China Saber-Rattles (Again)

With provocative incursions of Chinese aircraft across the Taiwan Strait median line around Christmas Day (perhaps as a message responding to the US defense bill), it’s useful to review China’s military posture. Here’s the disposition of Chinese forces in the Eastern and Southern Theaters, as noted by the DoD’s 2022 assessment.

Source: DoD,Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2022 (November 2022).

Source: DoD,Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2022 (November 2022).

In other words, China’s military posture in the region adjoining Taiwan remains — if not prepared for imminent assault — certainly less than completely friendly. DoD predicts (factsheet):

The PLA will likely continue to increase military pressure — in combination with diplomatic, information, economic pressure — in an attempt to compel Taiwan toward reunification.

While this is hardly an out-of-the-box prediction, I have to say I don’t understand the reason for this in terms of a rational actor model, unless these moves are for domestic consumption. Heightening uncertainty will not only hurt Taiwan’s economy, it can’t help China’s economy — which is in dire shape — either. Perhaps, it’s just the view that wearing down the Taiwanese economy by forcing greater defense expenditures and inducing capital flight will finally make the Taiwanese yield (see discussion from this August). I’m dubious about whether this approach will succeed — although I have no particular insight into the views of the CCP or the Taiwanese government. (Taiwanese reported forex reserves rose in November, after decreasing in September in the wake of Pelosi’s visit. Q3 growth was positive 1.83% q/q, so that growth was positive YTD.)

Below is the Caldara- Iacoviella GPR index for Taiwan, through November (so omits the massive air incursions by the PLAAF of three days ago).

Source: Caldara-Iacoviella (2022).

Presumably, in light of the air incursions and Taiwan’s move to extend compulsory military service from 4 months to a year (announced today), December’s GPR will be elevated.


19 thoughts on “China Saber-Rattles (Again)

    1. Moses Herzog

      “unless these moves are for domestic consumption”

      Well, I believe Professor Chinn has answered his own question. And…….. as my good-souled and cerebral internet pal Macroduck says, no snark.

    2. pgl

      ;Asked about whether they would invite Russia to the summit, the foreign minister said that Moscow would first need to face prosecution for war crimes at an international court. “They can only be invited to this step in this way,” Kuleba said.’

      We know Putin would never agree to this on his own even though it is a very reasonable request. Now if there are people in the Kremlin who actually care about the future of the Russian people – they will remove Putin from power and sent him to the West to face the punishment for the war crimes he committed.

      Now if our country finally has the courage to try Donald Trump for the damage he has does.

      1. Moses Herzog

        We already know the answer to that question. It was answered during the Nixon administration.

        And then the mating call of Republicans whenever their own breaks the law or commits immorality” “We’ve got to move forward”, “It’s time to move on” “There’s nothing we can do about it now” “Too much time has gone by”

        1. pgl

          “Forty-five years ago this month, a future Boynton Beach lawyer arrived at the White House upon his return from a secret mission. He was ushered into the Oval Office where he handed a series of documents to the president, Gerald R. Ford. “We’re going to do it tomorrow,” Ford reportedly told 36-year-old attorney Benton Becker as he looked over the documents. “We’re going to do it tomorrow at noon.” That would be the Sept. 8, 1974, pardon of Richard Nixon, the disgraced president who had resigned the previous month as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up. Becker, who would move to South Florida three years later, had spent three days clandestinely negotiating the pardon, the wording of a statement by Nixon and an unprecedented contract whereby a former president deeded ownership of his presidential records to the federal government.

          I did not know this. Many thanks for the informative if not disturbing account. Whenever people praise Ford for pardoning Nixon, I just lose it.

  1. Barkley Rosser

    Here is an oddly related matter, sort of. David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson, leading “happiness scholars,” have just posted a paper at NBER called “Wellbeing Rankinga,” I have had quite public disagreements with Blanchflower in the past on topic related to this, but this here has nothing to do with any of that.

    Anyway, traditionally people studying this have asked one question, usuallly “how satisfied are you?” or “how happy are you?” which tend to correlate about .85. Anyway, these authors seek to expand this saying this is too simplistic. Danes and Finna come out top, (“Are you happy?” Yah Yah Yah!”), but then they have those high suicide rates and do not seem to be jumping up and down for joy.

    So these guys say there are both positive and negative to happiness or satisfaction and they need to be gotten at So they look at four positive measures (“satisfaction is one of them) and four negative ones (“pain” is one). Furthermore they expand their data base by looking at political units and considet the US states individually.

    Bottom line after they look at the net rankings, the top ten political units in measured “wellbeing” ar US stated, with Hawaii and MInnesota at the top. Coming in at #7 is one non-US political entity: Taiwan

    Oh, China does not do too badly, comiing in at #30.

    1. Barkley Rosser

      I suspect that the recognition of this by tht PRC leadershiop has then increasingly frustrated. There they were, playing this long game of increasing trade and investment relations, trying to tie Taiwan tightly yo PRC with hope of cutting a “two system deal like Hong Kong had. But then Xi Jinping blew it: he took over Hong Kong more directly, triggering protests and will lots of people getting arrested or leaving.

      Sorry, ltr, this is NOT BENIGN, and the Taiwanese saw it. Now those who were supporting closer relations with the mainland are not doing well politicially in Taiwan, bu Xi is I think jealous. Taiwan is just so much superior to PRC in so many ways, morally, politically, economically, socially, pretty much all ways.

      BTW, I continue to regret Pelosi had to make her personalistic grandstand trip there, which really tensed things up so she could please a handful of constitueents in here district.

      1. Willie

        No, it is not benign. Dictators do bloodthirsty and destructive things at times. Xi is no different. But he has his hands full so far as I can tell. The Chinese economy isn’t doing well enough to keep the prospects for the Chinese people improving. He’s got a middle class to deal with now. He’s got the backlash from draconian shut downs for COVID.

        My take is that it is a distraction. He can see what Ukraine is doing to the Russian Federation’s supposedly mighty military with NATO’s cast-offs. The Taiwan Strait is a more formidable natural obstacle than the border between Russia and Ukraine. Based on the evidence from Ukraine, if the US waded in to defend Taiwan, China would lose. Xi certainly knows this and won’t risk it. But, the saber rattling and jingoistic militarism are a way to divert attention from domestic issues.

        The difference between Xi and Putin is that Xi isn’t dead set on conquering some mythical empire. Unlike Putin, who is making sure that the name Vladimir doesn’t get used for centuries, Xi is not a complete idiot. I am also a pathological optimist, so take what I say with that in mind.

      2. Moses Herzog

        @ Barkley Rosser
        You’re even dumber than I think you are (and that’s pretty dumb) if you didn’t know Hong Kong was long doomed to be under one system, the same system as the rest of China’s mainland, long before Xi Jinping took power as general secretary of the party. Arguably even before the infamous 689 vote for Leung Chun-ying. That inevitability was written in stone when Hong Kong’s citizenry decided they weren’t going to make more extreme protests about the 1200 member appointed election committee choosing the city’s chief executive. That was when Hong Kong gave up on its own democracy, before Xi Jinping ever became general secretary of the party.

        Rosser, do people a favor, whatever your field of expertise is (damned if I can figure it out) stick to it, and don’t try to incessantly come across as the know it all on topics you are not well versed in.

    2. Bruce Hall

      Perhaps the responses are relative to expectations. Would an Hawaiian respond with high scores of well being if he had to move to Minnesota for a job? Would an American respond positively if required to live as a typical Chinese citizen?

      1. Moses Herzog

        My standby joke with Chinese friends (I don’t think I used this in the classroom but I may have, I was more apt to use it if someone had “got my ire up” making ridiculous comparisons) was asking whatever mainland Chinese person I was talking to if they knew of ANY Americans or Canadians who were risking their lives on fishing boats and/or inside shipping containers to migrate to China.

        98% of the time this “rhetorical stunt” was assured to be followed by a large moment of silence.

        1. Moses Herzog

          I should say I tried damned hard not to be “the ugly American”. I am certain inside certain moments I royally failed. But I should say in defense of myself, that you on rare occasions run into that person who keeps poking you in the biceps with an equine medicine needle (sometimes when you are not even arguing), and then words come out of your mouth you regret one half day later.

      2. pgl

        WTF are you babbling about now? Whether someone would move from a warm area to a cold area to take a job is on the same level of China invading Taiwan. Brucie – we warned you about the side effects from drinking bleach on a daily basis.

      3. W

        “Would an Hawaiian respond with high scores of well being if he had to move to Minnesota for a job?”

        Yes, I believe so,

  2. pgl

    Putin claims Ukraine is part of Russia so Xi claims Taiwan is part of the PRC. And ltr and JohnH are now BFFs. Funny how this goes.

  3. Steven Kopits

    “…I have to say I don’t understand the reason for this in terms of a rational actor model…”

    Rationality can only be judged in light of a given objective function. An action is only ‘irrational’ if it does not advance the cause of the given objective function. Now, an objective function can be ‘irrational’, either because it is inherently self-contradictory or because it is, in some sense, immoral.

    The Three Ideology Models helps us assess the objective functions.

    First, it is important to note that ideologies are retail concepts, that is, they represent the public’s views of the means to allocate the resources of society. Liberals want an eat-what-you-kill ethos where resources are allocated on the basis of merit: you’re paid what you’re worth. Egalitarians want everyone to share equally in communal resources. Conservatives want compensation according to that due to the agent in a given group setting: eg, all conscripts start as privates and serve for 18 months, for example. In this sense, we can consider ideologies as economic concepts (although they also imply associated political structures and power relationships). Ideologies will typically be associated with self-determination or democracy. Ideologies matter when the public does.

    In autocracies, the public largely does not matter. This is clearly true in Russia, and certainly true in China. Here, the will of the leader is decisive and power is used to prevent the public from expressing preferences.

    We can consider the objectives of the autocrat on both the liberal (personal) and conservative (leader) level.

    On a personal level, a leader’s objective function is liberal, that is, the maximization of personal utility, meaning power, wealth, longevity, prestige and legacy. For the autocrat, more is better: more power (over more people and territory), more wealth, greater prestige and a more impressive legacy. If you watch Bill Browder’s take on Putin, Browder’s analysis focuses purely on these elements. It’s all about what is good for Putin personally and the rest is cynical façade.

    On a leadership (agent) level, the autocrat may seek the prosperity of the country, enhancing its power, security and status, and the incorporation of all territories deemed by the population to be ‘us’. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can also be viewed in this light. Thus, the sincere may co-habit with the cynical. What’s good for GM is good for America, to use a now-dated US analogy. What’s good for Putin is good for Russia, and vice versa. Motivations are complex.

    Now, both Putin and Xi have the same comparative advantage: eliminating domestic political opponents. They are, by definition, highly successful in climbing the power pyramid. Once they control that pyramid, the next step is to try to take over the proximate pyramid, in the case of Russia, Ukraine; for China, the South China Sea and now Taiwan. This is about the progression of power, because that is what these guys do. (It is not about governance as we usually think of it at Econbrowser.)

    Note that in this effort, conservative objectives drown out both liberal and egalitarian ones. The liberal objective, in a nutshell, is the prosperity of the country and the progression of personal rights. Putin has trashed these for years to come in Russia. Egalitarianism also bites the dust. Who is doing the fighting in Ukraine? The Moscow elites or the poor schmucks from deep-woods Russia, poor rural peasants don’t even know what a flush toilet is? Wars inevitably hurt the most vulnerable the most, either because they fight and die or because the state reduces their financial means through higher costs, lower quantities, and lower transfer payments. If you want a setting that’s bad for the little guy, war is it. War is a conservative exercise.

    Despite the adverse effects of war, the population largely falls in line due to both coercion and a willingness to accept conservative objectives under the circumstances. If you want to be really depressed about the Russian people, I encourage you to watch some of the man-on-the-street interviews on 1420. ( The interviewed monotonously repeat that there is a need to ‘protect the motherland’ from, well, they are not sure exactly what, but clearly the west wants to inundate Russia with LGBTQ+ people, ergo, Russia must invade Ukraine. They have absolutely no self-awareness that they are engaging in a predatory and near-genocidal war for which both Russian leadership and the Russian public deserve to be treated as war criminals.

    All these motivations are true for Xi as well. Xi seeks to make China a great country in the way that Xi put himself on the top of the pyramid: by eliminating opponents. And it’s worked for far! So let’s roll the dice again. China’s greatness is Xi’s greatness, and vice versa. He’s won every match until now, he’ll win the next one, too!

    Now, viewed through a liberal lens, this is pure insanity. Xi wants to destroy the very liberal system that, in the last forty years, created 97% of China’s GDP. But that assumes that a liberal governance perspective is or should be dominant, which readers here largely do. But what’s some hardship and a few million dead Chinese if Xi can rule Asia, and then the world! Well worth the cost. (That thinking certainly worked for Putin!)

    So, if you want to understand Xi’s motivation, first, keep in mind his view as a principal: war brings personal greatness, it maximizes his personal utility. Second, in his view, China should be great, and China is led by Xi, and Xi has won all his matches so far, so Xi will make China great — in the conservative sense of more power, more security, larger population and land mass, greater control over neighbors and unquestioned regional and global dominance. GDP / capita is for sissies.

    So that’s my take on Xi, and has been for a long time. You can understand why I am so fixated on democracy there. For China, democracy is successful foreign policy, for autocracy will unleash unprecedented disaster upon all of us.

    1. pgl

      Promoting the dumbest thing ever written in the history of mankind again? We have asked you before to stop this trash.

      Folks – do not read this as it is a complete mess and a total waste of your time.

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