notes that there will be “consultations and discussions as equals.” The Chinese version of the white paper still uses “谈判” (negotiate)—but only in three areas—and there is no mention of “平等谈判” (negotiations as equals). The lack of explanation of what “as equals” means, and the refusal to link that term with negotiation, raise serious questions of how Beijing views Taipei and whether Taipei—or perhaps the specific DPP leadership—will be allowed any room for bargaining.
    • Indeed, the 2022 white paper is missing this key passage from the 2000 white paper: “[N]egotiations should be held between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese KMT on a reciprocal basis and… talks between the two parties may include representatives from all parties and mass organizations of Taiwan.” The 2000 white paper also noted that "we [Beijing] have never spoken of negotiations between the ‘central and local authorities.’" The exclusion of that statement in the 2022 text raises key questions about whether Beijing will view the DPP (or any Taiwan party) as an equal or subordinate for unification talks. If it is the latter, Beijing may seek to impose its will on Taipei than allow for genuine negotiations.

    The white paper only guarantees that Taiwan can maintain its own social and economic system under the One Country, Two Systems formula. Gone are assurances in the 1993 and 2000 white papers about a host of other rights that Taiwan could enjoy after unification that would allow the island to continue functioning as a vibrant democracy:

    • Missing: Taiwan “will have its own administrative and legislative powers”
    • Missing: Taiwan will maintain “an independent judiciary and the right of adjudication on the island”
    • Missing: Taiwan “will run its own party, political, military, economic, and financial affairs”
    • Missing: Taiwan “may keep its military forces and the mainland will not dispatch troops or administrative personnel to the island”
    • Missing: “Representatives of the government of the special administrative region and those from different circles of Taiwan may be appointed to senior posts in the central government and participate in the running of national affairs.”

    Instead, in Beijing’s ideal world, Taiwan would be governed by patriots who are loyal and subordinate to Beijing. The white paper makes this clear, concluding: “All Taiwan compatriots who support reunification of the country and rejuvenation of the nation will be the masters of the region, contributing to and benefitting from China's development.”

    Bonny Lin, Brian Hart, Matthew P. Funaiole, Samantha Lu, Hannah Price, Nicholas Kaufman