Taiwan National Security Bureau director Peng Sheng-chu said Xi Jinping having unfettered power would bode ill for cross-Strait relations. Photo: United Daily News

Taiwan’s top official responsible for counterespionage and national security admitted publicly this week that a more bellicose Beijing under “Emperor” Xi Jinping might attempt a pre-emptive strike to tame the self-governing island.

“Expect more sharp-elbow rhetoric and tactics from China,” National Security Bureau chief Peng Sheng-chu warned during a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Yuan, as the parliament in Taipei is known.

Some analysts say that in the next five years Taiwan could face the greatest threat to its peace and autonomy since the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996, which saw mainland missiles skim along the island’s western coastline and United States carrier groups rally to the island’s defense.

Peng’s remarks were seen as a rebuke to a previous report in the pro-reunification China Times. The Taipei-based paper quoted a former national security official saying that Xi’s absolute grip on power could herald a more flexible, genial approach to handling cross-strait ties, noting Beijing’s recent incentive to dangle economic perks to woo support from Taiwanese citizens.

Opposition to Xi’s policy is unlikely under China’s current one-man-rule, so the contemporary Chinese “emperor” can either be more belligerent, or wrap his hand in a velvet glove to win over Taiwanese, the former official said.

But Peng said the National Security Bureau believed that Beijing was more likely to take a hardline approach toward the independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen administration, but appear amicable and accommodating to sway the general public in Taiwan.

Beijing has rolled out a pack of new measures and concessions to attract Taiwanese to study, work and start businesses on the mainland, and it has said that more policies are in store to rope in the island’s talent.

Taiwan’s spymaster was also grilled in the same session as Peng fumbled when asked to identify his mainland counterpart, Chinese Minister of State Security Chen Wenqing, in a photograph, Apple Daily Taiwan revealed.

A 2016 file photo shows Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen speaking on the phone with the then US President-elect Donald Trump in her office in Taipei on December 2, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Taiwan Presidential Office handout

Peng said the current calm was temporary as the Chinese parliament had convened for its annual congress to deliberate on major issues. But he said that a storm was lurking after US President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law. “Beijing is prepared to retaliate forcibly once senior US officials touch down on the island,” he said.

The act explicitly encourages visits between Taiwan and US officials at all levels.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Chih-chung said his ministry welcomed the law and would make “all the necessary preparations to facilitate high-level exchanges with the US”.

Read more:

How Xi aims to take Taiwan without pulling a trigger

Tsai may exploit cross-strait crisis for second term

Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo to face more menacing from Beijing

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