China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 10, 2024


Data Cutoff: May 9 at 12:00pm EST

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update is a joint product from the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute. The update supports the ISW–AEI Coalition Defense of Taiwan project, which assesses Chinese campaigns against Taiwan, examines alternative strategies for the United States and its allies to deter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aggression, and—if necessary—defeat the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The update focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s paths to controlling Taiwan and cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways

  • ­The Chinese Coast Guard has normalized patrols around Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island with a large military garrison roughly 3 km from the coast of the PRC.
  • Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party legislators in the Legislative Yuan rejected a Democratic Progressive Party draft amendment that would reduce the CCP’s ability to engage with the opposition.
  • CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on May 5 as part of a charm offensive to block the formation of a stricter EU policy on China.
  • The PRC alleges that the Philippines has violated a series of secret and informal agreements about the Second Thomas Shoal since 2016. The PRC claims are part of a malign influence campaign to secure PRC control over the shoal and frame the Philippines as the belligerent in the South China Sea.
  • The PRC announced that it will release an audio recording that it claims will prove that the Philippines had agreed to the terms of the secret deals.
  • The election of Jeremiah Manele as prime minister provides the PRC with an opportunity to continue expanding economic and infrastructure cooperation with the Solomon Islands.
  • The United States Intelligence Community warned of Sino-Russian military cooperation in East Asia.
  • Russia is starting the development of a joint Sino-Russian lunar nuclear power plant. The PRC and Russia are also collaborating on the development of surveillance space capabilities that threaten US access to space and space-based capabilities.

Cross-Strait Relations

A map of the coast guard

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The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has normalized patrols around Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island with a large military garrison roughly 3 kilometers from the coast of the PRC. The CCG began patrols in Kinmen’s territorial waters in February after two PRC fishermen drowned while fleeing from a Taiwanese Coast Guard pursuit on February 14. The PRC pledged after the incident to strengthen law enforcement activities around Kinmen. The PRC has increased the frequency of CCG patrols in Kinmen’s waters and the volume of ships per event since it began routine violations in late February.

The CCG announced on April 29 that it carried out law enforcement patrols in waters near Kinmen. The announcement stated that the CCG strengthened its law enforcement activities around Kinmen in April to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese fishermen, including Taiwan… and safeguard normal navigation in Kinmen-Xiamen waters.”[1] The CCG violated Taiwan’s maritime borders around Kinmen four times since the beginning of May under the pretense of legitimate law enforcement operations.[2] Five CCG ships and seven PRC fishery and maritime agency-affiliated official ships took part in the operations on May 9, marking the first time CCG ships and other official ships have sailed together in Taiwan’s waters.[3] The Taiwanese Coast Guard Administration (CGA) stated that three other PRC fishing vessels joined the formation, which CGA suspects conducted drills with the official ships in Taiwan’s contiguous zone around Kinmen.[4]

The CCG frequently announced its activities in the past week and illustrated its May 6 voyage through Taiwan’s territorial waters with a publicly released map.[5] PRC state media has actively covered CCG patrols and highlighted their proximity to Kinmen.[6] The CCG and PRC state media’s publicization of CCG patrols in Kinmen waters serves as a public challenge to ROC sovereignty that surpasses the PRC’s rhetorical denial. Taiwan’s CGA has responded to each instance by deploying ships to and broadcasting warnings to the PRC vessels until they leave Taiwanese waters.[7]

Taiwan

Opposition parties in Taiwan’s legislature rejected a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) draft amendment that would reduce the CCP’s ability to engage with the opposition. DPP legislator Puma Shen spearheaded a proposal to amend the Cross-Strait Act, which regulates cross-strait travel for public officials. TheAct, passed in 1992, currently prohibits central government officials, city mayors, county magistrates, and personnel of national security-related agencies, from traveling to the PRC without permission from the Ministry of Interior.[8] Shen’s amendment, if passed, would extend the scope of that law to include legislators and other elected officials such as city councilors. DPP legislator Puma Shen spearheaded an amendment proposal that would extend the scope of the law to include legislators and other elected officials.[9] Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) legislators voted down the proposal on May 6.[10] The proposal follows a high-level KMT delegation of lawmakers led by Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi to the mainland last week. Fu met with Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Song Tao and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Wang Huning on April 27.[11] Wang is the PRC’s top Taiwan policy setter after Xi Jinping.

Blocking DPP efforts to regulate cross-strait engagement is beneficial to the CCP. The CCP uses cross-strait engagement with legislators and lower-level officials to advance its political objectives in Taiwan. The CCP strategy rewards aims to legitimize the KMT as a good-faith steward of cross-strait relations that benefit Taiwan. For example, the CCP announced during a meeting with KMT Caucus Whip Fu Kun-chi on April 26 that the PRC would lift its ban on the imports of Wendan pomelos and two types of fish from Taiwan.[12] The change in CCP policy signaled to Taiwan’s farmers and fishermen that they stand to benefit from the KMT’s cross-strait engagements and lose from the DPP’s. The PRC implemented the bans as a form of economic punishment after then-US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan in August 2022.[13]

The PRC’s ability to conduct cyber-enabled information operations against Taiwan at scale is increasing with the popularization of social media and artificial intelligence. Days before the presidential election in January, unnamed Taiwanese national security personnel told the media that hundreds of videos denigrating President Tsai Ing-wen appeared on YouTube. The videos were being spread by over 200 accounts and used AI generative technology.[14] The national security sources attributed the videos and other related content to an information operation by the PRC’s Ministry of State Security. The Taiwan Information Environment Research Center (IORG), a civil society organization that researches disinformation, found that about 23% of Taiwanese people use YouTube as their main source for intaking news.[15] The same study found that TikTok users were more agreeable to political narratives that aligned with CCP interests than non-users. Tsai acknowledged TikTok as a possible avenue for CCP information manipulation in 2023, noting Taiwan’s vulnerability due to lack of restrictions.[16]

The PRC is already inundating Taiwan with disinformation. Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) Director-General Tsai Ming-yen revealed on May 1 that the NSB identifies as many as 30,000 instances of online misinformation each week.[17] Tsai stated that the NSB reports around 6,000 of those posts to the Executive Yuan to decide how to respond. Although Tsai did not explicitly mention the PRC by name in his address to the Legislative Yuan, the PRC’s domination of Taiwan’s information threat landscape is known. The PRC’s political warfare against Taiwan features constant information operations that aim to degrade support for the DPP and suppress Taiwanese sovereignty and identity. Governments and threat intelligence organizations have called repeated attention to sprawling PRC disinformation operations in coordinated campaigns such as Spamouflage.[18]

A report from DoubleThink Labs, a Taiwanese firm that researches PRC influence operations, released a report in January that detailed the wide range of narratives that PRC threat actors propagate to negatively influence Taiwanese people’s perception of the DPP. The narratives opportunistically seize on topical controversies in Taiwanese politics to amplify criticism of the DPP government, including egg and pork import scandals, fraud cases related to Taiwan’s domestic submarine production, compulsory military service extensions, Indian migrant worker inflows, and false rumors about President-elect Lai Ching-te’s supposed illegitimate child.[19]

China

CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping met with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on May 5 as part of a charm offensive to block the formation of a stricter EU policy on China. Macron emphasized trade disputes and urged the PRC to pressure Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine.[20] Von der Leyen also focused on trade by stating that the EU “cannot absorb massive over-production of Chinese industrial goods flooding its market” and said that Europe would protect its own market.[21] Xi stated his hope that “EU institutions… [will] formulate a positive policy towards China” and build “an industrial and supply chain partnership that is stable and mutually trustworthy.”[22] Xi rejected the assertion that the PRC has an “overcapacity problem.”[23] He inaccurately framed the PRC as not a party to the “Ukraine crisis,” while avoiding mentioning PRC support for Russia’s industrial base.

Xi’s statements align with a PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement on April 27 in the leadup to Xi’s trip that emphasized the necessity of avoiding “confrontation between camps” and the desire for France to push the EU to “pursue a positive and pragmatic policy towards China.”[24] Bloomberg also reported on April 29 that the EU is considering additional restrictions on PRC companies for supporting Russia.[25] The PRC MFA readout of the meeting between Xi, Macron, and von der Leyen emphasizing the economy and only addressing the Ukraine War in the second to last paragraph indicates that CCP leadership is attempting to maintain access to Europe as an export market while simultaneously supporting Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

Xi visited and met with Serbian and Hungarian political leadership to conclude his European trip. His trip to Serbia resulted in the lifting of trade restrictions and the announcement that the China-Serbia Free Trade Agreement would come into effect on July 1.[26]Xi emphasized implementing the Belt and Road Initiative during his time in Hungary.[27] This will take the form of a 2.1 billion USD project to construct a Budapest-Belgrade railway.[28] Xi’s trip solidifies Serbia and Hungary as avenues for the party to exert influence in Europe, particularly Hungary due to its membership in the European Union.

Southeast Asia

Philippines

­The PRC alleges that the Philippines has violated a series of secret and informal agreements about the Second Thomas Shoal since 2016. The PRC claims are part of a malign influence campaign to secure PRC control over the shoal and frame the Philippines as the belligerent in the South China Sea. The PRC Embassy to the Philippines claimed on May 2, 2024, that Xi Jinping and then-Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte reached an unwritten “temporary special arrangement” in 2016 about the Philippines’ access to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal. The PRC alleged that they concluded the arrangement as a gentleman’s agreement with two stipulations. First, Philippine fishing vessels would have access to the waters near Second Thomas Shoal.Philippine military and police ships needed to stay at least twelve nautical miles away from the shoal, however.[29] Second, the Philippines would not transport construction materials to repair the Sierra Madre, a dilapidated World War II-era naval ship on Second Thomas Shoal that the Philippines deliberately ran aground in 1999 to serve as a military detachment.[30] The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning clarified that if the Philippines needed to replenish the Sierra Madre with necessities for the personnel there, it must notify the PRC in advance, which will approve and supervise the process.[31]

PRC MFA Spokesman Lin Jian claimed on May 6, 2024, that the PRC reached another unspecified “gentleman’s agreement” in 2021 with the Philippine government under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. Lin claimed the Philippines violated this agreement in February 2023 without specifying the contents of the agreement or how the Philippines had failed to comply with it. Lin also claimed that the PRC negotiated a “new model” at “the beginning of this year [2024]” that received the approval of “all key officials in the Philippine chain of command, including the Secretary of National Defense and the National Security Advisor.”[32] Lin then stated that the Philippines carried out a resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal on February 2 before abandoning this “new model.” [33]

Philippine political leadership denies the existence of these alleged agreements. Duterte denied ever making a “gentleman’s agreement” with Xi, however, and claimed that the 2016 meeting helped keep the status quo of peace in the South China Sea. Duterte also claimed that Xi threatened to go to war if the Philippines exercised its economic rights in the South China Sea.[34] Current Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. deems the alleged agreement illegitimate since it was a “secret agreement” hidden from the public.[35] Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and National Security Advisor Eduardo Año denied agreeing to the PRC-alleged “new model” on May 5.[36] The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs also stated on May 5 that “no cabinet-level official of the administration has agreed to any Chinese proposal pertaining to Ayungin Shoal [Second Thomas Shoal].”[37]

The PRC announced that it will release an audio recording that it claims will prove that the Philippines had agreed to the terms of the secret deals. Bloomberg reported on May 7 that unspecified PRC officials are threatening to release audio of a purported call on January 3 with Philippine Western Command Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos to substantiate their allegations.[38] The PRC MFA declined to state on May 8 when the PRC would release the…



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