Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

PRC Views Taiwan’s Local Elections Results as Affirmation of its “Soft-Hard” Approach to Cross-Strait Relations

In response to the landslide defeat of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the island’s recently-concluded local elections, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO)—which is the state agency in charge of implementing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-directed policy towards Taiwan—heralded the election results that saw the opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) claim 15 of the 22 seats that were on the ballots. This is a significant increase from only six that the opposition party retained after the 2014 local elections—the non-party affiliated incumbent mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je, held his seat with a razor-thin margin in a race largely against the KMT opponent. In a press statement, the TAO called the overall election results a confirmation of the Taiwan people’s preference for the “peaceful development dividend” in cross-Strait relations and opposition to the so-called “independence activities” of President Tsai Ing-wen.

The ruling party lost nine seats that it held and now controls only six of 22 seats—a precipitous drop from 15 after 2014. In a development that some DPP members feared, the ruling party lost control of two important cities—most notably, it lost in its traditional stronghold in the south, Kaohsiung, and the central city of Taichung, which the DPP wrestled out from KMT control in 2014 in the “green wave” that swept the country following the student-led “sunflower movement” in the spring of 2014. Interestingly, the student protests back in 2014 were directed at the then KMT-led central government for concerns over its handling of cross-Strait relations; now, both Beijing and the KMT appear to be framing this “blue wave” elections as redemption of the former government’s more conciliatory policies towards China.

Perhaps the most important implication of the election results is on the PRC’s approach to cross-Strait relations, which, in the past two years, has been characterized by a significant increase of diplomatic, military, and political pressure as well as interference. China views its coercive measures as responses to Tsai’s “independence activities,” and the fact that voters in Taiwan voted for KMT candidates in the local elections may signal to Beijing that they agreed with the CCP—even if the issues in the local elections often do not involve cross-Strait issues. It should be noted that President Tsai has maintained a consistent policy of preserving the “status quo” while prioritizing substantial, if not incredibly difficult albeit controversial social and political reforms from the very outset of her administration, such as the pension reforms, labor reforms, same-sex marriage, economic restructuring, and transitional justice measures that have been met with a great deal of social and political angst and agitation.

According to the TAO statement, the election results were also a sign that economics was a motivating factor for the electoral defeat of the DPP. Indeed, according to the official-Xinhua News Agency, “the results reflected the strong will of the public in Taiwan in sharing the benefits of the peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait, and desires to improve the island’s economy and people’s wellbeing.” Earlier this year, Beijing announced a raft of incentives called the “31 Measures” meant to entice Taiwanese people and businesses with equal and sometimes even preferential treatment to work and set up shop in China.  

As the KMT nearly regained all the seats that it lost from 2014, Beijing has indicated that it is willing to engage in more city-to-city exchanges to promote cross-Strait relations on the basis of the so-called “1992 Consensus.” As noted by Jessica Drun in an article published in the Global Taiwan Brief, in reference to Beijing’s cool treatment towards city exchanges after the DPP gained control of many city and counties:

… [the CCP] by suggesting it may change its policies towards the city-level exchanges […] Beijing is signaling its willingness to threaten local exchanges that provide tangible benefits for the Taiwan electorate. This appears to be a part of Beijing’s concerted strategy of trying to demonstrate to Taiwan’s electorate that the Tsai administration is ill-equipped to handle cross-Strait relations, with direct implications for the economy and their livelihoods. […] Accordingly, it appears as if China’s broader cross-Strait policy is trickling down to the level of local exchanges.”

It seems clear that Beijing sees the city level exchanges, now firmly back in the control of the KMT, as channels to pressure the central government to compromise on the so-called “1992 Consensus” and the “One China Principle.” For instance, the newly elected mayor of Kaohsiung has already indicated that he endorsed the “1992 Consensus” and will immediately set up a “cross-Strait working group” to engage China.

Beijing views the election results as a validation of its dual-handed “soft-hard” approach of coercion and enticement. The CCP will likely feel emboldened by the results of the local elections, which it sees as affirmation that its tactics are working and consequently, there will likely be an intensification of CCP’s influence operations over the next two years as Taiwan’s general elections are scheduled to take place in 2020. Rather than compromise on the so-called “1992 Consensus” or the “One China Principle,” President Tsai will likely take a tougher stance against Beijing. It should be noted that for the first two years of her administration, she has repeatedly fended off pressure from within her own base of supporters to take a harder line against Beijing’s unrelenting pressure campaign.

Beijing has shown its hand in the 2018 local elections and the race for the 2020 elections has already begun. While Beijing may well feel confident about its playbook, the Tsai government is not without counter-measures—the confluence of these factors will likely result in a rockier cross-Strait relations in the two years to come.

The main point: Beijing views the local election results as a Taiwanese voters repudiation of the Tsai’s so-called “independence activities” and affirmation of its soft-hard approach of economic incentives and political pressure. Beijing will almost certainly intensify these activities over the next two years leading to the 2020 general elections.

PLA Conducted Amphibious Exercises in East China Sea Ahead of Taiwan’s 2018 Local Elections?

At a proximate but undisclosed timeframe before Taiwan’s local elections on November 24, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) reportedly conducted a low-profile military exercise in the East China Sea that flew underneath the radar screen of most international media outlets and observers. PLAN vessels from the Eastern Theater Command, which jointly shares responsibility for a Taiwan contingency with the Southern Theater Command, may have carried out a naval exercise that included air, sea, and amphibious live-fire exercises. According to several media reports in Taiwan, the types of naval vessels that participated in the exercise included the Type 071 amphibious transport dock Yimengshan (沂蒙山), the Type 071 LPD amphibious ship Longhushan (龍虎山), the indigenously produced Type 726 landing craft “Wild Horse” (野馬), and the Russian-made KA-31 (卡-31) early warning helicopter. As of this writing, the exercise has not been confirmed by official sources.

According to an article published in the Taiwan-based China Times on November 19, the Yimengshan and other vessels from the PLA’s 5th amphibious unit reportedly departed from the Shanghai naval base at Qiujiang Wharf (虯江碼頭) for the exercise that was held in an undisclosed location in the East China Sea. The exercise purportedly included artillery fires against on-shore targets, the use of the phalanx weapon system, and simulated ship-borne jamming against incoming missiles. In addition, the Type 726 landing craft and the Changhe Z-8 helicopter were also deployed for day and night take-off and landing training. Taiwan media reports speculated that the Type 071 LPD Longhushan, which was put in service just in September of this year and in the same amphibious unit as the Yimengshan, may also have participated in the exercise.

If true, this would be the first known exercise of the Longhushan. Earlier this year, the Jianxi province’s Yingtan Civil Affairs Bureau (鷹潭市民政局) released a “Notice on the Public Collection of the Navy’s Longhushan Ships’ Songs” (關於公開徵集海軍龍虎山艦艦歌的通知), which confirmed that the name of the 071 Type 5 ship that was then thought still to be under construction was named “Longhushan.” In addition, the Notice stated that “Longhushan” is a Type 071 amphibious docking ship with a length of 210 meters, a width of 28 meters, and a maximum displacement of 29,000 tons.

Type 071 amphibious warfare ships can reportedly carry four indigenously-produced Type 726 landing craft air cushion (LCAC) with each LCAC capable of transporting one ZTZ-96G battle tank or one Type 15 main battle tank or two ZBD-05 amphibious infantry fighting vehicle, or 80 soldiers, and can reportedly land on more than 70 percent of all beachheads. At present, there are five Type 071 amphibious warfare ships in the PLA and both the Yimengshan and Longhushan are deployed in the Eastern Theater Command. According to a Chinese military expert cited by the CCP-affiliated Global Times, “China is developing Type 071 ships to meet requirements of possible wars involved with islands in the future, which could help it gain advantages in solving disputes on islands as well as questions involved with Taiwan.” The Type 071 can work with Type 075 amphibious assault ships and help the navy win control of the air during landing operations, the military expert noted.

From an operational perspective it appears that the PLA’s low-key exercise may be intended to demonstrate the advances made by the Chinese military in its amphibious force. As the Department of Defense in the “2018 China Military Report” assessed:

China’s amphibious ship fleet, however, has in recent years focused on acquiring a small number of LPDs [landing platform/dock], indicating a near-term focus on smaller scale expeditionary missions rather than a large number of LSTs [landing ship, tank] and medium landing craft that would be necessary for a large-scale direct beach assault. There is also no indication that China is significantly expanding its landing ship force at this time—suggesting that a direct beach assault operation requiring extensive lift is less likely in planning.

While the Chinese-made LCAC also appeared in the military exercise, some military commentators pointed out that the most noteworthy feature in the exercise was in fact the KA-31 early warning helicopter that took off and landed on the Type 071 amphibious ships. Photographs released by the Chinese military network reportedly showed the Yimengshan deployed with two KA-31 early warning helicopters. According to the number of two-four helicopters of the 071 type amphibious ship, the Yimengshan may have the capacity to be equipped with two KA-31 and two Changhe Z-8AEW (直-8AEW). With a maximum detection range of 180 km, the KA-31 can reportedly track 150-200 targets simultaneously. Although the radar antenna cannot perform 360-degree panoramic detection, if it is coordinated by two machines, it can undertake all-round warning within the detection range.

In the immediate months leading up to Taiwan’s elections, PLA exercises and military propaganda directed against Taiwan appear to have lowered in intensity. This followed a significant ramp up of PLA exercises around Taiwan since 2016. The decrease in intensity may have been purposeful to avoid the appearance of vertly interfering with Taiwan’s elections. Interestingly, there were no reports about the exercise in the PLA Daily’s Chinese website. Despite the low-profile nature of this reported exercise, it still has implications for Taiwan. It is worth noting that the Yimengshan and other ships from the fifth amphibious unit are the frontline units of the PLA to land heavy armored vehicles in a Taiwan amphibious invasion scenario. Given the uncharacteristically low-profile nature of the exercise, the targeted approach may have been intended to send a subtle but direct signal to Taiwan in the lead up to the election, but not stir-up public concerns, especially from the United States, during sensitive security talks.

The main point: The Chinese military reportedly conducted a low-profile military exercise in the East China Sea with amphibious warfare ships that flew underneath the radar screen of most international media outlets a week before Taiwan’s midterm elections.

Taiwan Launches National Communications and Cyber Security Center (NCCSC) to Enhance Communications Reliability and Cyber Security

Taiwan officially launched the National Communications and Cyber Security Center (NCCSC, 國家通訊暨網際安全中心) under the independent government agency that oversees the country’s communications sector, the National Communications Commission (NCC, 國家通訊傳播委員會). At the new Center’s launch ceremony on November 15, which was attended by President Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president heralded the creation of the NCCSC as “a landmark” development for the country’s information security and called it “the first line of defense for national security.” In a press release announcing the creation of the NCCSC, the NCC stated that in the face of complex, persistent, and evolving security threats in cyberspace, the government needed to establish a national-level agency to improve the reliability of communication networks and ensure information security.

According to the NCC’s press release, the new Center is tasked with five major tasks: (1) collecting incident reports on network intrusions and cyber attacks reported by communication carrier and other enterprises, and determining whether networks are normally operating; (2) assessing the severity of the network disruption and the information security incidents; (3) promptly providing disaster prevention and control personnel to respond to emergency repairs of network equipment, such as submarine cable breaks [1], mobile communication network disruption, and other equipment disruptions; (4) providing information security personnel to supervise operators responding to information security incidents, such as cyber attacks, hacking, and other security incidents; and (5) making publicly available information regarding the causes for information security incidents, attack patterns and techniques, and management suggestions, and sharing the information with the proper authorities.

The function and purpose of the NCCSC is to strengthen disaster response by communications carrier, information security protection, and monitoring networks in the communication industry to ensure uninterrupted communication. An estimated total of 109 communication carriers will reportedly join in public-private partnership to strengthen early warning, enhance survivability, notification and coordination of the communication and communication industry in 2020, ensuring “continuous operation” of the communication network, the transmission of Life Line, and the normal operation of the country.

The NCCSC has set as its objective to comprehensively oversee network operations for mobile communications, satellite communications, submarine communications, fixed communications, DNS domains, and cable TV in an effort to establish advance warning for network disruption of critical infrastructure (CI), response, and recovery. The NCCSC has also reportedly established a critical information infrastructure (CII) security protection system to enhance the collection of network disruption during disaster response, security protection, and operation.

The NCC—equivalent to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—is an independent statutory agency of the Executive Yuan “responsible for regulating the development of the communications and information industry, promoting competition, consumer protection, licensing, radio frequency, spectrum, broadcasting, content regulation, communications standards and specifications in Taiwan.” Similar to the newly launched NCCSC, the FCC includes the Cybersecurity and Communications Reliability Division and coordinates the public-private voluntary-standard setting mechanism through the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC). The mission of the CSRIC is to make recommendations to the Commission to promote the security, reliability, and resiliency of the Nation’s communications systems.

The government agencies now responsible for the country’s private communication networks include the National Security Council, the Cybersecurity Department of the Executive Yuan and the NCCSC. In her speech at the opening ceremony, President Tsai said that she hoped that there will be a clear division of labor, but also effective coordination to strengthen vertical and horizontal integration. By improving information security, “we [Taiwan] can reinforce digital governance, improve the digital economy, and push for industrial transformation,” said President Tsai, while calling for collaborative efforts between the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and the government. Finally, President Tsai said that information security is the most important project in national governance and national security, and “we don’t have much time to do it.”

The main point: The newly established National Communications and Cyber Security Center under the National Communications Commission will help strengthen and encourage public-private partnerships in ensuring communications reliability and cybersecurity in Taiwan’s communication networks.

[1] There are 11 submarine cables connecting to four cable landing points on Taiwan. These submarine cables and the landing stations are integral components of the regional communications infrastructure. Taiwan’s location along the midpoint of the Asia-Pacific region can help to reduce latency between East and Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the island’s close proximity to the bottlenecks makes it the ideal caretaker for the cables.