The Chinese military’s use of colorful, strongly worded posters hinting at war with old political rival Taiwan are aimed more at keeping its own troops on edge and making the Communist Party look strong than at riling the Taiwanese, some experts say.
Posters distributed online in China, including one discovered this month that reads “Prepare for war,” stoke the People’s Liberation Army to prepare for any conflict, the analysts believe. They say Taiwan’s armed forces, who have seen posters come and go over the years, need not worry.
Previous posters targeting Taiwan have shown explosions going off over a map of the island and Chinese ships invading a river estuary just north of Taipei. The two sides have not gone to war since a series of skirmishes over outlying islands some 50 years ago.
Chinese army posters issued 1958 read “We must liberate Taiwan”, a poster dated 1954 reads “Save our Taiwanese compatriots” and one from 1950 says “Sending off the People’s Liberation Army to overthrow Taiwan! Carry out the revolutionary war to the end!”
“It’s really emphasizing the domestic solidarity, people should be prepared, and also strengthening the power position of the CCP (Communist Party of China),” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies think tank in Taiwan.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when the Nationalists lost to the Communists and fled to the island 160 kilometers away. The Communist government insists the two sides eventually unify and does not rule out use of force to chase that ambition – though it has said it prefers a peaceful unification.
Relations have worsened since 2016, when President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei with backing from a political party that takes a tough view on Beijing. Over the past five years, China has cut back Taiwan-bound tourism, persuaded some of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to switch allegiance and flown military aircraft through a corner of Taiwanese airspace.
The posters do not signal a coming war, analysts believe, as China prefers to avoid conflict even though it maintains the world’s third largest military after the United States and Russia.
Actual military relations are “actually not necessarily so tense,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
Posters appear because “for military training and for preparedness as well, they have always done a lot in terms of psychology and in terms of morale,” Huang said.
Beijing’s state-run China Daily website acknowledged in 2017 an effort to “boost the morale of the military,” when Chinese President Xi Jinping gave awards to 10 officers for special contributions. Soldiers often spend much of the year away from family.
A year earlier the news outlet quoted Chinese petty officers saying they had sacrificed family obligations to work on an aircraft carrier but found their duties to be rewarding.
Communist states typically use posters and other messages to create “agitation” that advances “the struggles of the people” and eventually mobilizes those people “for struggles against the enemy,” a report on the Marxist Internet Archive article database says.
The Chinese government for decades has produced colorful and often “photo-shopped” posters aimed at raising confidence in the ruling party among segments of the population, said Sean Su, an independent political analyst in Taipei. Previous posters have suggested that China could win a war against the United States, he added.
This year the Communists are releasing films, giving speeches, displaying banners and placing reports in the Chinese news for the 100th anniversary of the party’s establishment. The latest poster aimed at Taiwan may be part of this effort, Yang said.
“North Korea produces something like this every month, so this isn’t necessarily something to really worry about,” Su said. “Authoritarian nations like to talk tough. China comes out with these things almost yearly, but the real purposes of these things is to hype up its military and maintain readiness.”