How Will China Use Military Force to Peacefully Unify Taiwan Island?

From May 23 to 24, the People's Liberation Army of China conducted the "Joint Sword-2024A" exercises around Taiwan from multiple directions. According to Chinese strategist and former Air Force Colonel Professor Wang Xiangsui, Beijing is now embracing the approach of "hybrid warfare" where the traditional dichotomy of peace and war no longer applies
May 29, 2024
Wang Xiangsui
Former Senior Colonel, People's Liberation Army; Co-author, Unrestricted Warfare; Deputy Secretary General, CITIC Foundation for Reform and Development Studies
Click Register
Try Premium Member
for Free with a 7-Day Trial
Click Register
Try Premium Member for Free with a 7-Day Trial

After China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, while the media landscape in the Chinese mainland and the West was occupied with discussions of the military dimension, Taiwanese media focused on the comparison of stock market performances on both sides of the Strait. Behind it lies a scam that has been operating for nearly 30 years.

Taiwanese media often like to portray the stock market as a manifestation of public opinion. They say that this time, the Taiwanese stock market only dipped slightly before quickly rebounding, indicating that the mainland’s military exercises are not a cause for concern for the people of Taiwan. However, in reality, the Taiwanese stock market  no longer obeys the rules of a free economic market but has been turned into a financial moat heavily funded by the Taiwanese authorities, as a result of the market once being severely rattled by mainland China’s military exercises.

I personally experienced the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-1996. During that time, a series of military exercises by the mainland severely impacted the Taiwanese stock market. Especially after the missile tests, from August 13 to August 26, 1995, the Taiwanese stock market dropped by 1-2 percentage points every day. By the end of the exercises, the market had plummeted from 7051 points to 4503 points, nearly halving in value. The true perception of Taiwan by the international capital markets was laid bare.

Consequently, on February 12, 1996, Taiwan urgently established the “Stock Market Stabilization Fund.” Initially, the fund was only 200 billion New Taiwan dollars (nearly $6.2 billion), raised by pressuring private enterprises and social welfare departments on the island to “contribute.” This included 31.5 billion from the banking industry, 94.5 billion from the insurance industry, 60 billion from life insurance and postal savings, 13 billion from the labor retirement fund, and even 1 billion from the civil servants’ relief fund.

The “Stock Market Stabilization Fund” pull the Taiwanese stock market back from the brink of complete collapse. Since then, during times of tension in cross-strait relations, the fund has repeatedly played a role in supporting the market. The “Stock Market Stabilization Fund” has become a moat protecting Taiwan’s stock market and financial sector. However, in 2024, the effectiveness of this fund is highly questionable. The most straightforward reason is that the China mainland’s economic power has grown significantly stronger compared to 28 years ago.

In 1995, Taiwan’s GDP was equivalent to 37% of mainland China’s GDP, but by 2024, this proportion has dropped to less than 4%. In 2023, Fujian Province, located across the Taiwan Strait, already surpassed Taiwan in terms of total GDP. The relative economic advantage of the mainland over Taiwan has expanded more than tenfold, while Taiwan’s “Stabilization Fund” has not been expanded since 2011, with its final size only reaching 597.2 billion New Taiwan dollars. Attempting to counter a tenfold stronger pressure with less than triple the resources is futile. If the mainland truly intends to impose economic sanctions or financial strikes on Taiwan island, it will be impossible to cope.

So why hasn’t the Chinese mainland taken such actions? Because the mainland has always shown goodwill towards Taiwan and holds high expectations for peaceful reunification. It has not adopted policies aimed at impoverishing Taiwan. Any current economic impacts on Taiwan are merely unintended consequences of military exercises, not deliberate economic sanctions. However, the foundation of these goodwill policies, based on the mainland’s benevolence and kinship, is increasingly being undermined by the Taiwanese authorities and pro-independence forces, making it harder to sustain. Taiwan’s privilege of relying on the mainland market to earn substantial trade surpluses while purchasing American weapons to counter the mainland are coming to an end.

Western media often like to compare the Taiwan Question with the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This is largely because they attempt to equate a province of China with a country recognized by the United Nations, thereby deliberately overlooking China’s military restraint. This leads to serious misjudgments and intentional distortions within Western society regarding the true intentions of the mainland’s military exercises.

From the perspective of international law, Taiwan question is a domestic affair of China. Most countries in the world recognize that there is only one China, and Taiwan island is a part of China. Historically, Taiwan was forcibly occupied by Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and returned to China in 1945. From the perspective of China’s domestic affairs, Taiwan is a province of China, and the mainland and Taiwan have essentially been in a long-term ceasefire state from a civil war. According to Chinese law, if Taiwan attempts and advances towards independence and takes actions to split the country, the mainland’s armed forces will take necessary actions in accordance with the law to defend the integrity of national territorial sovereignty. Any intervention or involvement in Taiwan’s affairs is an infringement on China’s sovereignty.

In his inaugural speech, Lai Ching-te’s rhetoric of “Taiwan is an independence country” is essentially undermining Chinese mainland’s baseline and provoking the will and sentiment of the Chinese people. Lai Ching-te claims that “the international community will not accept any country causing trouble in the Taiwan Strait,” which reflects his misguided reliance on foreign support. In fact, it is Lai himself who is causing trouble. The mainland’s recent military exercises surrounding the island serve as a warning to the reckless separatists and demonstrate its resolve to foreign political forces attempting to interfere with China’s reunification process. Taiwan is very close to the mainland, practically under its artillery range, relying on foreign forces to escape the court is an unrealistic fantasy.

Currently, some American politicians, driven by the need to contain China’s development, are playing the Taiwan card extensively. They like to use Taiwan for political grandstanding and even attempt to “Ukrainize” Taiwan, making separatists act as proxies. They promote slogans like “Today’s Ukraine, Tomorrow’s Taiwan,” aiming to turn all Taiwanese people into “cannon fodder” to maximize U.S. interests and secure their own election advantages.

The Taiwan question is a legal matter of China’s internal affairs, therefore, American politicians attempting to interfere in Taiwan’s affairs should be countered, and U.S. companies supplying weapons to Taiwan should be severely sanctioned. The gains they achieve from overstepping on the Taiwan question should be less than the losses they incur from provoking the Chinese mainland. This is the only way to curb these politicians’ boundless adventurism born out of partisan politics. The red line concerning Taiwan must not be trampled on by American politicians. Crossing this red line will inevitably lead to a counterattack, and only by doing so can we uphold the political foundation of China-U.S. relations.

In summary, we need to break away from the simplistic mindset of juxtaposing “peaceful reunification” and “military reunification,” and adopt a method of “forced reunification” that integrates both approaches to advance the process of reunification and firmly grasp the initiative in our struggle with Taiwan. The so-called “forced reunification” involves a coordinated use of various means across different fields to pressure Taiwan and deter the United States, compelling them to accept the necessity of China’s reunification as a method of pressure-induced reunification.

We can use the method of “forced reunification” to combat the separatists and anti-China forces in the United States, operating in the middle ground between peace and traditional warfare. Unlike the usual method of “peaceful reunification,” “forced reunification” has a distinct coerciveness—if the ox doesn’t move forward, we pull or drive it forward, and if it really won’t drink, we can force its head down. However, “forced reunification” differs from “military reunification,” which primarily uses violent means. Forced reunification mainly employs non-violent coercive methods, making the ox drink by holding its head, rather than killing it—the best way to push Taiwan toward reunification is to lead or drive it forward.

The essence of “forced reunification” is to make the people of Taiwan feel the disadvantages of the nation not being unified. Currently, the mainland generally adopts a series of policies and measures to benefit Taiwan, which has allowed the mainland to remain Taiwan’s largest export market and the largest source of its trade surplus. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Finance, in 2021, Taiwan’s total exports to the Chinese mainland reached $249.979 billion, while imports from the mainland were $78.364 billion, giving Taiwan a trade surplus of $171.6 billion for the year. According to data recently published by Taiwan’s finance departments, in 2021, Taiwan’s exports to Chinese Mainland and Hong Kong amounted to $188.906 billion, with imports from the mainland at $84.171 billion, resulting in a trade surplus with the mainland of $104.735 billion; Taiwan’s overall trade surplus for the year was $65.28 billion. This shows that Taiwan can only maintain its trade surplus by relying on the mainland.

Without having achieved national reunification, Taiwan has already enjoyed many benefits from the unified Chinese market. However, while reaping substantial benefits, Taiwan still harbors a hostile attitude towards the mainland and refuses to acknowledge the basic fact that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China,” which has brought it significant advantages. From this, it is evident that national reunification is a major political process that can change the current status and existing interest patterns across the strait. Merely attracting Taiwan with unilateral benefits from the mainland is far from sufficient; it is also necessary to apply sufficient comprehensive pressure to effectively promote reunification.

A key point of implementing “forced reunification” is to make Taiwan aware of the harms of not being unified as a nation. The main aim of “forced reunification” is not to make the Taiwanese people realize the benefits of unification, but rather to make them truly feel that ” Trying to split China is a dead end.” It’s important for them to understand that if Taiwan is not a part of China, it will inevitably become a pawn for the United States to suppress China, leading to economic decline and poverty, and it could even trigger a war that would bring disaster upon itself.

“Forced reunification” can effectively mitigate the negative impact of the United States on China’s unification. The U.S. attempts to prevent China’s unification by using the pretext that “the mainland must not use force.” Our implementation of “forced reunification,” which is neither purely civil nor purely military but a combination of both, aims to compel the United States, acting as Taiwan’s protector, to relinquish its control in this game. By stripping the U.S. of its role as the manipulator of the Taiwan Strait, we can neutralize its interference and disruption of China’s unification process from the standpoint of the primary entity pursuing national unification.

In a certain sense, “forced reunification” is a low-intensity “hybrid warfare” conducted in the “gray zone” between peace and war, with the goal of national unification. The key to forced reunification lies in using a combination of cross-domain and various means to engage with pro-independence forces in Taiwan, making them unable to bear the pain of separation and division. Specifically, this involves enhancing top-level design and multi-departmental coordination, employing various methods across political, economic, financial, cultural, informational, cyber, legal, diplomatic, and military fields. This strategy aims to attack their plans and win their hearts and minds through a combination of civil and military approaches, balancing rewards and punishments, applying pressure to force negotiations, and promoting unification through a comprehensive approach. Additionally, it can involve using cyber and informational methods to influence public opinion in Taiwan, including applying certain military pressures to force the Taiwan authorities to come to the negotiating table and accept the inevitable unification of both sides of the strait.

It should be noted that this military exercise is an application of the “forced reunification” approach. Of course, this is just the beginning. Importantly, it reflects a significant shift in the mainland’s policy towards Taiwan, moving into the “forced reunification” phase. This shift has not yet been fully recognized by the public.


Wang Xiangsui
Former Senior Colonel, People's Liberation Army; Co-author, Unrestricted Warfare; Deputy Secretary General, CITIC Foundation for Reform and Development Studies
Share This Post