China is using “all means at its disposal” to obstruct US officials attempting to visit Taiwan, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday last week. Beijing is using “bribery, blackmail and covert deals,” among other sophisticated methods, to prevent visits that would “appear to legitimize Taiwanese independence from China,” Wray said. China imposes its will on US officials with its leverage over their constituents, who hope to gain access to the Chinese market, he added.
This is more worrisome for the US than Taiwan, as it speaks to China’s influence over US politics. However, some US politicians are clearly beyond Beijing’s reach, such as US senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — both have consistently called on US President Donald Trump to take a tougher stance on China. Beijing earlier this week said it would impose sanctions on Rubio and Cruz, a move which international media have called “symbolic,” since neither of the politicians are likely to be affected by it in any meaningful way.
“The Communist Party of #China has banned me from entering the country. I guess they don’t like me?” Rubio tweeted, seemingly to mock the sanctions.
“Bummer. I was going to take my family to Beijing for summer vacation, right after visiting Tehran,” Cruz tweeted.
An opinion piece published on Wednesday last week in the online magazine The Diplomat said that the US and China are already in a “new cold war.” This cold war, like that between the US and the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1991, is a contest for supremacy between the world’s most powerful states, and a struggle over values and power, researcher Alan Dupont wrote. This struggle is likely to continue for decades and result in a “second bifurcation of the world,” he wrote.
Both countries want to avoid war, and to that end they should work together. However, given the evident threat that China poses to democracy and its demonstrated intent to interfere in other countries’ politics, it would be prudent for the US to decouple from China as much as possible. It might be possible for the US government to use legislation to prohibit cooperation between politicians and constituents that have vested interests in China, or to impose further sanctions or heavier tariffs on China.
It has already restricted imports and exports of certain technological products from and to China out of information and national security concerns. However, greater economic decoupling from China would necessitate the relocation of supply chains — which Trump has already called for.
Regardless of how far the US’ decoupling from China goes, Taiwanese officials should seek to maintain close ties with friendly US politicians, like Rubio, Cruz and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. If possible, Taipei and Washington could coordinate efforts to identify politicians who have been compromised by Chinese agents, in Taiwan and in the US.
Taiwan could also take the proactive approach of arranging visits to the US by its own officials, rather than waiting for US politicians to visit Taiwan. This would be within the scope of the US’ Taiwan Travel Act, and would be equally effective in asserting Taiwan’s independence from China. Such visits would be best left unannounced, to prevent Chinese attempts at stopping them and any trouble they might cause for the US officials involved. Interactions could also take place by teleconferencing and made public afterward.
China acts to influence not only politicians in the US, but also those who are close to them, so that they might “act on China’s behalf as middlemen to influence the official,” Wray said. The US, Taiwan and like-minded allies must always remain a step ahead of Chinese agents, monitoring the Chinese Communist Party in the same manner that intelligence agencies would monitor an organized crime syndicate.
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