President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) refuses to accept the so-called “1992 consensus” and Beijing’s “one China” principle, insisting on safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty.
In retaliation, China has bought off seven of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, as well as cut off official cross-strait exchanges and imposed a ban on Chinese traveling individually to Taiwan.
Before Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections in January, the nation might lose still more of its remaining 15 allies.
For years, China has been recruiting followers in every sector of Taiwan, incorporating compradors into its own troops and assimilating fellow travelers. With its clever use of “united front” tactics, Beijing has polarized Taiwanese society and infiltrated government agencies and political parties.
One of Beijing’s formidable moves is to buy off — and exert control over — Taiwanese newspapers and television stations for political manipulation.
By promoting what China can offer Taiwanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) “one country, two systems” formula, Beijing is attempting to brainwash the Taiwanese and affect the nation’s political situation.
Xi’s wishful thinking is to take advantage of Taiwan’s democratic system and push for China’s “proxy agent” to run for the presidential election.
By using every means at its disposal — including campaign subsidies for certain candidates via Taiwanese businesses, cyberwarfare and fake news — Beijing aims to snatch Taiwan’s presidency and facilitate a transition of power favorable to Xi and his greater dream of China annexing Taiwan.
Addressing the Defending Democracy through Media Literacy workshop in Taipei last month, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby warned that China is using huge sums of money to subvert Taiwan’s elections.
“China has invested heavily to develop ever-more sophisticated ways to anonymously disseminate disinformation through a number of channels, including social media” to “undermine the vote” and “divide the people,” attempting to “weaken democracy and end the freedoms that the citizens of Taiwan have come to enjoy after many long years of struggle,” Busby said.
Considerable effort on the part of the US is needed to consolidate Taiwan’s democracy and freedom and implement its Indo-Pacific strategy.
In the past two years, US President Donald Trump’s administration has released the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, in which China was defined as the US’ main security threat and a hostile state, while Taiwan was recognized as a reliable and important partner for regional security.
Since early this year, US officials — including then-US National Security Council senior director for Asian Affairs Matt Pottinger, who has been promoted to deputy national security adviser, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — have been intensively lobbying Taiwan’s South Pacific allies to maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Even though the South Pacific has been a strategic maritime space controlled by the US and its allies since World War II, Beijing’s “dollar diplomacy” has won the day and snatched Taiwan’s allies away, challenging the US’ advantage in the region.
China has mapped out long-term strategies for expansion in not only the Asia-Pacific region, but also Latin America, which has long been regarded as the US’ backyard. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative accelerates China’s expansion in these areas.
Due to the inertia of former US presidents, China has since the turn of the century been making inroads into Latin America through investment, economic and trade cooperation, the formation of alliances and the establishment of military bases.
Chinese banks have become major providers of loans, and Beijing plans to build 60 ports in the region, which would not only facilitate trade, but also increase China’s military and strategic presence.
The stable door can still be secured, as the horse has not yet bolted. The US government must squarely face the various challenges posed by China and adopt countermeasures.
While Trump has repeatedly used the phrase “peace through strength,” paying lip service alone will not win the day. The US must promptly fulfill its commitments and boldly contain China’s hegemony.
The most pressing task for the US government is to set an example for other nations to follow by establishing official relations with Taiwan.
This would enhance the effectiveness of its argument when lobbying for Taiwan’s allies to remain strong against China. It would also make it easier for Japan, India, Australia and many other democratic nations to form normal relations with Taiwan.
The US government considers Taiwan a reliable partner, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) has said that Taiwan-US relations are the best they have been in 40 years. Nevertheless, the US should rethink its approach. Washington should invite Wu to pay official visits rather than grounding him for fear of provoking Beijing.
Parris Chang is a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and a professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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