CHINA has stepped up its pressure on Taiwan in the run-up to Taipei’s presidential elections next month where President Tsai Ing-wen is running for her second and last term on a strong anti-Beijing stance, a campaign platform that first catapulted her to office in 2016.
While Beijing constantly flexes its muscles on its tiny island-neighbor that it considers a “renegade province,” Taipei, under Tsai’s leadership, has however, learned to shake it off by reinforcing her nation’s political, economic and security fundamentals.
Provocations, attacks, fake news
China’s pressure—as Taipei sees it—comes in many forms. Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Minister Chen Ming-chi and other Taiwanese officials, said these include provocations, cyber attacks and even the deliberate feeding of information, or fake news, to Taiwan residents.
“Despite [the fact] that we have worked very hard to continue our moderate stance towards China, China has become more provocative these days,” Chen told journalists who visited Taiwan last week. “But Taiwan will not be kowtowing [to China] and [its] Communist Party.”
Chen, whose office is tasked with the planning, development and implementation of Taipei’s policies toward Beijing, said the island values democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and rule of law. And these very same principles, he said, are what differentiate it from China.
“We want to maintain our democratic way of living,” Chen said.
One country, two systems
Taiwanese officials see Beijing’s increased pressure as part of the communist party’s effort to influence the results of the presidential elections against Tsai, and in favor of the other candidate who will toe and advance China’s line of reunification.
China regards Taiwan as a wayward province that should be reunited—even by using force—with the mainland.
Tsai, who is running for reelection under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is favored by more than 50 percent of Taiwanese voters against other candidates, including from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who barely have to breach even a 10-percent acceptance, if Taiwan’s latest survey were to be believed.
Taiwan’s President rejects the “one China” principle, or the “one country, two systems” that Beijing wanted for Taipei, and which is modeled after Macau and Hong Kong. The latter has for months been the scene of unceasing, occasionally violent protests sparked by claims of erosion in overall freedom.
Taiwanese sentiments against China seemed to augur well for Tsai’s stance as an overwhelming number of voters reject the idea of a reunification with China, based on the results of a survey, this time conducted by the National Chengchi University.
The survey, wherein Taiwanese prefers to maintain a status quo in its current relations with China and “decide later,” or even “indefinitely,” is propelling Tsai’s chance for a second term in the January 11 balloting that she earlier declared as an election for freedom and sovereignty.
The idea of maintaining the current China-Taiwan relations leading to independence also ranked as the third highest preference for Taiwan’s residents, while the issue of a reunification with Beijing was the least acceptable.
Ketty Chen, vice president of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, said that while the island’s own brand of democracy may not be perfect as other Taiwanese would want it to be, it nonetheless remains as the most vibrant and one of the best in Asia.
In fact, she said that 80 percent of the population “does not want to live outside without Taiwanese democracy,” and its residents consider themselves Taiwanese and not Chinese, highlighting their nationality as an independent country.
Chen said Taiwan’s democracy had to fend off pressure and challenges on a daily basis, with efforts to undermine it coming even from people who claimed to be Taiwanese at heart, but are being used as proxies for groups buts whose concerns run to the opposite direction.
As China wants to control Taiwan, it views the forthcoming scheduled balloting as a great step toward this goal by working to affect Tsai’s chances of getting reelected despite her popularity among the Taiwanese voters fueled mainly by her current policy on Beijing.
Dr. Wu Jun-deh of The Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) said China’s attacks on Taiwan via the cyberspace have increased and intensified as the country entered its election period. The attacks were, however, being detected and parried off.
The INDSR expects the cyber activities to peak within two weeks from the January 7 presidential and legislative elections, still with the end goal of apparently affecting Tsai’s chances and influencing the voters.
Wu said that attacks on Taiwan through cyberspace have increased just a year after Tsai was sworn into office in 2016, logging a monthly average of 30 million, with more than half of the recorded activities coming from the Chinese government, or its sponsored groups.
Taiwan’s official relations with China had taken a back seat as a result of Tsai’s position that is anchored on the non-negotiable issue of freedom and sovereignty for Taipei, although both sides still civilly worked with each other.
Since 2008, Beijing and Taipei have been communicating, or even negotiating, on the issue of the one China, two systems model that China is pushing, but it took a negative turn when Tsai came into office in 2016 because of her hardline position.
“This government will not succumb to pressure and [at the same time] will not provoke China,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, who described Tsai’s approach on the issue as “prudent.”
Yang said that Tsai’s stance on sovereignty is being viewed by Beijing as unacceptable, and as such, it has created a mistrust over the Taiwanese government. Any talks with the current government would be counterproductive. It could even aggravate the prevailing misunderstanding.
Taiwan sees the cross-straits relations as a scapegoat for China, which is currently in the middle of a trade tiff with the United States while being forced to contend with the spiraling political situation in Hong Kong.
“Given the current tensions of the US-China trade war and the Hong Kong situation, Taiwan has become the scapegoat for the Chinese political leaders and the Chinese communist party to air their frustrations,” said Chen of the MAC.
Taipei said China is exerting pressure on it politically, economically, diplomatically and even by way of military intimidation in its effort to win Taipei, but the Taiwanese government is resisting this effort by taking steps to also improve in all of these areas.
Chen said Taiwan is building up politically, economically and militarily while not provoking China in order to deal with the pressure applied by Beijing.
“With China’s rising sharp power on the global stage, its intervention and infiltration tactics have raised red flags not only in the US, Australia, but also among other nations in the other region,” Chen said.
“Taiwan, standing at the forefront of such political influence operations, has been working hard to strengthen our defense mechanism for democracy, starting with President Tsai’s announcement of the establishment of the three-part security network to safeguard our sovereignty and democratic system,” he added.
Over the past weeks, Taiwanese officials have unearthed sustained and determined efforts by Chinese communist party officials to infiltrate and meddle with Taipei’s government through the recruitment of spies and “infiltrators,” both Taiwanese and Chinese, one of whom had already sought asylum in Australia.
In the area of defense, Taiwan is acquiring more military assets and equipment, including the procurement of at least 66 brand-new F-16 fighter jets from the US as it increases its budget spending for next year to more than 2 percent of its gross domestic product.
On diplomacy, while Taiwan is only left with 15 countries with which it has existing official diplomatic relations as a result of the one-China policy, it is building up this roster through engagements, mutual cooperation and even business-to-business activities.
Yang said that while it takes time for the diplomatic effort to have tangible results, it is steering toward this direction, given Taipei’s strong economic position, its system of government and its strict adherence to universally accepted rights and freedom.