China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 5, 2023

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, May 5, 2023

Authors: Nils Peterson, Roy Eakin, and Virginia Wang of the Institute for the Study of War

Editors: Dan Blumenthal and Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute

Data Cutoff: May 3, Noon ET

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update focuses on Chinese Communist Party paths to controlling Taiwan and relevant cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways

  • The Military Service Law reform that came into effect on May 1 may enable faster Chinese mobilization during the event of a conflict.
  • Li Ganjie replaced Chen Xi as Director of the Central Organization Department (COD) on April 26, possibly to bolster the implementation of Xi’s aim to have a technologically self-reliant China.
  • Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman Ko Wen-je's reluctance to participate in a KMT-led “opposition alliance” may bolster the Democratic Progressive Party’s standing in the upcoming presidential election.
  • Potential KMT presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih's rhetoric on US-Taiwan relations and national security furthers the popular domestic discussion about the role of the United States in Taiwan’s national security.
  • Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators are considering stronger punishments for espionage that could increase the cost of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led espionage attempts in Taiwan.

China Developments

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to China and the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

CCP Leadership Activity

The Military Service Law reform that came into effect on May 1 may enable faster Chinese mobilization during the event of a conflict.  The Military Service Law reform stated that all levels of government in conjunction with military agencies should cooperate to implement the reforms and standardize local conscription organizations.[1] This indicates that the CCP bureaucratic apparatus aims to enhance its capability to deliver information in a timely fashion across locations such as universities and local party offices. The reformed Military Service Law also emphasized recruiting “high-quality soldiers” with pertinent technological prowess, especially college students.[2] This portion of the reform fits within existing PLA efforts to technologically modernize the force and its personnel. The Military Service Law reform does not indicate that Xi ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare for imminent military conflict around Taiwan.

The Military Service Law reform indicates that Xi learned the necessity of bureaucratic coordination for mobilization from Putin’s force generation challenges in Ukraine. Putin’s mobilization notice system relied on the physical delivery of the notices to individuals, with limited testing of digitally delivering summonses.[3] This opened the door for mobilization evasion.

Li Ganjie replaced Chen Xi as Director of the Central Organization Department (COD) on April 26, possibly to bolster the implementation of Xi’s aim to have a technologically self-reliant China. The replacement is one of the last major personnel switches stemming from the 20th Party Congress that occurred in October 2022. The COD oversees CCP personnel appointments. Li has used his nuclear engineer degrees in party organs, such as Director General of the Department of Nuclear Safety Management of the State Environmental Protection Administration, which contrasts with Chen who did not extensively apply his chemical engineering background after becoming party secretary at Tsinghua University in the early 1990s.[4] Successfully advancing Xi’s vision would degrade the business environment in China for foreign companies, however, because this implementation will involve selective enforcement of the anti-espionage law. The law includes the broad and unspecific use of “foreign agents,” which enables the CCP to track and gather data on foreign companies’ trade secrets and their employees.[5] A business environment less permissive for foreign companies would reduce the inflow of foreign capital that Xi aims to translate into improved domestic technological production and development.  

The personnel change likely does not represent a shift in Xi's ideological thinking because Chen Xi now plays a key role in training party cadre who will implement Xi’s ideological campaigns. Xi outlined that the most recent party education campaign on “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” will aim to improve bureaucratic functioning, crackdown on alleged corruption, and must be implemented in a wholistic rather than staged manner.[6] He also emphasized leading party cadre giving lectures to promote intra-party education.[7] Chen will help fulfill this portion of the campaign by serving as head of the prestigious Central Party School that trains party cadre.[8] Chen’s removal from the COD but continued leadership at the Central Party School indicates Xi approves of Chen’s ability to interpret and transmit his intent as General Secretary onto the rising elite party cadre.


Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu met with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization defense ministers’ meeting to discuss Sino-Indian border disputes. The Indian Ministry of Defense meeting readout implicitly accusing China of violating existing agreements generated claims in Chinese state media of India inaccurately portraying itself as the victim on the international stage.[9] These claims in Chinese state media will not set conditions for substantive progress on resolving Sino-Indian border disputes. No new agreements came out of Li’s attendance at the SCO.

Taiwan Developments

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to Taiwan, including its upcoming January 13, 2024 presidential and legislative elections.


The Taiwanese (Republic of China) political spectrum is largely divided between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP broadly favors Taiwanese autonomy, Taiwanese identity, and skepticism towards China. The KMT favors closer economic and cultural relations with China along with a broader alignment with a Chinese identity. The DPP under President Tsai Ing-wen has controlled the presidency and legislature (Legislative Yuan) since 2016. This presidential election cycle also includes the Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je who frames his movement as an amorphous alternative to the DPP and KMT. It is normal for Taiwanese presidential elections to have third party candidates, but none have ever won. The 2024 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 13, 2024 and the new president will take office in May 2024. Presidential candidates can win elections with a plurality of votes in Taiwan.

TPP Chairman Ko Wen-je's reluctance to participate in a KMT-led “opposition alliance” may bolster the DPP’s standing in the upcoming presidential election. This is a low confidence assessment as the KMT has not yet selected its presidential candidate and the election is several months away. KMT Chairman Chu Li-luan (Eric Chu) proposed an alliance consisting of non-DPP figures that could include Ko. The coalition aims to unite non-DPP figures and parties to win the 2024 Taiwanese presidential and legislative elections. Chu did not specify if the potential “coalition” would feature a united presidential ticket. Ko initially said he was willing to speak with Chu during a May 1 speech, but later said that he did not want to hear about “blue-white cooperation” on May 2. He maintained this rhetoric on May 3 by comparing “blue-white cooperation” to “dividing up the spoils of power” and noting that his TPP is “not without opportunity” since it polls show that 20 percent of Taiwanese support the TPP.[10] Blue-white cooperation” refers to potential cooperation between Ko and the KMT. An “opposition alliance” between the KMT and Ko is reminiscent of the 2004 unified pan-blue presidential ticket between KMT candidate Lien Chan and People-First Party Chairman Soong Chu-yu (James Soong) that attempted to unseat sitting DPP President Chen Shui-bian.[11] The coalition failed to win the 2004 election.[12]

Chu’s proposed alliance recognizes Ko Wen-je's popularity with segments of the KMT voting bloc. A February poll showed that 47 percent of Ko’s supporters would support potential KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih compared to 32 percent supporting DPP nominee Lai Ching-te.[13] While Ko and the KMT both call for cross-strait dialogue with China, Ko diverges from the KMT on the issue of the 1992 Consensus. The KMT supports the 1992 Consensus with the belief that it refers to one China with “different interpretations.”[14] Ko claimed that the 1992 Consensus “has been smeared in Taiwan” and that no consensus exists.[15] These divergent views on the 1992 Consensus would pose a substantial hurdle to an “opposition alliance” forming a uniform cross-strait policy approach and may alienate “deep blue” KMT voters. An alliance with the KMT would also contradict Ko’s campaign rhetoric calling for a ”coalition government” to unite Taiwan by making Ko explicitly side with one side of the Taiwanese political spectrum.[16] This failure to form a potential ”opposition alliance” could aid DPP presidential nominee William Lai by splitting the KMT-leaning pan-blue vote.

Potential KMT presidential nominee Hou Yu-ih's rhetoric on US-Taiwan relations and national security furthers the popular domestic discussion about the role of the United States in Taiwan’s national security. Hou called for Taiwan to maintain both a “very good relationship with the United States” and “stability in the Taiwan Strait.”[17] He also stressed the importance of national security by saying that “only by safeguarding national security can economic development continue.”[18] Hou’s position is more moderate compared to other potential KMT presidential nominees like Gou Tai-ming (Terry Gou), who questioned if Taiwan’s close relations with the United States could endanger Taiwan’s security.[19] The internal KMT debate discussion is occurring as ruling DPP candidate Lai Ching-te promotes continuity with current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s policies, which promotes close security, diplomatic, and economic cooperation with the United States.[20] A focus on security or the United States’ commitment to Taiwan within internal Taiwanese political debates make a figurative referendum on Taiwan’s relations with the United States an important component of the upcoming 2024 Taiwanese presidential election.


DPP legislators are considering stronger punishments for espionage that could increase the cost of CCP-led espionage attempts in Taiwan.  DPP Legislators Lo Chih-cheng, Liu Chao-hao, Tsai Yi-yu, Chuang Jui-hsiung, and Wang Mei-hui held an expert hearing on “Suggestions on How to Improve National Security with Repeated Light Sentences in Communist Espionage Cases” on May 2.[21] Taiwanese Institute for National Defense and Security Research Director Su Zi-yun stated during the hearing that the average sentence for Taiwanese espionage suspects is 18 months while espionage cases in the United States and Europe receive on average 19-year sentences.[22] Taiwanese Ministry of Justice Deputy Minister Tsai Pi-chung noted that judges should be required to “impose heavy sentences” if there is clear evidence that a suspect engaged in espionage against Taiwan. Chinese agents attempt to recruit retired and serving Taiwanese military personnel to become informants and recruit other Taiwanese military personnel. The Taipei District Court previously sentenced a major general in the Taiwanese Air Force and Lieutenant Colonel in the Taiwanese Army for spying activities and attempting to recruit Taiwanese military personnel to support espionage activity in January.[23] Both suspects received sentences that were shorter than two years.[24] The hearing displays recognition of the threat posed by CCP espionage efforts to Taiwanese security and the inadequacy of the Taiwanese legal system‘s current tools to fight espionage. Potential Taiwanese espionage law revisions are not made in coordination with the United States.

[1] http://www.mod dot

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[2] http://www.mod dot gov dot cn/gfbw/gffw/16219539.html

[4] https://english.mee dot

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[6] http://www.qstheory dot cn/dukan/qs/2023-04/30/c_1129581895.htm

[7] http://www.qstheory dot cn/dukan/qs/2023-04/30/c_1129581895.htm

[8] https://www.scmp dot com/news/china/politics/article/3218592/chen-xi-presidential-aide-who-built-chinas-new-technocracy

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[11] https://www.taipeitimes dot com/News/front/archives/2002/12/15/0000187226

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[13] https://www.tpof dot org/%e9%81%b8%e8%88%89/%e7%b8%bd%e7%b5%b1%e9%81%b8%e8%88%89/%e5%a6%82%e6%9e%9c%e6%9f%af%e6%96%87%e5%93%b2%e9%80%80%e5%87%ba2024%e7%b8%bd%e7%b5%b1%e5%a4%a7%e9%81%b8%ef%bc%882023%e5%b9%b42%e6%9c%8821%e6%97%a5%ef%bc%89/

[14] https://www.taipeitimes dot com/News/front/archives/2022/09/12/2003785161

[15] https://www.csis dot org/events/fireside-chat-dr-ko-wen-je-chairman-taiwan-peoples-party-and-former-mayor-taipei

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[19] https://www.storm dot mg/article/4779885

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https://apnews dot com/article/taiwan-tsai-john-bolton-china-c90641d1f2bd3d3d708734191a967e63

[21] https://news dot

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[24] https://news.ltn dot


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