Beijing’s non-military coercive actions against Taiwan, such as diplomatic isolation and political interference, are intended to break down the confidence of Taiwanese and might be of greater concern than a military threat, a US foreign policy analyst said on Monday.
In a talk with the New York-based National Committee on US-China Relations, Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the US and China are entering an “action-reaction dynamic” over Taiwan, in which both sides believe they are reacting to the actions of the other.
While this has led to increasing talk in Washington about the risk of conflict, Hass said he was more concerned about the “non-military coercive challenge” Taiwan faces from Beijing.
In practice, the coercion takes the form of diplomatic isolation, cyberoperations and political interference, which are intended to wear down the psychological confidence of Taiwanese, Hass said.
The end goal of the strategy is to establish that Taiwan “is on its own in dealing with the mainland, and that its only path to peace or prosperity is to welcome the embrace of Beijing,” he said.
To counter these efforts, the US can provide “a steady, clear, firm approach” to Taiwan that remains within the bounds of its “one China” policy, said Hass, who served as director of China, Taiwan and Mongolia policy on the US National Security Council from 2013 to 2017.
It is in the US’ interest for Taiwanese to feel safe and confident in their future, to enjoy dignity and respect on the world stage, and to expand their trade and investment links with others around the world, Hass said.
Meanwhile, the US and China need to have “clear straight conversations” about the intentions of their actions and what they believe they are responding to, rather than relying on intuition, he said.
“The reality is that neither Washington nor Beijing benefits from allowing the situation to spiral out, and neither do the people of Taiwan,” he added.
Ultimately, it is Taiwanese who will be making the decisions about their future, Hass said. “And so the more the burden is on Beijing to provide an attractive offering to the people of Taiwan to try to persuade them about the direction that they would like to see in Taiwan’s future — that’s to everyone’s benefit.”
Despite China’s initial expectations that its relations with the US would improve with the inauguration of US President Joe Biden in January, tensions between the countries have remained high.
Earlier this month, the US Department of State issued new guidelines allowing US officials to interact more freely with their Taiwanese counterparts, while an unofficial delegation sent by Biden visited Taiwan last week.
Coinciding with the US actions, an increased number of Chinese warplanes have been reported flying in the vicinity of Taiwan, while China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conducted training exercises in waters near Taiwan.
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