When Vice Premier Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) was asked by reporters to comment on China rotating troops in Hong Kong in an apparent move to intimidate protesters in the territory, Chen, citing the fable of the “North Wind and the Sun,” said that any heavy-handed approach or military intimidation would likely backfire.
The parallel that Chen drew was plain to the point that it was almost trite, which is why it is beyond many people’s comprehension why the Chinese government has yet to understand this simple concept.
A case in point would be the travel restrictions that last month Beijing placed on 47 Chinese cities, banning their residents from traveling to Taiwan unless they are a part of a tour group.
The move was clearly politically motivated and aimed squarely at casting President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in a negative light ahead of next year’s presidential election.
This tactic might affect the livelihoods of travel agency owners and succeed in persuading them not to vote for Tsai, but would it have the same effect on the ordinary voter who could not care less if there are fewer Chinese tourists?
The travel ban could serve as another confirmation for Taiwanese that China would readily persecute their nation and government. Instead of inspiring awe and invoking desire to unify with the “motherland,” it would only stoke anti-China sentiment among Taiwanese, and Beijing would only achieve the opposite of what it wants.
Tsai last month said that the government had anticipated the travel restrictions, which is a tactic Beijing is prone to employ ahead of elections when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is in power.
Thanks to the government’s efforts to push policies that appeal to tourists from more countries, the number of inbound visitors last year reached an all-time high of 11 million, she said, adding that “treating tourists like political bargaining chips would only repel Taiwanese.”
Indeed, China attempting to instill fear in Taiwanese by limiting the number of Chinese tourists is no news. Since Tsai took office in May 2016, rumors about Chinese authorities denying tourist groups permission to travel to Taiwan have been endless.
Beijing should have learned by now that it is useless to try to browbeat Taiwanese into voting against the DPP — just like the north wind eventually learned that it could not blow the clothes off the traveler — but it tries anyway.
This shows that it is at its wits’ end over Tsai, whose support rating received a substantial and much-needed boost after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in March rashly flew warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait, thanks to her tough response to the PLA’s provocation and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) proposal to impose a “one country, two systems” framework on Taiwan.
Polls have shown that Tsai would win more votes than all her known and potential election rivals — Kaohsiung Mayor and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) — in any possible setting.
So how could China have made such blunders as the fly-bys and the travel ban? At a time when China is trying to up its “united front” game, such impulsive and myopic decisions have not only backfired, but they almost make Xi seem like Tsai’s chief campaign officer.
As election day draws nearer, it has become harder to tell whether China’s antics are blessings or curses.
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