Is Taiwan’s fight back against China underway?

Taiwan is muting an airline boycott, but while it must remain statesmanlike on the international stage, there is a strong case for a more robust fightback domestically.

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Taiwan and China flags

Taiwan and China flags (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In an interview given to the Financial Times of London, a senior Taiwan government official has called for Taiwanese citizens to boycott those international airlines who have chosen to bow to pressure from Communist China and recategorize Taiwan on their websites. 

David Lee, the Secretary-General of Taiwan's National Security Council, savaged Beijing for their "excessive aggressiveness" over the issue. He also indicated that the Taiwanese government is planning legal action against the airlines, but admitted this process could take several years to be completed. 

"It is a signal that we are fighting back, that we won't just sit idle here," he told the FT. 

Time for Taiwan to take a stand

It is refreshing to see a Taiwanese official speaking so bullishly about standing up to Beijing's bullying and fighting back. In recent months, Taiwan has garnered considerable international respect for the statesman-like way its officials have handled the Communist Party of China's (CCP) diplomatic onslaught. 

As several diplomatic allies have been bought off by the CCP's dollar diplomacy, and Taiwan once again found itself shut out of the World Health Assembly, officials have remained stoic and principled in their dealings with the international community. 

This is to be admired. But many in Taiwan want to see their government showing a bit more aggression and fighting their corner. And it is just possible that David Lee's comments could indicate that this is starting to happen. 

Calling for a boycott of those airlines which tow the CCP line on Taiwanese sovereignty seems perfectly reasonable and is something all Taiwanese people, regardless of political persuasion, should be able to unite behind. 

But taking a stand on this issue is not enough. Taiwan needs to be showing a similar robustness in their anti-CCP stance as the Communist regime in China is towards the current DPP Government in Taiwan. And this should start at home.

The fact is that through its various loyal Chinese investors, the CCP has its fingers in many areas of Taiwanese society. And this is potentially extremely dangerous for Taiwan. It is time that action was taken.

The Chinese-controlled media in Taiwan

Let's take the Taiwanese media as an example. Almost every Taiwanese TV news and print media outlet now has some form of Chinese investment. Many of these financial interests are controlling ones.  And the effects this has had on media output in Taiwan has been profound. 

Almost no effort is made to inform Taiwanese people about what is actually happening in their country. And certainly, they are never given a clear insight into what life in Communist China is actually like.

Coverage of the myriad of human rights abuses in China has received next to no coverage in Taiwan at all. The fact that the CCP has locked up more than 800,000 Uighur Muslims in "re-education camps" where they are forced to eat meat, learn Chinese, accept Communist doctrine, and even marry native Chinese people, has hardly had a mention. 

The CCP's outrageous surveillance state, including the social credit system, which scores people based on their behavior and has the power to stop people doing things like buying train tickets, traveling abroad, and leasing property is never covered. 

This matters because without this information being made available, public opinion in Taiwan about cross-straits relations, undoubtedly Taiwan's most important political issue, is skewed. And while the percentage of Taiwanese people who support unification with China is a minority, it would undoubtedly be much lower if people had the full picture of what was happening there under the Communist regime. 

Business and infrastructure influence

In a recent article for the Chinese-owned Forbes, Ralph Jennings (who writes staunchly pro-CCP content) highlighted the influence that the CCP-supporting Alibaba now has with start-ups in Taiwan. 

Through the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, Jennings claims they have supported 23 Taiwanese start-ups to develop and access the Chinese market. The actual number may well be higher. Obviously, Jennings's spin on this is that better access to the China market is a good thing for China and Taiwan. It is not.

Tech start-ups are one of the cornerstones of Taiwan's economic future. Therefore, the idea that many of the most promising ones are getting their funding from a CCP-backed fund should be deeply troubling to the Taiwanese government. 

But this and the Chinese influence on Taiwanese media is just the thin end of the wedge. And as the CCP makes it clear that, rather than work together with Taiwan for the benefit of both countries, they intend to act as a hostile and aggressive force towards Taiwan, it is time for action to be taken.

CCP involvement in Taiwan must be regulated

The only way that Taiwan can look at Communist China these days, is as a hostile foreign actor. That is how they behave and that is how they must be treated. And as a result, action to restrict CCP influence on Taiwanese society needs to be brought forward as a matter of urgency.

A boycott of companies which kowtow to the CCP is a good start. It would be great to see the Taiwanese people developing such movements off their own backs without the need for Government guidance. But more needs to be done to prevent the CCP from being able to exert its malign influence on Taiwanese life. And this means regulating to prevent CCP-related investors from being able to put money into important areas of Taiwanese society.

Having an independent media, which keeps Taiwanese people properly informed about the wider world and what the CCP is really like, is vitally important. As a result, Chinese investment in this sector should banned outright. Current Chinese stakeholders should be given a window of opportunity to sell their stakes in all Taiwanese media outlets. 

If they fail to do so, the Government should legislate to bring them into public ownership and eventually sell them off to domestic investors, or those from allied countries. The same action should be taken against Chinese ownership in the energy, transportation, and other areas of critical Taiwanese infrastructure. 

Chinese investment into start-ups should also be severely curtailed. Many will suggest such a move will drive start-ups across the Taiwan Strait altogether. This is possible, which is why steps should be taken to prevent this from happening. Government should develop and invest in an independent start-up fund, bringing investors from Taiwan and friendly countries together to invest in tech and energy startups, and other sectors where Taiwan excels. There could even be a public fund for such purposes too.

It should also negotiate with allied countries such as Japan, the USA, India and Europe, to make it easier for Taiwanese start-ups to easily take products and services to markets in these countries. Far too many Taiwanese businesses begin with their eyes on China as being where the real profits are. But the rest of the world offers much greater opportunity with far fewer risks, and it is the job of Government to smooth this path.

The prospect of legal action against those airlines that misrepresent Taiwan's sovereignty on their website is a positive one even if it may take time to reach a definitive conclusion. And there is also a case for Taiwan setting aside funding to pay for legal action in many more such cases. The ultimate aim could be to try and establish a legal precedent for Taiwan's sovereignty which can establish once and for all that the Chinese claims to Taiwan are built on nothing more than CCP propaganda. 

And lastly, there needs to be a focus on changing the narrative about Taiwan in the wider world. Almost every article about Taiwan includes a paragraph which explains that "China views Taiwan as a renegade provide which must be reunified, by force if necessary". Work needs to go into ensuring that more coverage refers to Taiwan as a free and democratic society, which is claimed by authoritarian Communist China despite there being no legal or political basis to support their stance. 

Taiwan's statesman-like stance in the face of recent CCP aggression is laudable and should continue. But, that does not mean that Taiwan should not be fighting back too. An airline boycott and legal action is a step in the right direction, but there is much more that can, and should, be done.