A Rising China’s Challenge to Taiwan

A Rising China's Challenge to Taiwan

by Michael S. Chase
January 29, 2019

This chapter examines the evolution of Beijing’s approach to Taiwan as China transitions to a major-power role in the international system and concludes by assessing the implications of broader trends associated with China’s growing power and influence for the cross-strait relationship.

Executive Summary


Taiwan is central to China’s core interests not only due to Beijing’s emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity and the island’s salience in Chinese domestic politics but also because of the implications it holds for a rising China’s broader strategic aims. Xi Jinping has clearly linked the goal of unification with Taiwan to his larger pursuit of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Since Taiwan’s 2016 election, which resulted in Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) becoming president and the DPP gaining control of the island’s legislature, China has carried out an escalating, multidimensional pressure campaign that includes diplomatic isolation, military intimidation, economic coercion, and influence operations. At the same time, it has offered a set of enhanced incentives, the “31 measures,” in an effort to entice key groups in Taiwan, with a focus on young people and the business community.

  • China’s intensified pressure campaign presents serious challenges, but it also risks backfiring by further alienating people in Taiwan, many of whom are increasingly skeptical of the benefits of a closer cross-strait relationship.
  • If Beijing wants to maintain a stable and constructive cross-strait relationship, it will need to adopt a more creative and flexible approach to dealing with Taiwan.
  • The U.S. will need to think more broadly about the island’s security needs, including helping increase its resilience in the face of Chinese pressure on a variety of fronts.

Michael S. Chase is a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation and an Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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