Taiwan Fears for Its Security As China's Xi Jinping Eyes Re-Election

Taiwan can expect more pressure from Beijing next year as Chinese leader Xi Jinping prepares for a historic third term, the island's intelligence agency has predicted.

"Beijing's long-term strategic ambitions for Taiwan are clear for all to see," said the director of Taipei's National Security Bureau, Chen Ming-tong, urging "unity" among citizens who want to preserve their "free and democratic way of life."

In a parliamentary report sent to lawmakers on Thursday, the bureau said it feared "increased pressure on Taiwan's national security" ahead of the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress in 2022.

"Because Xi has removed term limits from the [Chinese] constitution, I'm afraid he'll still be there after the 20th National Congress," Chen told reporters in Taipei.

The National Congress is held every five years and has featured personnel changes at the very top of the Chinese leadership. However, analysts say Xi hopes to achieve Mao Zedong-level cult status within the party by securing re-election next year.

Xi's ambition will manifest itself in Beijing's continued hardline stance on sovereignty, adding to the pressure on Taipei, said the intelligence agency report.

The Communist Party centennial, which is in July, will also increase tensions, the National Security Bureau predicts. The Chinese government claims Taiwan as part of its territory; in the 100th year since the party's founding, it will be determined to show there is "no room for compromise" on the island.

Documents for staff in the Beijing government's Taiwan Affairs Office have all listed "opposing independence and promoting integration and unification" as "core tasks" for 2021, the report said.

Announcing a 100-day countdown to the summer's celebrations, a Chinese official revealed last week that the Communist Party now has 91.91 million card-carrying members. Wang Xiaohui, head of the publicity department, called it the "largest Marxist ruling party in the world."

Chen, who was appointed head of intelligence in President Tsai Ing-wen's cabinet reshuffle in February, said China's assertiveness in its surrounding waters—including frequent warplane flights and the passing of its Coast Guard Law—had raised the risks of conflict in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea and South China Sea.

People's Liberation Army aircraft had flown more than 170 sorties into Taiwan's air defense identification zone as of Tuesday 5 p.m., he told defense committee members.

Chinese coast guard ships had also harassed Japanese fishing vessels within the territorial waters of the Diaoyutai Islands seven times in March, he added, referring to the Japan-controlled Senkakus.

Taipei's intelligence chief fielded several questions about comments made by Admirals Philip Davidson and John Aquilino—the current head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and his expected successor.

This month, both U.S. Navy officials warned about the looming threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

"Beijing's resolve to unify Taiwan has never weakened since 1949," Chen told lawmakers, referencing the Chinese Civil War and the Kuomintang-led Republic of China retreat to Taiwan.

Chen added: "Don't underestimate Beijing's ambitions. [An attack] can happen at any time. We must know our enemy and let China know the huge costs involved in order to deter [military] action."

Taiwan Intelligence Chief Predicts Xi Jinping Re-election
Chen Ming-tong, Taipei's intelligence chief and director of the National Security Bureau. SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images