'Insecure Dictator' Xi Jinping to Sacrifice All for Third Term—Taiwan Official

China's aggression toward its regional neighbors is rooted in Xi Jinping's anxieties and is part of his strongman approach to fighting off hardline factions as he looks to secure a historic third term next year, a Taiwanese official says.

In a wide-ranging interview about Taiwan's foreign policy and national security, Democracy Progressive Party legislator Wang Ting-yu said the Chinese Communist Party and the ambitions of its leader were the catalyst for a global shift in focus toward the Indo-Pacific—including what he sees as the United States' gradual move toward "strategic clarity" on the question of Taiwan's defense.

On Xi's agenda are turning China into Asia's dominating military force by 2027 and a global power by 2049, Wang told Newsweek from Taipei. Xi's ambitions have caused concern among every world leader, and the chairman can "take all the credit" for the rapid development of strategic frameworks such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

Wang, re-elected by constituents in his native city of Tainan in southwest Taiwan last year, sits on the country's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.

"If Xi Jinping weren't seeking a third term, cross-strait relations would've looked very different these last two years," he said of Taipei's deteriorating relationship with the government in Beijing, whose conditions for dialogue include Taiwan's acceptance of its claims over the island as part of its "one-China" principle.

As Taipei's relationship with Washington warmed in the past five years, it has been accompanied by seemingly inevitable belligerent responses from China, whose officials have threatened war as they accuse Taiwan of colluding with the United States.

An insecure dictator is extremely dangerous.
Wang Ting-yu, Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan

For relations across the Taiwan Strait to improve, China would first need to recognize its own role in the deadlock, Wang said. But the lawmaker believes Xi's upcoming leadership challenge in 2022 is the bigger driving force and explains not only China's forceful rhetoric toward Taiwan and other neighbors, but also its high-profile clampdown on autonomy in Hong Kong, which Beijing held up to showcase the "one country, two systems" model of governance it has offered Taipei as part of its unification plans.

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping Attends Two Sessions
China's President Xi Jinping applauds after voting during a session that also included a vote in favor of a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system, during the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People on March 11, 2021 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Chinese leader's unease surrounding the loyalty of his military and other hardline factions within his party means he has had to display strength, leading therefore to less flexibility in the country's approach to what it calls the "Taiwan Question."

Wang said: "He knows tougher actions against Taiwan means China is even less likely to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese public, and that it makes it harder for any friends here to remain supportive."

"But the first rule of the Chinese Communist Party is to solidify leadership, so all this rhetoric is directed toward the domestic audience," the DPP legislator concluded. "This includes no concessions on territorial claims and no compromise on Taiwan, in case other factions take an even harder line than him."

"An insecure dictator is extremely dangerous," said Wang, who believes Xi understands aggression does not benefit China economically or diplomatically. "But he can sacrifice it all."

Wang said he hopes Xi can become "China's most confident leader" once he secures a third term next year. He could then take a more pragmatic approach toward Taiwan, which should include "facing the reality of Taiwan's existence."

Commitment to Responsibility

Last year, the Taiwanese government said its ties with the United States had reached a "historic high" not seen since before unofficial relations began more than four decades ago. Wang said Taiwan's friendships with European partners were also improving.

He put this down to tact shown by President Tsai Ing-wen and her government's consistent strategic posture, which he sees as having won the confidence of policymakers in important partner nations such as the United States and Japan.

Tsai, the lawmaker said, is praised by senior military officials for placing the most value on national defense among all of Taiwan's democratically elected leaders.

President Tsai Ing-wen Visits Taiwan Air Force
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks in front of a domestically-produced F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) jet during her visit to Penghu Air Force Base on Magong island in the Penghu islands on September 22, 2020. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

She has attended each of her country's annual military exercises and has committed to reforms and investments in Taiwan's armed forces. Yet her government's insistence on maintaining the cross-strait status quo and not provoking Beijing showed Taiwan to be "trustworthy, responsible and stable"—all characteristics sought by those looking for a reliable partner in the region, Wang said.

The legislator's summary of the defense committee watchlist for Asia includes what he said were the five biggest flashpoints in the Indo-Pacific: North Korea, East China Sea, Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and the Sino-Indian border.

While China is involved in "four and a half" of the five areas most at risk of conflict, Taiwan also finds itself entangled in three of them, Wang noted, with maritime disputes in the East and South China seas.

"However, while Tsai maintains no concessions on sovereignty, she does not see this as an excuse to raise the risks of conflict," Wang said. "Taiwan's attitude is one pursuing peaceful resolutions. Amid ongoing disputes, resource sharing and mutual development are emphasized."

Further improving relations with the United States and its military is a bipartisan priority for Taiwan, he said.

Wang added: "We will continue to support lawful navigation and overflight by foreign vessels seeking to rebalance China's unilateral expansionism in the region, which undermines our own territorial claims and conflicts with international law."