Translated by SC & PY
Media in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have recently reported that mainland airforce retired general Qiao Liang made controversial remarks about Taiwan, saying that the Taiwan issue “Can’t be taken lightly”, and that China’s focus on “national rejuvenation” was more important than “solving Taiwan question”. Qiao Liang is not a public figure known to support Taiwan. He is most known as a strategy expert who co-authored the military strategy book, Unrestricted Warfare with Wang Xiansui in 1999, and is widely seen as a hawkish of the Chinese military.
The debates surrounding Qiao Liang’s remarks began with his interview with Bauhinia magazine in May. In the interview, General Qiao discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on China, the US, and US-China relations. On one hand, he suggested that China should remain confident and play to its developmental strengths; on the other hand, he said underlying territorial questions of China should not be “over-emphasized to an extent in which they appear more important than other sovereignty issues”; he believed such over-emphasis may be harmful to China’s current political agenda. “Even if we want to contain Taiwan independence, we should consider alternatives to war.”
Republished on the website of the magazine, the interview attracted questions from a reader who criticized that his so-called suggestion of “not dancing to the rhythm of the Americans” is merely an excuse for not waging wars against Taiwan. The reader continued to criticize Qiao, stating that Qiao should admit publicly that China had abandoned the option of waging wars for national reunification. Surprisingly, the criticisms from the unnamed reader received replies from Qiao. In another article, Qiao stated in response,“No matter how much we have stressed repeatedly that it is an internal Chinese affair, the question of Taiwan remains a de-facto issue between the US and China.” Apart from reiterating his view that “national rejuvenation is more important than the Taiwan issue”, Qiao questioned if “those who urge for waging war against Taiwan immediately” had considered the possible cost and consequence of war.
On the other hand, Chu Jianguo, a professor at Wuhan University School of Politics and Public Administration who has been writing on China-US-Taiwan relations for the website Impressions of China and the United States, bluntly joined in the criticism of Qiao. He states that Qiao “has only the appearance of being a military hawk, making hardline commentary until a critical moment is reached and he turns soft” in his latest article. “Perhaps now, it is the time to deal with the Taiwan issue. If the opportunity to deal with Taiwan arises now and China does not seize it, then the inaction would be regarded as a historically irresponsible act which may put future generations in great trouble,” Chu wrote.
While Chu and Qiao both share an academic and military background, their views depart from one another on the Taipei Act in the United States. Qiao suggested in his interview with Bauhinia that the United States was merely “building up issues and creating trouble” amid national struggles like the epidemic and a weak economy. For Qiao, American positioning on Taiwan was an attempt to distract China from taking the right direction, so China should not “jump into the trap dug by Americans”. In contrast, Professor Chu responded that the US passing of the Taipei Act essentially sought to recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Chu denounced the US actions, calling it a “terrible incident in which a country passes legislation to openly divide the territory of another country”. Chu even argued that China should not start the second phase of the trade talks with the US if China fully understood the threat of Taiwanese legitimacy brought on by the Taipei Act.
Meanwhile, commentators suggested that the military and civilian voices represented by the two men were not that different. Reader “Blackjack” pointed out in his analysis that, on the surface, the two men held opposing views, but in reality, they were on the same page, as they both admitted in their writings that, as far as Taiwan’s public opinion is concerned, “cultural reunification” was no longer a viable choice, and “armed reunification” is the only possible way out.
What is even more at concern is that the two military experts agree to adding more pressure on Taiwan should be done, all while making aligned suggestions on what the Communist Party can do. China once proposed that it should move up the diplomatic ladder until it could tell the United States that “no military sales to Taiwan, no development of official relations, and no measures leading to Taiwan independence” should be made in exchange for a guarantee that China will maintain “peaceful reunification”; if the United States refuses, China can carry out “economic sanctions”, “blockades and embargoes”, or “beheading attacks on evil leaders”, as these options rest in the grey areas between peace and war. Qiao Liang pointed out in his interview with Bauhinia that there were options other than war. He also explained that they could take “non-war military actions”, which include a “moderate use of force”, and cited the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia and the killing of the commander of the Al-Quds Brigade in Iran as examples of “non-war military actions”.
In fact, military observers from around the world have pointed out that once there is a resurgence of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait, it may not be followed by hundreds of thousands of soldiers making a Normandy-like attack across the Strait, or a naval and air warfare similar to the Pearl Harbour Attack or the Midway Sea Battle. It is more likely that it would be in the form of a naval blockade, attacks on the outer islands or even a “beheading attack” on Taiwan’s military and political leaders. Moreover, the “unrestricted warfare” tactics that Qiao once suggested in his writings include cyber warfare, rumour warfare and financial warfare. These will almost certainly not be absent in case of a “unification war”.
To sum up, the recent comments surrounding Qiao Liang’s remarks should not simply be understood as a “hawkish general softening his words” or a “military expectation management” PR ploy. Instead, we should observe the situation carefully and see if the so-called debates between Qiao and other mainland commentators are in fact part of the “unrestricted warfare” aimed at paralyzing people’s minds and giving them the false impression that they can have a sigh of relief.