Deterrence Won’t Stop China’s Unification with Taiwan 

Deterrence Won’t Stop China’s Unification with Taiwan 

The reunification of Taiwan is a longstanding principle upheld by all top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.


This article expresses my understanding of the viewpoints regarding the U.S. deterrence strategy over potential Taiwan Strait conflicts, made by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, Mark Milley, on June 30, 2023. By examining the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) principle of unification with Taiwan in the context of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and explaining why the continuation of implementing this historical mission is unstoppable in the new era, I attempt to argue that relying solely on deterrence to stop Xi Jinping’s ambition would be imprudent and could even jeopardize U.S. national security although the deterrence strategy influences China’s decision-making process. I hope that the three parties, the PRC, Taiwan, and the United States, will reevaluate their strategies and adopt the right approach to promote peaceful triangular relations.

When Milley gave a speech at a National Press Club event in Washington on June 30, 2023, he commented on Xi’s stance on Taiwan. According to Milley, there is no concrete evidence suggesting that Xi has made a firm decision on ordering a military unification with Taiwan by 2027, but the decisionmaking process is still underway. Milley suggested the United States and its allies build up deterrence to ensure that every single day Xi wakes up and says today is not that day, and that decision never comes.


It is understandable when Milley emphasizes the significance of a deterrence strategy in influencing China’s decision-making process based on the historical experience of U.S. foreign policy and implementation. However, it would be imprudent and could even jeopardize U.S. national security if the policymakers believe that the deterrence strategy alone could change Xi’s determination to fulfill China’s historical mission of reunification of Taiwan in the context of China and the vision of the CCP.

The reunification of Taiwan is not Xi’s personal idea, but a longstanding principle upheld by all top leaders of the CCP. The founding father of the PRC, Mao Zedong, made it clear that Taiwan is part of China and pointed out that “Taiwan is ours, and we will never compromise on this issue, which is an issue of internal affairs.” Mao declared that the Chinese people will not tolerate foreign aggression or interference in our internal affairs because China does not fear its enemies. According to him, enemies are like flies: “On this tiny globe, a few flies dash themselves against the wall.” Mao tried to take over Taiwan several times by force, but unfortunately, he failed due to various factors, such as the ripple effects of the Cold War, the failure experience during the Taiwan Strait crises during 1954 and 1958, the interruption of the Cultural Revolution, the changing attitudes of the Taiwanese people and the U.S. intervention.

Although Deng Xiaoping prioritized the development of the Chinese economy in the post-Mao era and set forth a low-profile strategy, he still felt urgent to fulfill unification so he developed a roadmap toward the reunification of Taiwan by proposing the framework of “one country, two systems.” Jiang Zemin insisted that One China is the fundamental principle of reunification which is an inevitable trend of Chinese history by proposing an eight-point proposition for China’s reunification of Taiwan. Hu Jintao confirmed that China will continue to adhere to the One-China principle and firmly opposed any form of Taiwan independence and any attempts to create “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.” Meanwhile, he urged unification with Taiwan. Despite that the PRC firmly insisted on the reunification of Taiwan, it still adopted a more pragmatic and flexible approach to the Taiwan issue under before the Xi administration.

It is not surprising that Xi has been taking a tougher stance on Taiwan as China has become the world’s second-largest economy because foreign policy always reflects national comprehensive power. Xi has promised that China must be and will be reunified and asserted that the problem of Taiwan cannot be passed on from generation to generation. He also warned that China makes no promise to renounce the use of force and reserves the option of taking all necessary measures to achieve the reunification of China. Yet, Xi’s view on unification with Taiwan is essentially the same as all his predecessors. Since the inception of the PRC, all of the five top CCP leaders uphold the One-China Principle as they believe that Taiwan is an integral part of China; they firmly reject any form of Taiwan independence; they vow to safeguard national sovereignty including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan; they believe the reunification of Taiwan is an inevitable outcome and a historical trend; and they express a commitment to achieving reunification as an important aspect of maintaining national unity.

Each leader’s viewpoints have unavoidably been influenced by their respective historical contexts and the evolving circumstances of the global community, so their viewpoints toward Taiwan’s reunification have varied over time in their emphasis, approach, and specific policies. While all five top CCP leaders express the goal of reunification, Deng, Jiang, and Hu, placed a stronger emphasis on peaceful means of achieving reunification, highlighting the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Mao and Xi, on the other hand, have a more assertive policy and practice, and they do not explicitly prioritize peaceful reunification. Each leader has pursued their own approach toward Taiwan’s reunification. Deng and Jiang advocated for the framework of “One Country, Two Systems,” which was implemented in Hong Kong and Macau, as a model for future reunification with Taiwan. Hu emphasized the importance of deepening exchanges and cooperation between the mainland and Taiwan, particularly in economic and cultural areas. Xi has emphasized the concept of the “China Dream“ as a broader framework for reunification. However, none of the five leaders explicitly renounced the option of unification by force.

Therefore, the unification task is the PRC’s consistent ideology and has become the untouchable foundation of the PRC’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The CCP won’t change its historical mission of unification with Taiwan. The CCP sees unification as a matter of national pride and a symbol of China’s unity, an opportunity for increased economic integration and development, and a means to preserve and strengthen the Chinese nation’s unity and cultural heritage. If the CCP gave up the principle, it would lose its ruling party’s legitimacy and authority of governance.

Undoubtedly, Xi’s tougher stance on Taiwan is not only driven by the CCP principle but also motivated by his personal ambition. He must have had a specific plan when he revised China’s constitution to make it possible for him to stay in power without term limits. Evidently, as Mao’s faithful disciple, he hopes to achieve what his predecessors failed to do—the unification with Taiwan and cement his place as a remarkable person in China’s history. The catchword “China dream” is the iconic mark of Xi’s worldview and reflects his ambition to make China a global power that can rival and surpass the United States. According to Xi, the China Dream is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation that requires the reunification of greater China.

China’s global expansion is the external aspect of the China Dream. Xi envisions that the goal of unification with Taiwan could inspire the Chinese people, leading toward the future under the sole leadership of the CCP. A unified China would bolster China’s international standing and fortify its geopolitical position in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically by overcoming the obstacles posed by the first island chain—an area within which Taiwan holds immense strategic significance. Unification would help China improve its access to the Pacific Ocean, heighten its control over this crucial maritime zone, advance its ability to extend its military influence beyond the first island chain, secure its influence over vital resources and trade routes, safeguard its economic interests, and minimize potential vulnerabilities within the first island chain. Ultimately, China will attain a balanced distribution of power with the United States in both the Eastern and Western spheres.

It is noteworthy that the determination of unification with Taiwan does not only represent the interests of the CCP but also represents the will of the Chinese people. First of all, the common will of unification is due not only to patriotic nationalism but also arises from traditional Chinese culture—the idea of great harmony between individuals, nature, and human society. Mencius said that harmonious human relations are more important than good opportunities granted by Heaven and favorable geographic position (天时不如地利,地利不如人和). From Mencius’s idea to Dong Zhongzhu’s theory of the “interaction of heaven and People” (天人感应) to Zhu Xi’s theory of “unity of heaven and man unity” (天人合一), and to Sun Yat-sen’s harmonious world, 大同世界, the idea of the union of heaven and individuals is one of the basic principles of Confucianism-based Chinese traditional culture—traditional Chinese concept of all-under-heaven. The objective of a harmonious China and a harmonious world (大同世界) has been pursued by Chinese philosophers and politicians from ancient to communist China. The Chinese people believe that unification with Taiwan is the implementation of traditional Chinese culture, so the majority of the Chinese people will not relinquish this mission under any circumstance. Xi’s blueprint for building a community of shared future for mankind (建立人类命运共同体) or China Dream (中国梦) is a continuation of the concept of all-under-heaven.