As tensions in the Taiwan Strait reached their highest level in decades, China held the world rapt with a show of military might, deploying its largest-ever military exercises to intimidate Taiwan and its supporters. But the message that China has sought to convey involves far more than warships and fighter jets.

Alongside its flashy display of raw power, China has been laying out its most forceful vision — political, economic, cultural — of a future unified with Taiwan.

Under that vision, guided by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, not only would the Chinese navy navigate at will through the Taiwan Strait, but mainland troops could also be stationed on the island, to enforce a system of political subordination similar to that in Hong Kong. The Taiwanese people would prevent shadowy foreign powers from using the island to weaken Beijing. And they would set aside the separate identity that has emerged on the island by recognizing their cultural roots.