H.E. The Hon. Dr Kevin Rudd AC
Australian Ambassador to the United States
Address to the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies

6 June 2024
Honolulu, Hawaii

Prepared for delivery

On this the 80th anniversary of D-Day, as we honour the greatest generation, let us all acknowledge afresh the price of freedom everywhere.

In the Atlantic.

In the Pacific. 

And here is Hawaii, now the home of Indo-Pacific Command, where freedom’s price has also been paid in the greatest of measures. 

The price of freedom remains eternal vigilance. 

Just as the price of freedom remains continuing deterrence. 

The United States, China and Taiwan have a deep and common interest in avoiding open military confrontation on the future of Taiwan – which The Economist described recently, accurately in my view, as the most dangerous place on earth. 

That is because the risks of the general escalation of any such confrontation into an all-out war over the future of the island are very great indeed.

Furthermore, the economic costs, domestic political impacts, and unknowable geo-strategic consequences that such a war would generate would likely be of an order of magnitude that we have not seen since the Second World War. 

In other words, whatever the outcome (an American victory, a Chinese victory, or a bloody stalemate), the world is likely to become a radically different place after such a war than it was before. 

And that of itself should induce great caution on the part of all strategic decision-makers.

That is why two years ago before going back into government, I wrote a book entitled “The Avoidable War”.

It’s why, in large part, I accepted our Prime Minister’s invitation to come to Washington last year as Australian Ambassador, to make a small contribution to the big challenges we all now face. 

I also acknowledge the important work done by analysts here in Honolulu, in DC, and around the world, both in and out of government, on the Taiwan challenge. 

Much of our collective focus has been on how to deter China from launching a full-scale military invasion to take Taiwan by force.

There has been less attention, however, on the question of what the literature now generally refers to as “scenarios short of war”, their cumulative impact on our common objective of preserving the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, and the role of deterrence in responding to that – including deterring escalation.

What follows are some personal reflections on this important question for us all, doing so in my capacity as a China scholar and not as an official representative of the Australian Government.


Underlying US, Chinese, and Taiwanese Interests 

While all three parties (the US, China, and Taiwan) might share a common interest in avoiding a catastrophic war over Taiwan, the underlying reality is that each is driven by different interests on how to achieve this within the framework of their wider national objectives. 

The US

For the US, its core national interest lies in the retention of its global strategic primacy – militarily, economically, and technologically. 

It also seeks to remain at the fulcrum of the global political, economic, and wider international system. 

In doing so, the US seeks explicitly to respond to what it identifies as the ‘pacing challenge and most consequential strategic competitor’, both regionally and globally, that is China.

It also seeks more broadly to maintain the efficacy of the US-led international rules-based order, particularly when challenged by fundamental assaults on that order such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as other threats to peace, stability, and security, such as we currently see in the Middle East. 

Furthermore, there is a growing recognition across the United States Administration that the US can no longer sustain the rules-based global framework that upholds its interests alone: that it must increasingly do so in partnership with its treaty allies and other strategic partners around the world. 

Specifically applied to Taiwan, the US is committed to retaining the status quo. For the US, this is anchored in its three communiques with Beijing; the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which guarantees US arms sales to the island to secure its long-term defence; and the so-called “six  assurances” from the United States when President Reagan reaffirmed to Taipei that this Act would not change; that there would be no end date for these arms sales; that the PRC would not be consulted on them; that the US would not seek to play a role in any mediation effort between the PRC and Taiwan; that there would be no change in the US’ position over Taiwan; and that the US would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.

More particularly, the US does not support an independent Taiwan, while maintaining a posture of “strategic ambiguity” on the question of whether or not it would militarily defend Taiwan, in order to encourage restraint on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. 

At the same time, the US recognises that if China successfully militarily annexed Taiwan, it would have an immediate, profound, and potentially irreversible effect on the perceived reliability of US alliances worldwide, together with the wider political credibility of the United States as a future global actor.

These are the underlying reasons why for the United States, the psychology and physical machinery of military deterrence, and the military and industrial capacity to fight and win a war initiated by China across the Taiwan Straits if deterrence was to fail, with both these elements underpinned by the political will to do so, is fundamental to future strategic stability. 

These are the essential elements of an effective deterrence strategy.

Operationalising these represents the day-to-day challenge confronting America’s political, strategic, and military leadership.

These are lonely, difficult, and conceptually challenging jobs. 

They are materially relevant to all US allies and strategic partners, irrespective of their geography, given the global consequences that are at stake, therefore requiring our collective engagement. 

Just as they remain critical for the wider international community, given their collective interest in sustaining regional and global strategic stability in a world which has long forgotten what it would be like to navigate and survive a genuinely global war.

Effective deterrence, therefore, remains essential business for us all in preserving our precarious peace.


As for Taiwan, as a new and vibrant democracy where much remains politically contested, it is sometimes difficult for Taipei to define with precision its own core and continuing interests. 

However, at least over the past decade or so, despite all the sound and fury of Taiwanese domestic politics, a number of common principles emerge from the political noise. 

First, the Taiwanese people have now on three successive occasions voted for a government which rejects political unification with the mainland. 

Second, when we look at Taiwan’s three major political parties, while some are more ambiguous than others, none of them now advocate a specific model for unification. 

Third, Taiwan’s governing party, the historically pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has now embraced a policy committed to maintaining the status quo on Taiwan’s current political status: i.e. no longer moving toward any form of de jure independence, while at the same time rejecting any form of political unity with the mainland, claiming that in reality Taiwan effectively operates already as an independent entity. 

Fourth, Taiwanese public opinion polls also now overwhelmingly support maintaining the status quo – 91 per cent in a poll last year – rejecting both the extreme positions of independence on the one hand or unification on the other, whatever their preferences may be for Taiwanese domestic politics, and whatever type of economy, society, and environment they may want on the home front. 

And finally, Taiwanese opinion polls, particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, indicate a rising public commitment to defend Taiwan if attacked, hovering between 65 and 75 per cent of the population in recent years – higher than that of Ukraine before Russia attacked[1]

At the same time, polls in the last year show most Taiwanese are still sceptical as to whether China would ever attack (although less sceptical since Ukraine), as well as having a divided view on whether the US would in the end come to Taiwan’s military aid in that event, with only 50 per cent believing the US would militarily intervene[2].

All these factors have given rise to the Taiwanese administration’s decision to begin the process of increasing its defence budget after decades of attrition, modernising its military capabilities and reforming its military doctrine to deal with the possibility of unilateral Chinese military action, including reintroducing military conscription, enhancing its cyber defence and wider economic resilience, and rebuilding Taiwan’s civil defence.

Taken together, these point to Taipei seeking to avoid Chinese red lines on its future political status, while at the same time recognising that this of itself will be insufficient for Beijing’s demand to see substantive progress on unification, hence Taiwan’s belated recognition of the need to build its own national deterrence capabilities, although not as rapidly as the US would like.


Xi Jinping, of course, rejects Taiwan’s approach, as recently articulated in his hardline political and military response to President Lai’s inauguration on 20 May. 

It’s important, however, to remember that apart from unification with Taiwan, Xi also has a large number of other major national objectives he needs to prosecute, although we would be foolish to diminish the significance he attaches to his unification project. 

Xi’s wider priorities include:

  • The political durability of his own regime and his own personal hold on power with a now slowing economy;
  • Maintaining overall national unity against the wider forces of separatism;
  • Continuing to grow the economy while maintaining ideological and political control over the private sector;
  • Reducing environmental damage, pollution, and climate change, given their impact on the underlying social contract;
  • Expanding and modernising the Chinese military to meet multiple future contingencies, not just Taiwan;
  • Managing China’s 14 neighbouring states to make them politically compliant and economically dependent on Beijing;
  • Extending China’s maritime periphery to the east to push the United States back to the third island chain if they can;
  • Extending China’s continental periphery to its west to maintain a benign relationship with Russia, Central Asia, and Central Europe where China would be the dominant power;
  • Leveraging the Belt and Road and other such initiatives to entrench Chinese trade, investment, and foreign policy power and influence across the Global South; and
  • With the support of the  Global South, reform the norms, values, and institutions of the international system in a direction more compatible with Chinese interests and values -  in a manner which seeks to invalidate the role of US alliance structures in global security, to legitimise a new form of a state capitalist development model, and to undermine the idea of universal civil and political rights as defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration in favour of culture-specific rights that do not challenge the power of the state. 

Xi’s Taiwan strategy is anchored within several of these core interests, but not in all of them.

Xi has nonetheless been relatively plain about his intentions on Taiwan.

He has stated clearly that what he describes as “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” cannot be achieved without unification with Taiwan. 

He has also said that national rejuvenation is to be achieved by 2049, which means that, at least according to Xi Jinping, we are all now on a 25-year glide path.

In 2015, he launched a military reform and modernisation campaign to make the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by 2027 into a world class fighting force capable of “fighting and winning wars” – with a new set of Taiwan-focused military regions, a new capacity for joint operations, and a new, fully “informationised” warfare doctrine. 

Since 2022, China has also changed its longstanding military exercise patterns so that PLA airforce violations of the median line in the Taiwan Straits and Taiwan’s claimed air defence identification zone have now become more routine and more numerous, together with repeated naval drills around the north, south, west and, in a new development, to the east of the island. 

Then there is the question of China’s “gray zone” activities against Taiwanese offshore islands, their surrounding seas and maritime assets, where China is using its coastguard against Taiwanese vessels, impeding the operational space for the Taiwanese coastguard, and incrementally asserting its sovereignty claims.

Xi has made plain that he would prefer to secure Taiwan’s unification by a combination of peaceful political means, reinforced by economic rewards and punishments, and a relentless campaign of political, economic, and diplomatic pressure. 

But if this approach fails, as is likely given the underlying condition of Taiwanese public and political opinion, Xi has made it clear that the military option would still be on the table to unify Taiwan by force.

In other words, Xi’s Taiwan strategy is relatively clear, although his more detailed timetable of course is not. 

This is where we are all left to speculate.

On this, we would be unwise to ignore the question of Xi’s own sense of personal and political mortality as someone who turns 71-years-old this month. 

Indeed, it is not unreasonable to assume that if Xi wishes to emulate Mao by achieving final national unification while he is still active in political office, then he is more likely to seek to do so in the decade ahead – i.e. before he finds himself in his 80s. 

Xi’s political rhetoric directed towards Taiwan has also subtly changed over his first decade in office. 

The high point was the 2015 meeting in Singapore between Xi and then-Taiwan President Ma, when Xi stressed only the so-called 1992 Consensus as the basis for progress on unification.

Now Xi insists that Taiwan’s leaders explicitly accept Beijing’s one-China principle and ‘one country; two systems’. 

Furthermore, while China has always decried Taiwanese independence, Xi has expanded the definition of what that means, by now saying that China will not tolerate ‘incremental independence’ (渐进台独). 

On top of these subtle rhetorical shifts, China’s military posture has also changed. 

Indeed, we would be foolish to ignore the increasing clarity of China’s military signalling, including the pattern of its most recent military exercises, Joint Sword 2024A, following the May inauguration. 

The fact that this exercise was called ‘A’ also suggests that China intends more like it in the year ahead.

Joint Sword 2024A was designed to simulate a blockade of the island and, according to Beijing, “to punish” the Taiwanese for their democratic choice in their elections. 

It built on two earlier exercises: Joint Sword, the exercise that followed former President Tsai Ing-wen’s April 2023 transit of the United States; and the unnamed military exercises that followed then-US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 visit to Taiwan, which was the first time the PLA practiced encirclement drills around Taiwan. 

Both the 2022 and 2023 exercises simulated a blockade and also included live-fire components designed to simulate an attack and invasion.

Xi Jinping’s accumulating military capacity and his political intentionality to take Taiwan by force, if he judges he can, is therefore relatively clear. 

But it is equally clear that Xi would prefer to achieve his political objective by non-military means. 

What remains unclear is how much Xi’s overall risk calculus is determined by what he perceives to be the deterrent effect, war-fighting capabilities, and political intentionalities of the US, Taiwan, and US allies.

As I have written before, while Xi Jinping might be a risk taker, he is a calculated risk taker, rather than a reckless risk taker. 

That is why a central question for our time, if we are to avoid war across the Taiwan Straits, is to understand how Xi Jinping actually interprets the deterrence strategies of the US, Taiwan itself, and US allies and strategic partners.

Second, what, therefore, constitutes the optimal content of what the US now calls its overarching strategy of integrated deterrence towards Taiwan. 

And third, how these combined considerations play out in Xi’s overall calculus given the range of other national interests he is also required to calibrate. 


Defining Integrated Deterrence 

In April this year I sought, in a lecture at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, to define what is meant by this broad framework of integrated deterrence. 

In my Annapolis lecture, I listed the various components of an effective integrated deterrence strategy. 

Each is complex in its own right. 

Together, however, they constitute a strategy. 

These were:

  • Clarity in communication to the Chinese leadership that neither the US nor Taiwan have any interest in changing the status quo in terms of Taiwan’s international political personality, thereby avoiding long-standing Chinese red lines on independence. This should be accompanied by a parallel clarity of communication that the US and its allies have no interest in changing the political status quo in China itself, notwithstanding China’s Marxist-Leninist political system, as this is a matter for the Chinese people alone. This represents a broader red line for Beijing, although not directly linked to Taiwan.
  • Second, the capacity of the Taiwanese administration, military, and civilian population to fight, to degrade an incoming Chinese force in the air-sea gap, to retard its advance on the island itself, and mindful of Ukrainian precedents, to retain political control, all in order to provide an effective first line of deterrence;
  • Third, the power and predominance of the US military across all five war-fighting domains to convey an effective deterrent message to Beijing over Taiwan (and, for deterrence to be credible, the US military’s capacity to fight and win if deterrence fails);
  • Fourth, the political will of any future United States administration and Congress to use its military for these purposes;
  • Fifth, the particular role of nuclear deterrence, particularly given China’s decision to expand its force and to potentially abandon its long-standing doctrine of non-first use;
  • Sixth, the financial, economic, trade, investment, and US dollar dimensions of integrated deterrence and the capacity of these to impose both perceived and actual costs on the Chinese system in the event of unilateral military action;
  • Seventh, the rapidly unfolding technological dimension of deterrence, particularly in AI, and its impact on an increasingly integrated civilian and military battle space;
  • Eighth, the foreign policy aspects of deterrence in the eyes of the rest of the international community, particularly given the potential human and economic cost of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan, and its impact on international public opinion, including the Global South;
  • Ninth, the role of US allies and strategic partners in the operationalisation of integrated deterrence; and
  • Finally, and parallel to the overall deterrence equation, is how Xi Jinping views each of these elements, and how he assesses them both in aggregate, and in the context of his other national priorities. In this, we also need to be particularly mindful of not simply “mirror imaging” the CCP by automatically projecting onto the Chinese leadership what we assume should (and therefore would) be Beijing’s response to a given set of deterrent actions, rather than what those reactions would actually look like in practice. This is arguably the hardest part of effective deterrence, but it is by no means impossible to make judgements about. 

Here in Honolulu, the home of Indo-Pacific Command, I hope to look at the first of these elements – namely the extent to which we can assess whether Taiwanese and American assurances on Taiwan’s political status are having any moderating or deterrent effect on China’s posture towards the island. 

If not, what strategy is China now embarking upon, short of preparation for an actual invasion, to achieve its political objectives in relation to Taiwan?

And what is the role of deterrence in responding to such a strategy?


The Meaning of “Maintaining the Status Quo”

The key to Beijing’s red line on Taiwan’s political status is China’s fear that Taiwan will become an independent state, and be effectively recognised as such by the international community, thereby destroying the possibility of unification with the Mainland. 

This in turn is based on Beijing’s insistence that any political dialogue between Taiwan and the Mainland must be based on the so-called “1992 Consensus” – an ambiguous arrangement with a complex textural history, broadly based on the principle of “one China”, albeit with differing interpretations of what that means to each side.

Because the DPP, unlike the KMT, remain opposed to the ‘one China’ element within the 1992 Consensus, Beijing has rejected all official dialogue with the Taiwanese administration since 2016. 

The DPP’s 1999 Resolution on the Future of Taiwan and subsequent statements said that Taiwan was already independent and so it had no need formally to declare it. 

President Tsai Ing-wen took this concept further – continuing to reject the 1992 consensus, while now conceptualising the DPP position on Taiwan’s status as one committed to “maintaining the status quo”. 

This position has been sustained by President William Lai in his 20 May inauguration speech. For those of us who seek stability across the Taiwan Strait, that is welcome. It stays well within China’s formal red line.

But at a different level, Beijing has made plain to foreign interlocutors that avoiding a formal act of independence is not sufficient. 

What is necessary in Beijing’s view is progress towards unification through negotiations based on Xi’s re-articulation of the 1992 Consensus precondition for such negotiations to take place. 

Or as other Chinese government representatives have made plain, maintaining the status quo might sound acceptable to the United States, but it is unacceptable to Beijing as China perceives Taiwan’s ongoing and growing autonomy to be intolerable. 

In other words, far from being relieved that the DPP some time ago stepped back from the brink of any formal declaration of independence, Beijing is signalling loud and clear that its political objective remains to force Taiwan into negotiations on its preferred “one country-two systems” model that it has used for Hong Kong. 

It is important that the international community understands that while William Lai has uttered the magic words “maintain the status quo” and has also made reference to the “Republic of China Constitution” as the underpinning legal framework for his presidency (of itself, also important from Beijing’s “one-China” policy perspective), these do not alone satisfy the PRC. 

Indeed, given the continuing impasse over the 1992 Consensus, Beijing will conclude that Taiwanese self-perceptions of its autonomous status and international perceptions of the same will become irrevocably entrenched. 

If this is so, and now that Beijing’s main hope, the KMT, has lost yet another election, and as time, from China’s perspective, begins to run out, we are beginning to see a change in Chinese strategy towards what it defines as the “Taiwan problem”. 

That does not necessarily mean preparation for an imminent invasion, given the extraordinary risks that such action would entail, although such contingencies can never be ruled out.

Rather it’s more likely to explain the growing recourse to a multi-dimensional “gray zone” strategy over the past 18-months or more, aimed at applying new forms of pressure on Taiwanese and international public opinion to force Taipei to the negotiating table. 


Is China Now Changing its Strategy on Taiwan

For these reasons, we should not assume that China is somehow locked into a static strategy on Taiwan. 

Indeed, the evidence suggests that while China’s strategic objective is constant, its tactical approach is increasingly dynamic.

And this explains in part the recent and rapid increase in multidimensional gray zone pressure being applied to Taiwan. 

This also appears to be the assessment of William Lai who stated in his inauguration address that “China’s military actions and gray-zone coercion are considered the greatest strategic challenges to global peace and stability.”

Importantly, there is nothing preventing an accelerating, multi-dimensional “gray zone strategy” from folding into a broader blockade or even military invasion if gray zone measures fail to procure their desired political end-state in Taiwan itself. 

In an important article by two of America’s foremost China-Taiwan analysts, Jude Blanchette and Bonnie Glaser, a “gray zone” is defined as the “contested arena that lies between routine statecraft and open warfare,” in which an actor probes for advantage and gains without “crossing a threshold that results in open war.” 

Blanchette and Glaser go on to argue that “the simplest way to conceptualise it is as a political strategy that seeks economic, military, diplomatic, or political gains without eliciting a costly and direct response from an opponent.”

There are also other related terms of art in this area, such as measures “Short of War” as used recently by a landmark study on China and Taiwan by a team led by Dan Blumenthal from the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute of War Studies.

All three authors point to an emerging combination of political, military, diplomatic, economic, and cyber measures where the objective is to achieve a psychological, attitudinal and then behavioural change on the part of Taiwanese public and political opinion. 

According to the authors, these include intensifying political assaults by Beijing to de-legitimise Taiwanese political leaders opposed to unification.

They include intensifying naval, air, coast guard, and other intrusions across the median line, Taiwan’s 24-mile contiguous zone and in and around Taiwan’s offshore islands to demonstrate that the Taiwanese administration, in the eyes of its people, is increasingly incapable of managing Taiwan’s claim to sovereignty. 

They embrace punitive economic measures (well short of a blockade) aimed at impeding Taiwanese trade, investment and other national income, all in cost-of-living sensitive areas, in order to demonstrate to the broader, more a-political Taiwanese voting public their vulnerability to coercive measures of this type. 

During her own recent tenure, President Tsai Ing-wen already pointed to mounting cyber intrusions into Taiwan’s economic and communications infrastructure, again with the intention of demonstrating to the Taiwanese people their acute vulnerability to systems collapse against an integrated cyber attack. 

Diplomatically, China’s existing and successful approach of rapidly reducing the number of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners around the world (from 21 to 12 in eight years) will continue. 

As will Beijing’s vigilance in seeking to reduce Taiwan’s international space, including its involvement in multilateral forums such as the World Health Assembly. 

A further example of this strategy of political and diplomatic isolation is China’s efforts since its 2022 Taiwan White paper to increasingly conflate its one-China principle with UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 of 1971. This is the resolution which switched the PRC’s accession to the China seat at the UN in place of what the UN then described as ‘the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek’ – although the resolution made no explicit reference to Taiwan’s status, or indeed the Republic of China on Taiwan. 

China is therefore seeking to use Resolution 2758 to resolve for itself and for all time the international legal status of Taiwan as being “part of China”, consistent with Beijing’s interpretation of its “one China principle”. 

Given China’s growing political constituency across the Global South, the UN is providing a useful forum for Beijing to leverage this argument more widely across the international community. 

Indeed, China’s Defence Minister again made reference to this in his remarks to the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore last week.

This is generating new momentum in China’s efforts to constrain Taiwan’s ability to engage other multilateral institutions, as well as its ability to expand its bilateral engagements with other states. 

Its wider purpose appears to be to advance a broader claim in international law that because Taiwan is part of China, Beijing can therefore use any range of measures in the future to respond to what it might define as secessionist or insurrectionist activities. 

Beyond these growing challenges to Taiwan’s political status, Blanchette and Glaser also point to targeted disinformation and psychological warfare campaigns aimed at the US-Taiwan relationship in particular. They refer to the following as examples: 

“Chinese spokesperson Zhu Fenglian claimed that the United States was preparing to “abandon” Taiwan after turning it into a “minefield” and “ammunition depot.” Still another narrative held that the United States is seeking to provoke a war in the Taiwan Strait in order to protect its regional influence from growing Chinese power, and that Taiwan should be wary of becoming America’s cannon fodder…. This messaging campaign is facilitating the spread of “American skepticism” (疑美论) and an accompanying decline in belief that the United States would come to Taiwan’s defence, as measured in a number of recent Taiwan polls.”

For those of us who have followed Chinese “short of war” or “gray zone” strategies in both the South and East China Seas, there are some similarities in approach.

Japan has seen this with the intensity of PLA Airforce sorties around Senkaku-Diaoyudao. 

We have also seen China assert non-lethal coercive actions in relation to the Second Thomas Shoal and the Philippines. 

With Taiwan, however, there appears to be a growing intensity across the full range of “gray zone” activities. 


The Role of Deterrence 

The question for the international community is how to respond to this rapidly unfolding change in China’s Taiwan strategy. 

China’s “gray zone” measures are likely to intensify beyond those which we have seen so far, given the recent re-election of the DPP. 

That is not to say that China has somehow suspended its efforts to build the military capabilities necessary to take Taiwan in the future by using overwhelming military force if it chose to. Those efforts continue. 

But there is no incompatibility between these two approaches from China’s perspective. China’s political strategy for unification with Taiwan has always had a military component.

Indeed, these two approaches are entirely compatible if the cumulative effect of a sustained, multi-dimensional gray zone campaign against Taiwan is to reduce Taipei’s deterrence and war fighting capabilities, as well as its political, social and economic resilience, which is also a core part of the overall deterrence equation. 

In terms of a wider strategy of integrated deterrence on the part of the US and its allies, our common aim is preserving the status quo across the Taiwan Strait as part of a wider objective of sustaining long-term strategic stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Deterring China from launching military action against Taiwan is the cornerstone of this strategy. 

The question that therefore arises for all of us is where to locate, within this wider framework of integrated deterrence, China’s emerging menu of strategic measures that remain “short of war” and “short of invasion” but which share the same political objective, which is to force Taipei to capitulate? 

The AEI/IWS report of April 2024 offers one detailed study of the emerging shape of what it describes as China’s possible “course of action” for the four years ahead, leading up to the 2028 Taiwanese elections as the next major political inflexion point. 

The study also points to a range of policy recommendations for the US, Taiwan, and others in response to such a strategy, as well as how to deter the further intensification of this strategy, by drawing a clear linkage between identifiable gray zone actions on the one hand and a series of calibrated policy responses on the other. Rather than no response at all. Which presumably is Beijing’s current expectation. 

These are matters on which governments from across the region and the world will now increasingly engage. 

Of course, if in the future, the Taiwanese body politic chose of its own volition to engage in a fresh round of negotiations with Beijing on easing cross-strait tensions, new forms of economic cooperation and new approaches to the political relationship between them, that is entirely a matter for the Taiwanese people. 

Indeed, all our interests would be served by breaking the 1992 Consensus impasse so that effective dialogue can recommence after nearly a decade of silence. Silence accentuates tension; talking can reduce it. 

But there is a difference between a voluntary, agreed approach to negotiations, as opposed to a coerced one. 

And from Beijing’s own perspective, there is also the salutary lesson that coercion rarely works in international relations. 

Indeed, it can produce the equal and opposite reaction to that which is sought as local populations literally rally around the flag and dig in even harder. 



We live in the decade of living dangerously. 

For Beijing, strategic reassurance that Taipei and its international partners will sustain the status quo in relation to Taiwan’s future political status is essential for strategic stability.

But with Xi Jinping’s evident frustration at Taiwan’s ongoing autonomy, this reassurance alone, while it is necessary, is not sufficient to preserve that stability.

It needs to be part of a much wider equation of integrated deterrence which will command all our efforts for the decade ahead if we are to successfully preserve the peace. 

[1] https://indsr.org.tw/en/respublicationcon?uid=15&resid=2996&pid=5329

[2] https://taiwanpolitics.org/article/92170-core-public-attitudes-toward-d…

6 June 2024