Beijing has been active lately and doing its utmost to provoke Taiwan. Not content with increasing the number of sorties by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force bombers, spy planes and fighter jets to probe Taiwanese airspace and with dispatching naval vessels to circle Taiwan, China’s leaders have unilaterally launched a new civil aviation route — route M503 — only 7.8km from the median line of the Taiwan Strait.
On Sunday last week, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) chaired a national security meeting to address the issue. On the same day, Beijing ratcheted up its suppression of Taiwan by canceling broadcasts of Taiwanese show My Dear Boy (我的男孩), produced by Taiwanese actress and producer Ruby Lin (林心如). The TV series was denounced as “pro-independence” for having received subsidies from Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture and was pulled from the broadcast schedule in Guangdong Province.
China’s gradual intrusion into the nation’s domestic affairs requires a robust response from the government, because the more the Tsai administration seeks to appease the Chinese tiger, the more voracious its appetite becomes.
China’s latest encroachments on Taiwan must not be ignored. For instance, on the disputed aviation routes, the Tsai administration has accused China of harboring “deliberately concealed political and military objectives” that “destabilize regional stability,” but has stopped short of announcing a specific response. This means it is preaching to deaf ears, and Chinese and Hong Kong airlines will continue to use the new routes.
Despite a recent national security report having identified “an accelerating cross-strait military imbalance” and China’s increasing military might posing the greatest threat to Taiwan, all the government can come up with is a limp threat to “give China a bloody nose” if it launches a military invasion of Taiwan. Such bland officialese has zero deterrence credibility.
The stream of hostile actions from Beijing is part of a plan.
China continues to threaten militarily — examples would include the threat by Li Kexin (李克新), minister at China’s Washington embassy, that “the day a US warship docks in the port of Kaohsiung will be the day the PLA militarily unifies Taiwan with China.” Taken together with the frequent probes of Taiwanese waters and airspace by Chinese military aircraft and naval vessels, Beijing’s tactic is clearly to make a big show of its military strength.
In addition to verbal intimidation, the PLA uses military drills and reconnaissance patrols — rather than firing missiles into the sea as in the past — as cover for its invasion preparations.
Beijing also hopes to normalize the sense of military threat among the Taiwanese public so that Taiwan gradually becomes lulled into a military trap. Of course, as observers in Washington have said, China is also testing US President Donald Trump’s administration to see how he reacts.
In trying to annex Taiwan, Beijing has for many years employed — in addition to so-called “military unification,” or military actions — a three-pronged attack of domestic legislation, psychological warfare and public opinion, which it has added to its “united front” strategy. By ramping up hard and soft power, it plans to achieve its aims without firing a single shot.
Beijing put on a smile — hiding the knife behind its back — and dangled the fat carrot of “concessions” when dealing with former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), but quickly stopped smiling and severed all contact when Tsai refused to recognize the so-called “1992 consensus” — letting the steel blade glint periodically.
However, it is not just that China has never loosened its grip militarily on Taiwan in its effort to annex the nation.
The Ma administration opened the door and invited disaster in with its brazen policy of cozying up to Beijing. So-called “cross-strait exchanges” provided China with the perfect means to infiltrate Taiwan through tourism, study trips, symposiums, study abroad programs and setting up a liaison office, and were used by the Chinese authorities to gather intelligence, obtain military secrets, build a network of spies, informants and sleeper agents, as well as carry out other shady practices.
In addition, high-level Chinese officials came to Taiwan as part of their government’s “united front” strategy and were even able to buy off Taiwanese media and purchase advertising. At some places that Chinese officials visited, the Republic of China (ROC) flag was hidden from view.
In the one-sided rush to engage in exchanges with China, the ROC was starved of oxygen. Even at the famous meeting between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), the name “ROC” never passed either leader’s lips. Beijing then took advantage by ramping up its “united front” strategy in Taiwan.
This strategy has been successful and led to confusion regarding who the enemy is, such as when a retired Taiwanese general on a visit to China stated that the ROC army and China’s PLA are “both Chinese armies.” This was the mother of all U-turns for the army that, during the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) era, shouted anti-Communist slogans louder than anyone else.
The unseemly sight of army generals toadying to their “superiors” across the Taiwan Strait is the inevitable consequence of Ma’s pro-China policies. The Ma administration damaged the ROC through its decision to emasculate the nation’s flag and to view China’s “united front” strategy as “expressions of goodwill” toward Taiwan. Ma and his cronies were either pure evil or really stupid.
The public saw through the subterfuge of Ma’s party-state regime and in 2016 booted his party out of office, giving the Democratic Progressive Party both the government and a legislative majority.
Since then, Beijing has switched tactics. In addition to its official hardline stance toward Taiwan, its “united front” divide-and-rule strategy has reached new heights of malice.
As the case of alleged Chinese spy Zhou Hongxu (周泓旭) demonstrates, China is not just developing an organizational structure within Taiwan, it has also developed clear lists of people to target for its cause.
This year is an election year in Taiwan. One thing is for sure: Beijing will certainly not be content to watch from the sidelines. One can confidently predict that China will use fake news, violence, public events and other tactics to intervene and even financially support China-friendly politicians and candidates through its networks.
Xi caught the attention of European and US media when he delivered a speech to the PLA in which he dusted off a slogan from the Mao Zedong (毛澤東) Cultural Revolution era: “We’re not afraid of hardship; we’re not afraid to die.”
He also told the troops: “Do not be afraid to die — prepare for battle.”
The rising military might of China will cause problems and bring disaster.
After border skirmishes last summer, India and China last month saw a rekindling of their conflict, with the mainstream opinion in India being that China is becoming increasingly aggressive and cannot be trusted.
China’s negative reputation is not only becoming obvious militarily. When Jack Ma’s (馬雲) Ant Financial Services Group wanted to buy MoneyGram, a company that offers fast international money transfers, the deal was rejected by the US, because it posed an information security risk to the identities of people in the US.
In practice, the Chinese government seeks to control the actions of Chinese citizens by using technology to set up a comprehensive “social credit system” — which only serves to further highlight its totalitarian nature and remains a source of unease for both the Chinese and the rest of the world.
The Taiwanese government must be active in addressing the increasing Chinese pressure. A weak and forbearing response will only result in an even tougher challenge and further humiliation. Taiwan must not try to appease China and its wild ambitions.
The government and the opposition must make a concerted effort to prevent China from further undermining Taiwan.
Translated by Edward Jones
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