Beijing Sends a Menacing Message in Its Lunar New Year Greeting to Taiwan

In a still image from the music video “Our War Eagles Circle the Treasured Island,” a pin from the PLA Air Force Airborne Corps is featured in the foreground, with the Taipei World Trade Center visible in the background.

Introduction

The Lunar New Year, which commenced on February 5th, inaugurated the “Year of the Pig” in the Chinese horoscope. The Lunar New Year is China’s largest annual holiday, and a traditional time for family gatherings, meals of dumplings, and gifts of hong bao (“red envelopes”) to children. However, on the eve of this year’s holiday another element was added to the season, and the cross-Strait relationship, in the form of a video propaganda message from the PRC to Taiwan. The video evoked the common cultural and ethnic ties of the two sides in a renewed call for reunification, while also bearing an unmistakable air of implied military menace.

The PLA’s “War Eagles” Deliver the PRC’s Message to Taiwan

The music video, titled “Our War Eagles Circle the Treasured Island” (Wo de Zhanying Raozhe Yudao Fei, 我的战鹰绕着宝岛飞), features the conceit of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flying around Taiwan, and gazing down upon the island’s people and prominent landmarks. It also features montages of street and nature scenes from ground level in Taiwan, and cheerful scenes of happy children at play. Throughout the video, crooning lyrics extol the beauty of Taiwan and the common ties across the Taiwan Strait, while making appeals for reunification (“The Strait stands between unceasing mountains and waters… memories of your native soil are softly calling for you to return”) (Bandao News, February 4). [1]

However, the sentimental lyrics and imagery within the video stand in awkward combination with its clearly implied threats to employ military force against Taiwan. Aside from the various military aircraft featured in the video—the “War Eagles” of the song’s title—the video contains an image of the Taipei World Trade Center, with a PLA Air Force Airborne Corps pin superimposed in the foreground (see accompanying image). The video also ends with the image of a beach scene—unidentified, but presumably intended to represent a beach in Taiwan—with a PRC flag fluttering in the breeze.

The video was produced by the PLA Airborne Corps Political Work Department (Kongjiangbing Budui Zhengzhi Gongzuobu, 空降兵部队政治工作部)—and as such, the video might be dismissed as the production of a lower-level echelon of the PLA, and therefore lacking in authoritative significance. However, this entity is a component of the PLA’s broader system for “political work,” which bears responsibility for political warfare and psychological operations directed against targets such as Taiwan. [2] Furthermore, in regards to a high-profile and sensitive issue like Taiwan, it is highly unlikely that such a video would be issued by a component of the PLA without sanction at the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Xi Jinping’s Earlier New Year’s Message to Taiwan

This Lunar New Year message from the PLA follows on the heels of a prominent speech delivered by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping just after the calendar New Year, at a January 2nd event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” (Gao Taiwan Tongbao Shu, 告台湾同胞书). The original “Message,” announced on New Year’s Day 1979, was an open letter nominally issued by the PRC National People’s Congress, and published prominently in the People’s Daily. The statement called for renewed progress towards unification, declaring that “reuniting the motherland is the sacred mission that history has entrusted to the people of this era” [统一祖国,是历史赋于我们这一代人的神圣使命]. The 1979 message also called for an end to hostile military exchanges (such as occasional artillery duels) between the mainland and Taiwan-controlled islands along the coast, and proposed the “Three Links” (San Tong, 三通) of direct postal communication, direct travel, and trade between the two sides. [3]

In his January 2nd speech, Xi offered little that was new: he issued renewed calls for adherence to the 1992 Consensus (that there is one China, with differing interpretations as to what that might mean); for reunification based on the “one country, two systems” formulation; and for vaguely-defined “democratic consultation” regarding Taiwan’s future. He also pointedly asserted the PRC’s right to exercise military force, stating that “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means” to prevent Taiwan independence (China Daily, January 2).

Conclusions

The “War Eagles” video, with its odd combination of syrupy sentimentality and thinly-veiled intimidation, seems unlikely to sway many minds in Taiwan. However, it is part of a larger, long-term campaign to impress on Taiwan’s citizens the power of the PRC, and the ultimate inevitability of reunification on the PRC’s terms. For the PLA, it also serves a domestic political purpose: signaling to Xi Jinping and other senior leaders the PLA’s continued support for the CCP’s positions on Taiwan, and its readiness to employ force to prevent Taiwan independence. It’s a message strangely incongruous with the spirit of the Lunar New Year holiday—but one entirely consistent with the uncompromising stance that Beijing maintains towards Taiwan.

John Dotson is the editor of China Brief. Contact him at: [email protected]

Notes

[1] The original Chinese lyrics in these lines are: “那一弯海峡隔不断山水, 请海鸥转告我的兄弟姐妹” (“The Strait stands between unceasing mountains and waters… seagulls, please pass on a message to my brothers and sisters…”) and “我的战鹰绕着宝岛飞…捎来故乡的思念轻声唤你归” (“Our war eagles circle the treasured island, bringing the memories of your native soil, softly calling for you to return”). The full video is available for viewing at:  “The Airborne Corps’ New Year’s Greetings MV: Our War Eagles Circle the Treasured Island” (空降兵部队贺岁MV:我的战鹰绕着宝岛飞), Bandao News (original source People’s Daily), February 4, 2018. http://news.bandao.cn/a/179076.html?from=message.

[2] The PLA Airborne Corps Political Work Department (Kongjiangbing Budui Zhengzhi Gongzuobu, 空降兵部队政治工作部) is identified in the video’s opening credits as the organization that produced the video. For a discussion of the role of the PLA Political Department, see: Mark Stokes, The People’s Liberation Army General Political Department: Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics, Project 2049 Institute, October 14, 2013. https://project2049.net/2013/10/14/the-peoples-liberation-army-general-political-department-political-warfare-with-chinese-characteristics/.

[3] See: “Complete Text of ‘Message to Compatriots in Taiwan’” [《告台湾同胞书》全文], The Observer [观察者], January 2, 2019. https://www.guancha.cn/politics/2019_01_02_485383.shtml.