China sent Taiwan a Lunar New Year video this week that included footage of Chinese warplanes and the badge of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force juxtaposed with the tallest skyscraper in Taipei. The Taiwanese responded with their own video of military exercises, making it clear they are prepared to fight for their freedom if necessary.
The video from the PLA, distributed via the Chinese social media platform Weibo, has a distinct “nice island you have there, shame if something bad were to happen to it” vibe even though the voiceover speaks soothingly of reunification with China’s “brothers and sisters” in Taiwan:
“My fighting eagles are flying around Taiwan, the nostalgic memory from the homeland is softly calling you to return,” the video croons. Soft messages are not usually delivered with nuclear-capable heavy bombers.
The title of the video is “My War Eagles Are Flying Around the Treasured Island,” a message the Taiwanese did not interpret as a warm and fuzzy call to brotherhood. As the Taiwanese air force can attest, having Chinese war eagles fly around your treasured island is really annoying.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense returned greeting-card fire with their own video, entitled with a sentiment very familiar to Americans: “Freedom Is Not Free.” The video makes it very clear that Taiwan’s military does not take any days off, including Lunar New Year:
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) denounced the Chinese video as provocative and heavy-handed.
“This approach aims at reunifying Taiwan with force and will only have counterproductive results as Taiwanese will find it repulsive and distasteful,” the MAC said. “Taiwan will continue to staunchly defend its sovereignty and security and its democratic way of life rather than succumb to Chinese threats.”
National Interest sized up the dueling propaganda videos on Tuesday and found the Chinese entry “cheesier” but more “poetic,” while Taiwan’s response is better produced and gets more quickly to the point.
The larger problem facing Taiwan is that China’s military is not only vastly larger but also increasingly modern, a point driven home by the images of stealth fighters filling the Chinese Lunar New Year video after it finishes gushing over the beauty of Taiwan’s beaches and the impressive Taipei skyline.
Taiwan’s great strategic advantage is that it would be playing defense from a fortress whose defenses could only be overwhelmed by an attack the civilized world would unite in condemning for its brutality. China’s prize would be a “treasured island” bombed into ruin. It is very difficult to calculate the advantage in numbers and quality of forces China would need to change the equation and make military action appear reasonable. Every step China takes toward achieving that advantage is a matter of concern in both Taipei and Washington.