China has initiated a series of influence campaigns against Taiwan ahead of the Island’s inauguration of president-elect Lai Ching-te scheduled on May 20, reported Voice of America (VOA).

Beijing has increased the scale and frequency of military activities across Taiwan while partially relaxing travel and import restrictions.

According to some analysts, Beijing is trying to test how the incoming Taiwanese government will respond to the increased pressure from Beijing while further destroying the longstanding status quo across the Taiwan Strait at a time when Taiwan is preparing for a transition of power.

Chen Fang-yu, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taiwan, said, “In the short term, Beijing is trying to see how the new Taiwanese government under Lai may respond to its pressure campaign.”

“At the same time, the Chinese government is attempting to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait when Taipei is focusing on the inauguration,” he added.

Taiwan’s defence ministry detected 26 Chinese military aircraft and five Chinese naval vessels near the island between May 2 and May 3, including 17 Chinese military aircraft crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

Moreover, some Chinese aircraft got as near as about 76 kilometers from Taiwan’s northern port city of Keelung, which hosts an important naval base, reported VOA.

Meanwhile, the director general of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, Tsai Ming-yen, told Taiwanese lawmakers on May 1 that the Chinese military had incorporated new tactics into its joint combat readiness patrol near the island, including staging night-time combat patrols and using landing ships and minesweepers during these exercises.

Additionally, he said Taiwanese authorities are tracking the increased patrols carried out by the Chinese coast guard near Taiwan’s outlying island, Kinmen.

Earlier on April 29, Beijing said that the Fujian Coast Guard had organized a fleet of ships to increase the frequency of patrols in waters near Kinmen since April.

Beijing also announced plans to allow residents from its southern province of Fujian to travel to Taiwan’s outlying island of Matsu while lifting import restrictions on Taiwanese pomelos and two types of seafood late last month, according to VOA.

This comes after a group of lawmakers from Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which advocates closer ties between Taipei and Beijing, visited China.

Meanwhile, according to some experts, the measures rolled out by Beijing in recent weeks are all part of its influence operation against Taipei, which involves using disinformation campaigns, economic coercion, and gray zone operations to impose pressure on Taiwan.

Su Tzu-yun, a military expert at the Taipei-based Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said, “China‘s overall strategy is still to increase pressure on Taiwan but they are also offering some small favors to Taiwan’s opposition parties.”

While recent developments should be viewed as part of China‘s overall influence operation against Taiwan, Su said part of Beijing’s long-term goal is to increase its control over the Taiwan Strait.

“By increasing the frequency of deploying Chinese coast guard vessels to restricted waters near Kinmen and flying Chinese military aircraft closer to Taiwan’s main island, Beijing is hoping to eventually turn the Taiwan Strait into its territorial water,” he said.

Reportedly, Beijing has been repeatedly threatening to achieve reunification with Taiwan through force in recent years, and the Chinese government views Taiwan’s president-elect Lai as an advocate of Taiwan independence, reported VOA.

Since the Chinese military usually concentrates military exercises between June and November, Su said the incoming Taiwanese government needs to closely monitor any increase in Chinese military activities around the island after May 20.

Moreover, apart from the threats posed by a possible buildup of Chinese military activities, some security analysts noted that Taiwan should also be mindful of Beijing’s efforts to create division in Taiwan’s domestic politics.

“There is every reason to believe that [the Chinese Communist Party] is ramping up efforts to use Taiwan’s democracy against itself,” J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based security analyst said. 

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