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China’s “Military Exercises” near Taiwan in 1996 Term Paper


China has been involved in major offensive measures against Taiwan because Taiwan wants to gain independence from China yet the Chinese government considers Taiwan as a renegade province. Taiwan was handed over to China by Japan in 1945 when the Second World War ended. After this, Taiwanese began to suffer in the hands of the communist China since their hopes of economic recovery and development were dashed. This led to the contentious issue of whether Taiwan should be granted autonomy or not.

Within few years following independence of China, after 1949, nationalists led by Chiang, and communists led by Mao, began to differ in their systems of administration. As a result, Chiang shifted his headquarters from Beijing to Taipei with the hope of regaining mainland China. Mao who held a different ideology remained in Beijing, where he controlled the whole of China. It is from here and the years after, that Taiwan has been involved in crusading for her autonomy and independence from Mainland.

The international community led by the U.S. has been fully involved in this issue whereby the U.S. has been shifting opinion depending on the stands of the warring parties. The opinions of the U.S. have always been against the use of military force by China against Taiwan. For this reason and many others, the U.S. declared the straits of Taiwan neutral waters thereby deploying naval patrols in those waters to monitor the security situation. This created a state of animosity prompting the Chinese government to react by formal and informal protests. This paper analyzes the events as they transpired from the post World War II to date.

Causes of the Stand-Off

After the Second World War and after surrendering to the U.S., Japan handed over all Chinese colonies back to China including Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa (Gettings & Rowen 2010). However, life for Taiwan’s citizens only changed marginally under the Chinese rule. Inflation and rise in unemployment rates rocked the island thereby slowing her economy. There was little democracy, and freedom for the Taiwanese was never guaranteed by the Chinese law enforcers (Wang, 2006). For instance, in 1947, just after getting independence from the Japanese rule, the Kuomintang, (KMT), Chinese troops brutally murdered more than 20,000 citizens of Taiwan in a confrontation that was sparked by the brutality of monopoly bureau officials.

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949, there emerged a period of tension between China and the U.S. One of the main reasons for the growing tension was this island of Taiwan. Taiwan was controlled by Chiang Kai-shek, who made Taipei his administrative town, after he was defeated by Mao Tse-tung in Beijing (Wittkopf & McCormick 2008). In the short period following, the island of Taiwan and other smaller neighboring islands would become major points of contention in the history of the cold war (The Cold War Museum Not dated).

Throughout the 50 years to come, civil strife and imminent attacks from China during the Korean War threatened the peace of Taiwan, prompting U.S President Harry Truman to agree to cushion Taiwan against these threats. In 1954, China attacked by bombing Taiwan’s islands of Quemoy and Matsu thus creating a conflict in the waters between China and Taiwan.

However, U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower promised to help Taiwan in case of any aggressive actions from China resulting in a steady economic growth of Taiwan from 1960 to 1968 (Gettings & Rowen 2010). This was against the committal stance of military nonintervention by the U.S. during the period of the Korean War. Thus, Truman declared the straits of Taiwan as neutral waters. As a result, the Seventh Fleet was deployed to the Straits thereby offering imminent protection from possible attacks against Taiwan by mainland China (The Cold War Museum, Not dated).

One of the major aims of the U.S. was to control the spread of communism in Asia’s Eastern region. The economic growth of Taiwan throughout this period is attributed to the assurance of security against mainland China and economic and technical aid from the U.S. However, the events that followed were quite controversial in terms of Taiwan, China and their international relations. Several countries changed their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China’s Beijing during this period. All these measures against Taiwan were as a result of their informal and infamous martial law which however ended in 1987.

Major crusades towards independence of Taipei were launched with the emergence of Democratic Progressive Party. In 1996, when Taiwan prepares to go to their first national elections, China sent troops in the ocean near Taiwan. Although china tried to disguise this as a military exercise, the U.S quickly discovers the hoax and sends one of the biggest naval envoys in Asia (Zao 1999). Thus, the elections were held and the incumbent president garnered 54% of the votes.

Possible Actions Expected

In the relationship between Beijing and Taipei, it is believed that China is likely to deal with this situation according to their courses of action. The courses of action will also be dependent on their impacts on internal stability and government authority. Thus, there is the risk of growing unemployment or the risk of appearing weak to the international community, in dealing with her separatist movements. For these reasons, China is bound to attack Taiwan only under specifically defined circumstances as enumerated below.

  • Taiwan will be attacked by China should it formally declare its independence.
  • If any foreign country intervenes in Taiwan’s internal affairs or should there be a military alliance between Taipei and a foreign country.
  • If Taipei declines to negotiate on the grounds of one China or if it engages in indefinite delays when called upon to go back to the negotiation table.
  • China will attack Taiwan if Taiwan acquires nuclear weapons and/or other weapons of mass destruction
  • China will attack Taipei if there is internal unrest on Taiwan’s soil.

In 2004, the president of Taiwan was insisting on delays in negotiations, declaration of formal independence and military alliance between the U.S and Taiwan to resist the imminent Chinese aggression. Possible actions by the Chinese government are expected to range from those actions related to diplomatic relations to invasive and aggressive actions. The following are the major courses of actions China would take should the deal go sour.

Diplomatic initiatives

It is pretty clear from the onset that the cost to Beijing of the secession of Taiwan is more of a loss than of benefit. This is because should Beijing engage in any aggressive course, it will prompt the U.S. to put defensive measures against the invasion of Taiwan. However, the declaration of Taiwan’s stand in this situation has been met with a lot of opposition from the U.S. and other major stakeholders in this issue. Thus it is imperative for Beijing to use time as a tool for fighting Taiwan’s declarations (Global Security.org 2006). Hence, since time is on mainland China’s side, her patience will oversee the recognition by Taipei that their stand on state to state relationship with China is futile.

Military exercises

It is quite difficult for Taipei to remain non-responsive to the repetition of military drills being operated by China against them. Thus, china’s military exercise in 1996 can not be wished away as a routine. It is also pretty certain that the U.S. will be responsive to any imminent attacks on Taiwan soil, by deploying military forces to some localities (Bush & O’Hanlon, 2007).. It should be noted however that such maneuvers of military responses will not do much if unaccompanied with nothing. Thus it is quite inadequate for Beijing to deploy her forces in an attempt to threaten the substantial levels of the situation. This will also demonstrate lack of credibility on the part of China.

Unconventional warfare

Attacking major facilities of Taipei’s infrastructure could be a favorable weapon for China because this can happen without the U.S intervention. The act can destabilize Taipei’s economy in a way that would not be traced back to the Chinese government. Some of the possibilities include attacks on power systems of the island. For instance, there was a blackout in the whole of Taiwan in 1999, although the incident was just coincidental, the causes could therefore not be traced to the Chinese government.

Another option is the possibility of what is termed “acupuncture” attacks by the Chinese government on Taipei’s telecommunications infrastructure (Global Security.org 2006). In this method, the Chinese government can create chaos on the island by compromising components of Taiwan’s critical infrastructure. Although this method has already been envisioned by the U.S. security details, Taiwan cannot be cushioned from the effects of the impacts in her economy. The positive impacts on Taiwan’s side are that, remediation measures by the U.S. will deny China the pleasure of exclusive mastery over Taipei.

Peripheral assaults

China can easily take over Taipei’s component islands near the mainland coast. This is because the islands are less heavily guarded by defense forces. Insignificant as it may seem, the islands if taken over by Beijing, can lead to a naval blockade thus giving the most decisive clue on how Beijing can easily gain explicit mastery over Taiwan. Worst still, the U.S. is unlikely to help Taiwan recover the legally disputed Spratly Island. The U.S. would rather actively help Taiwan regain control over the minor specks of islands in the Taiwan Strait.

Naval blockade

It is quite difficult for the Chinese army to coordinate a good naval blockade by use of air force, land military operations and underwater submarine operations. However, when the March 1996 exercise and missile tests were launched, the effects on Taiwan’s economy were quite severe due to the disruption it caused. This suggests that simple and less intensive measures can cause substantial effects on Taiwan’s economic life. Thus, rather than using excessive military force to make Taiwan yield to her demands, China could use less comprehensive measures which will create potential pressure over time, and this would compel Taiwan to agree on a political settlement.

Should China embrace this method, the U.S. may not find it easy to counter through political or military means. This is because the method results in negative effects on international commerce making it hard for commercial shippers to transport goods along Taiwan’s coastlines. The U.S. may also not find it prudent to sink Chinese submarines which have not immediately assailed friendly shipping. As a result, the partial naval blockade of Taiwan appears to be a good option for China to demonstrate her concrete mastery over Taiwan without involving the military forces of the U.S.

Air operations

Operations of the Chinese air force can be conducted in combination with the naval blockade and missile strikes against Taiwan and her islands, amphibious operations and any other method necessary to conquer Taiwan. It is purported that air operations could cause extensive damage that may result in Taipei to yield to China’s demands. The U.S. is bound to provide aircraft and personnel to replace the losses. Although there seems to be the unlikelihood of the U.S. carrier aviation combat operations in this war, the federal government of the U.S. may work under pressure from the Congress to commit itself in such methods of warfare.

Full-scale invasion

Although considered as one of the decisive methods, full scale invasion is extremely unlikely due to the risks involved. The PLA cannot ferry enough military against Taiwan. On the other hand Taiwan will prepare adequately in terms of military reserves to neutralize the Chinese aggression. The military preparations of Taipei will be possible because of the corresponding significant warning time in the process of Beijing’s offensive preparations. Thus the military reserves Taipei would have could outnumber the Chinese campaign forces thereby causing an imminent victory against China. In addition, Taiwan’s recognizable qualitative military war machines are better than the Chinese hence giving them a comparative advantage over the Chinese forces.

Should a conventional military approach appear inadequate, Taipei’s military could use chemical weapons to counter the weapons of mass destructions used by China. If the assault by China could not be enough to collapse Taiwan swiftly, the U.S. will intervene to finish off the hostile relations between Beijing and Taipei. However, this invasion is unlikely to be in favor of Beijing. The military exercises done by the Chinese government every spring is usually countered by Taiwan’s warships at sea and military aircraft on air. These amphibious exercises by the Chinese military forces are mainly aimed at intimidating Taiwan.

Nuclear attack on Taiwan

The use of nuclear weapons by China is quite not an option the Chinese government would contemplate. This is because, first, the intension of China is to deliver Taiwan and not to completely obliterate it. Secondly, nuclear warfare would cause a disproportionate destruction to Taipei. Last but not least, China’s use of nuclear weapons will result into the use of an equal or more powerful force by the U.S. It is also perceived that, despite all these measures, China is unlikely to be a military threat to Taiwan (Steketee 2008).

Key foreign policy decisions and why they are significant

In 1949, the policy of One China was developed to unite the mainland and Taiwan. Both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, who ruled in Taipei and Beijing, respectively maintained that there was only one government that ruled the whole of China. This government had authority both in Mainland of China and in Taipei (Global Security.org Not Dated). However, as the years went by, Taipei began contemplating autonomy from the Chinese government. This led to a major conflict that still exists to date. The two parties, China and Taiwan, have been engaging dialogue in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Taiwan’s stand has always been aimed at gaining complete autonomy from China while China’s stand has been to engage Taiwan in negotiations along the lines of reunifications (Cable News Network 1996). Taiwan has held a hard line position with sometimes dwindling firmness due to foreign pressure especially from the U.S. As a result, China has, and is still contemplating the use of military power to regain control of Taipei. This led to the intervention of the U.S. in the stand-off thereby sparking protests by the Chinese government. The issue also involved international organizations that resulted into formulation of policies to end the hostility (Johnston, Not Dated).

There are major policy decisions which were made by the stakeholders. In this particular scenario, China, Taipei, the U.S. and the U.N were the major stakeholders. When Mao ordered the bombing of Taiwan controlled islands in September 1954, the U.S. issued various stern warnings against China while at the same time, considering a range of possible responses. The main options of the U.S included the use of nuclear power to avert the hostilities.

However, President Eisenhower resorted into a diplomatic methodology by enacting the Formosa Resolution which pledged the American defense against invasion by China. In 1998, when the U.S. President Clinton, arrived in mainland china, he agreed with the ‘three no’s policy’. The policy stated that there will be no independence for Taiwan if there were no two Chinas. This also meant that Taiwan would not be a member in international organizations which only recognized states (Gettings & Rowen 2010).

In the year 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act which was aimed at providing more direct military communications between America and Taiwanese forces. Through the passage of this bill, American soldiers would train Taiwanese officers and a report of the security situation in Taiwan would be discussed annually. The Chinese government protested at the action of the U.S. House of Representatives. Clinton’s administration also disapproved this action citing the negative consequences of the bill to the security situation at the Taiwan Strait.

In some of their defense actions, a U.S. Navy shadowing airplane crashed with a Chinese combatant jet (in 2001), a thing that ignited hostility between the two nations. The Chinese government continued to build up her military personnel near her border with Taipei. As a result, the then President (W. Bush) permitted a huge sale of martial armors to Taiwan. Although the Chinese government responds in a formal protest, White House officials state that the action was due to the building up of Chinese military at her borders with Taiwan. The localized build up of Chinese military in strategic areas near Taiwan’s borders was viewed by the U.S as an act of imminent aggression.

In the year 2003, Taiwan’s President Shui-Bian announced the intensions of holding national referendums which were aimed at removal of the missiles pointed at Taiwan. Noticing that the referendum was a hoax into Taipei’s independence, the Chinese government termed it grossly provocative and reminds Taiwan that it is a renegade province which cannot rule itself. Washington also disapproves the move by Taipei thereby issuing a stern warning against the referendum. The national legislature of Taiwan then formulated policies that urged china to first stop deploying additional missiles aimed at Taiwan and then remove its existing missiles. A series of referendums are planned by Taiwan after it yielded to the demands of the Washington.

More tension continued to build up in 2005 when Chinese legislators passed an anti secession law. This law gave China the mandate to use force should Taiwan attempt to achieve independence. This bill was later termed as a law of aggression by the Taiwan president.

China and Taiwan have resorted in a reunification program in order to solve this issue. It is worth noting that the reunification program is pretty vague according to the Chinese explanation. This is because Tang Jiaxuan, a former foreign minister, stated in 2004 that Taiwan would be more autonomous than Hong Kong and Macao after the reunification. He purported that Taiwan will preserve its social system, elect its own leaders, not pay taxes to the central government and be guaranteed with freedom in dealing with international issues (Global Security.org Zulu 2006).


The contentious issues surrounding Beijing and Taipei started the moment when Japanese imperial government handed over Taiwan to the Chinese authority. Taiwanese people were suffering in the hands of Japanese colonies during the Pre-Second World War period. However, their lives didn’t change much because soon after China took control, the people of Taiwan began living in even tougher conditions under the communistic Chinese rule. There was less freedom and democracy was wanting, given that the Chinese law enforcers would brutally kill anyone who held a different ideology from the ruling system.

The events that followed after led to the shift of a particular faction from Beijing to Taipei. The followers of this faction were mainly nationalists and their leader was called Kai-shek, who was also hoping to regain control of China. The communist leader of mainland China, Mao Tse-tung, wanted to reunite the whole of China so that it can be ruled by one government. This was followed later by substantial controversies which led to the intervention of international community led by the United States of America. The government of mainland China has been involved in bombing occupied islands off-shore, in an attempt to bring Taiwan back to negotiation table along the lines of reunification.

Both parties are standing on hard-line positions with mainland China proposing reunification while Taiwan reaffirming complete autonomy and independence from China. The U.S. government remains neutral while asserting that China and Taiwan should resolve the issue diplomatically, without which the use of military force by China will result into the U.S. intervention with an equally powerful military force. The situation to date is still contentious with major military exercises being performed between the coasts of the mainland and the island.

Reference List

Bush, R., & O’Hanlon, M. (2007). A War like No Other: The Truth about China’s Challenge to America. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Cable News Network (1996). China Asserts Right to Attack Taiwan If Necessary.Web.

Gettings, J., & Rowen, B. (2010). Web.

Global Security (2006). . Web.

Johnston, A. (Not Dated). Solving the China-Taiwan Standoff: A Modest Proposal. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Steketee, M. (2008). CHINA Is Unlikely To Be A Military Threat And The Chances Of A Conflict Over Taiwan Are Diminishing, According To A US Defense Expert. Web.

The Cold War Museum, (Not Dated). Web.

Wittkopf, E., & McCormick, J. (2008). The Domestic Sources of American Foreign Policy: Insights and evidence. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Wang, G. (2006).China and the Taiwan Issue: Impending War at Taiwan Straight. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.

Zao, S. (1999). Across The Taiwan Strait: Mainland China, Taiwan, and the 1995-1996 Crisis. London: Routledge.

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"China's "Military Exercises” near Taiwan in 1996." IvyPanda, 24 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/chinas-military-exercises-near-taiwan-in-1996/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "China's "Military Exercises” near Taiwan in 1996." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/chinas-military-exercises-near-taiwan-in-1996/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'China's "Military Exercises” near Taiwan in 1996'. 24 June.

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