Strategic Theory and Xi Jinping’s Taiwan Test

Lauren Dickey

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Abstract:  Whether or not Xi Jinping will pursue reunification with Taiwan presents a serious challenge for scholars and policy practitioners alike. But is reunification still an option, or is Xi’s pursuit of this steadfast goal of the Communist Party too little, too late? This paper will utilise strategic theory—a set of purposive assumptions delineated in the work of Thomas Schelling—to examine how the concepts, resources, and objectives of Chinese strategy toward Taiwan align with the objective of reunification. Building on the notion of a “limited war” in the contemporary cross-Strait relationship, this paper acknowledges Beijing’s ability for heavy-handed military punishment of a Taiwan that seeks independence, but focuses instead on how Beijing has utilised available strategic tools to increase the risk of all-out war. This paper will argue that it is Beijing’s ability (or inability) to manipulate perceptions of risk that impact progress toward the objective of reunification. The paper begins with an overview of strategic theory, and its core assumptions and critiques, before elucidating four elements of strategic tradition in the cross-Strait relationship: legal, political, geoeconomic, and military. It then evaluates, both individually and collectively, the efficacy of each instrument within Chinese strategy toward Taiwan.

Keywords:  Cross-Strait relations; Xi Jinping; Chinese strategy; strategic theory.