The Eurasia Group, a top geopolitical risk consultancy, recently identified leading risks for 2018. Topping the list are China’s efforts to set international standards and accelerate a global reordering of power. President Xi Jinping (習近平) has fed this narrative with his consistent invocations of China as a “great power,” and his promotion of a “China solution” as an alternative to the Western democratic model. China appears emboldened by its perceived success at home and abroad, and also by the currently diminished role of the United States in setting the global agenda. This risk of increasing turbulence resulting from China’s opportunistic activism is real and bears close monitoring.
At the same time, though, a related global trend is taking root. Increasingly, countries are becoming aware of — and averse to — Beijing’s efforts to influence their citizens’ attitudes toward China. Both the National Endowment for Democracy and The Economist recently described China’s actions as a form of “sharp power,” which relies on a combination of bullying, bribery, coercion, and information manipulation to suppress challenges to China’s interests and muffle criticism of Chinese behavior. Through these actions, China also seeks to dim the allure of the Western democratic model and build acceptance for its own governance model, which privileges internal security over individual liberties.
The pushback against China’s “sharp power” tactics is most visible in Australia, where Canberra is developing new regulations to prevent outside actors from buying influence through political contributions. A similar story is playing out in New Zealand. There are mounting calls in the United States, including in the US Congress, about the need for vigilance against Chinese efforts to influence America’s public discourse. Anxieties are also heightened across Europe — not just over attempts to fracture the European Union’s approach to China, but also over Chinese acquisitions of leading high-tech manufacturing firms. In South Korea, China’s multi-dimensional campaign to forestall installation of a US-provided missile defense system aroused antipathy, being viewed as an effort to compel South Korea to place China’s security requirements above its own. In Taiwan, perceived mainland-directed united front activities have strengthened the voices of those that view Beijing through an adversarial lens. According to recent polling by the Pew Research Center, many countries throughout the Asia-Pacific are coming to view China’s rise as threatening. Even its most stalwart supporters, such as Pakistan, have begun to express concern about the scale of China’s influence within their borders.
At a time when many parts of the world appear to be growing wary of China’s displays of “sharp power,” Taiwan has an opportunity to bolster its own “soft power” and, in the process, garner goodwill for its contributions to the international community. Here are three ideas for doing so:
Expand investment within the New Southbound Policy strategy. In the near-term, Taiwan should deepen economic bonds with its Southern partners. Over the longer-term, Taiwan should invest heavily in strengthening personal relationships with next-generation political and business leaders in ASEAN and South Asian countries. Done right, such efforts will cultivate enduring support for Taiwan’s role in — and contributions to — the region.
Increase investment in the Global Cooperation Training Framework and the International Environmental Program. These flagship initiatives provide a platform for Taiwan to bring representatives from key countries in the region and beyond to the island. Through these efforts, Taiwan is able to play a leading role in addressing critical challenges, such as halting the spread of infectious diseases, scaling up renewable energy projects in developing countries, stopping human trafficking, and promoting women’s empowerment. These activities showcase Taiwan’s spirit of innovation, generate goodwill, and deepen its relevance in regional affairs.
Raise public awareness of Chinese Communist Party tactics for influencing public discourse through propaganda, clandestine operations, and computer network exploitations. In many ways, Taiwan is ground zero for China’s employment of “sharp power.” Transparency can be the best disinfectant against such efforts. It also can help forge consensus within Taiwan on the scale and scope of the challenge, making it easier to formulate responses that enjoy public support. In pursuing this track, Taiwan may wish to draw lessons from Finland’s recently established Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which is playing a similar role in a European context.
These ideas align with President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) stated desire to position Taiwan as a responsible actor and upholder of the cross-Strait status quo. This is a prudent and wise place for Tsai to position Taiwan.
Taiwan should concentrate on finding ways to burnish its own image as a provider of public goods. This would help Taiwan generate respect and dignity on the international stage. Though less measurable than the number of diplomatic allies it maintains or international conferences it attends, such goodwill — or “soft power” — may prove every bit as valuable for strengthening Taiwan’s standing over the long run.
Ryan Hass is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, where he holds a joint appointment to the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.
South China Sea exercises in July by two United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers reminds that Taiwan’s history since mid-1950, and as a free nation, is intertwined with that of the aircraft carrier. Eventually Taiwan will host aircraft carriers, either those built under its democratic government or those imposed on its territory by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). By September 1944, a lack of sufficient carrier airpower and land-based airpower persuaded US Army and Navy leaders to forgo an invasion to wrest Taiwan from Japanese control, thereby sparing Taiwanese considerable wartime destruction. But two
This year, India and Taiwan can look back on 25 years of so-called unofficial ties. This provides an occasion to ponder over how they can deepen collaboration and strengthen their relations. This reflection must be free from excitement and agitation caused by the ongoing China-US great power jostling as well as China’s aggressive actions against many of its neighbors, including India. It must be based on long-term trends in bilateral engagement. To begin with, India and Taiwan, thus far, have had relations constituted by various activities, but what needs to be thought about now is whether they can transform their ties
On Thursday last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a barnstorming speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future.” The speech set out in no uncertain terms the insoluble ideological divide between a totalitarian, communist China and the democratic, free-market values of the US. It was also a full-throated call to arms for all nations of the free world to rally behind the US and defeat China. Pompeo elaborated on a clear distinction between China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in an attempt to recalibrate the
As Taiwan is engulfed in worries about Chinese infiltration, news reports have revealed that power inverters made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co are used in the solar panels on the top of the Legislative Yuan’s Zhenjiang House (鎮江會館) on Zhenjiang Street in Taipei. However, what is even more worrying is that Taiwan’s new national electronic identification card (eID) has been subcontracted to the French security firm and eID maker Idemia, which has not only cooperated with the Chinese Public Security Bureau to manufacture eIDs in China, but also makes the new identification cards being issued in Hong Kong. There might be more