Global SITREP for Thursday, 28 December 2023 – Forward Observer

Global SITREP for Thursday, 28 December 2023

Good morning, and welcome to the Global Situation Report for Thursday, 28 December 2023

  1. CHINA-TAIWAN YEAR IN REVIEW: INFO OPS AND INCURSIONS: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has steadily increased its overall presence around Taiwan and changed its aerial composition throughout the year. Cross-strait relations have generally cooled, but China gave Taiwanese residents in the Kinmen Islands an opportunity for integration and hosted a former Taiwanese president.
  • Naval incursions steadily increased since 01 January 2023, but aerial incursions have remained stagnant despite hitting two all-time highs.
  • The first reported Chinese balloon crossed the median line on 07 December 2023. Balloons have made five appearances since then. The Taiwanese government claims these are normal occurrences but did not previously report them.
  • Former President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang Party (KMT) made a personal visit to mainland China to pay respects to Chinese heroes and warn Taiwan that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was leading them to war.
  • Numerous espionage scandals happened in Taiwan’s military and defense industrial sector, including active duty base commanders preparing to defect, leaking classified information, and high-ranking civilian officials leaking information.
  • The PLA conducted several joint exercises across the Strait and around the island, training to capture Taiwan by force.

Why It Matters: Taiwan is just two weeks away from a critical election that could result in a declaration of independence next summer, which is a casus belli for China. Chinese information operations have targeted the election throughout 2023. Recent polling showed the ruling DPP is likely to retain the presidency, but they may have a KMT-controlled legislature. The United States is not treaty-bound to defend Taiwan but has publicly told its Pacific forces that they will not be moved from the theater regardless of what happens in the rest of the world. – J.V.

  1. CHINA-PI YEAR IN REVIEW: PI JOINS REGIONAL PARTNERS TO COUNTER CHINA: China and the Philippines began the year with multiple peace talks and a formal agreement to a 14-point plan to resolve their long-standing territorial disputes. Those disputes have only worsened, and China’s actions drove the Philippines into deeper security agreements with the U.S., Japan, and Australia.
  • Territorial buoy deployments and simple blockades were used by both sides around the disputed islands in the first half of the year. By year’s end, China had rammed and disabled a Filipino resupply ship. The Philippines threatened to declare the Chinese ambassador Persona Non Grata in response to the rammings.
  • The Philippines’ request that the UN enforce its 2016 ruling on the dispute was ignored. Since then, the Philippines has funded a new base and pier on the shoal, promised increased military presence, secured joint patrols with Australia in the South China Sea, authorized a U.S. base to overlook the shoal, and got the U.S. to add actions by enemy coast guard vessels to their mutual defense treaty. 
  • The Filipinos had numerous firsts with regional security partners, including the first Japanese observers of the Philippines’ Balikatan exercise, the first Filipino observers of Japan’s Annual exercise, the first bilateral amphibious landing exercise with Australia, and their first presidential visit to the White House in over a decade. 
  • Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced he would look for “non-traditional partners” for security and defense in June. By the year’s end, the Philippines and Japan upgraded their security agreements twice, allowing Japan to station troops in the Philippines. Japan also began changing its export laws to allow nations other than the U.S. to buy lethal weapons. This is part of a grander Trilateral Security Dialogue between the Philippines, Japan, and the U.S.

Why It Matters: The Philippines has radically altered the geopolitical landscape of the Western Pacific this year and become a player in its own right in deterring China’s goals. One of their key victories is updating their mutual defense treaty with the U.S. to include attacks by enemy coast guards. This greatly increases the risk of war as the Chinese Coast Guard steadily escalates its deterrence measures and flirts with lethality, as seen in the recent rammings. We expect conditions to escalate in 2024. – J.V.

  1. TAIWAN TO ROOT OUT ELECTION MEDDLING AHEAD OF 2024 ELECTIONS: The Taiwanese Ministry of Justice (MOJ) briefed officials on foreign election interference ahead of the 13 January 2024 elections in which a new president will be elected.
  • Taiwanese Premier Chen Chien-jen instructed the MOJ and other Taiwanese agencies to investigate and root out foreign influence operation networks.
  • Chinese officials accused Taiwan of hyping up the threat of a military conflict to influence elections.

Why It Matters: The electoral defeat of the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would score a significant political victory for the Chinese Communist Party and could enable China to avoid a military conflict to reunify Taiwan with the mainland. The DPP remains a pro-independence party, while challengers such as the Kuomintang (KMT) have engaged senior Chinese officials on the eventual reunification of Taiwan. Any move by the DPP to assert independence next year could result in a military confrontation between the two sides. – M.S.

  1. CHINA WARNS U.S., PHILIPPINES ON SOUTH CHINA SEA COOPERATION: Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the United States and the Philippines on South China Sea activities that Xi alleges infringe on Chinese sovereignty.
  • A Chinese defense ministry spokesman warned, “[W]e will not turn a blind eye to the Philippines’ repeated provocations and harassment. We urge the US to immediately stop meddling in the South China Sea issue, stop emboldening and supporting Philippine infringement and provocation, and safeguard regional security with concrete actions.”

Why It Matters: The Philippines has become a player in the U.S.-China chess game, which now spans Asia-Pacific, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. China is signaling a readiness to escalate its gray zone conflict against the Philippines, which could pose a strategic dilemma to the United States, which is already supporting Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. – M.S.

THAT’S A WRAP: This does it for today’s edition. Thank you for reading. If you know folks who would also like to receive this email, would you please forward it to them? We appreciate you spreading the word. – M.S.

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