Fears for Taiwan as China lays groundwork for its own ‘special military operation’

Xi Jinping - AP
Xi Jinping - AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping has signed a directive allowing for “non-war” uses of the military - raising concerns it could pave the way for an invasion of Taiwan that would be labelled a “special military operation” instead of a war, just as Russia has done in Ukraine.

The directive, which comes into effect on Wednesday, provides “the legal basis for troops to carry out military operations other than war”, state media reported.

Xinhua news agency did not publish the order in full but said the document aims to maintain “national sovereignty ... regional stability and regulating the organization and implementation of non-war military operations” alongside objectives such as providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid abroad.

The move comes amid heightened tensions with Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that China sees as a breakaway province. China’s ruling Communist Party has never governed Taiwan, but Mr Xi, who is seeking an unprecedented third term in office, has made China’s stated “re-unification” with Taiwan part of his public mission.

The military directive “has political implication toward Taiwan,” said Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing.

“The reunification with Taiwan is one of the basics of why Xi will go on to a third term,” he said, adding that the directive is the latest step in China’s effort to outline what its strategy will be on Taiwan during Mr Xi’s third term in office.

Although the Taiwanese government says it has seen no signs of an impending invasion, China has flown warplanes near the island almost daily for the past few months and China’s defence minister Wei Fenghe said recently that Beijing would “not hesitate to start a war” if Taiwan declared independence.

Tensions have also flared against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and following US officials’ conflicting statements about the role Washington would play in a potential conflict.

US President Joe Biden last month appeared to break decades of policy tradition when he said that Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked by China. But the White House has since said its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would intervene had not changed.