Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2011

"Getting Beyond Taiwan? Chinese Foreign Policy and PLA Modernization"

Michael A. Glosny

January 2011

Academy of Political Science


Since the mid-1990s, China’s military modernization has focused on deterring Taiwan independence and preparing for a military response if deterrence fails. Given China’s assumption of U.S. intervention in a Taiwan conflict, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been developing military capabilities to deter, delay, and disrupt U.S. military support operations. The 2008 election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, however, has contributed to improved cross-strait economic and political cooperation and dramatically reduced the threat of Taiwan independence and war across the Taiwan Strait. Cooperation has included full restoration of direct shipping, flights, and mail across the strait, Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly, regularized cross-strait negotiation mechanisms that have already reached several agreements, and the recent signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. This decreased cross-strait tension and tentative rapprochement have raised the prospect of fundamental changes in China’s security challenges. If the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan sustain this positive cooperation over the next 5 to 10 years and continue to deepen rapprochement, how would this affect regional stability, China’s diplomatic grand strategy, and China’s military modernization? Other analysts have examined the implications of an ultimate political resolution to the Taiwan issue, but this paper analyzes the implications of deeper cross-strait rapprochement, a much more likely scenario over the next 5 to 10 years.2 This deeper rapprochement would probably not resolve the issue of Taiwan’s political status, but would greatly reduce the chances that the PRC would use force. Sustained cross-strait stability would make the Taiwan issue less important in Chinese domestic politics and much less prominent in China’s relations with others. This could occur as a result of a peace agreement or through a series of cooperative measures by both sides that put the relationship on a course toward peaceful resolution. Experts devote a great detail of attention to scenarios of crisis and conflict in the Taiwan Strait, but the implications of deeper cross-strait cooperation also deserve analytical attention. This discussion of potential future implications of deeper cross-strait rapprochement is speculative in nature.