KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Think-tanks are 10-a-penny these days. If you can back up one side of an argument with a think-tank policy paper, it won't take too long to find another that takes the contrary view.
But this doesn’t mean they don’t play a valuable role in policy development and public discourse on key political issues. This is also true in the area of national security and international relations.
This is why the end-of-year report by the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) is of interest. Its suggestion that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) hostile approach to democratic Taiwan is likely to continue into 2021 was not exactly a groundbreaking piece of analysis, but the research and data it has used to back up this assertion undoubtedly lends it authority.
The question is not so much whether Beijing's hostility towards its free and democratic neighbor will continue in 2021 so much as what form this hostility is likely to take.
The gray-zone tactics that have seen numerous incursions into Taiwanese airspace and waters by the Chinese military are likely to continue and even be stepped up. This will result in greater pressure being placed on Taiwan’s military personnel and resources.
The INDSR also talks about a likely increase in cognitive warfare — a tactic already used extensively by the CCP. It involves deploying the so-called "50 cent army" of online trolls to infiltrate online discourse, spread CCP propaganda, and sow the seeds of discontent among those Taiwanese gullible enough to believe their lies and fake news stories.
Alongside this, we can expect an increase in the CCP’s hostile diplomatic offensives, with the regime going out of its way to prevent Taiwan’s involvement in international organizations. It will threaten those countries who dare to engage with Taiwan on trade or political matters and possibly even attempt to buy off more of the country's existing diplomatic allies.
All of these hostile tactics are possible, and many are likely, so how should Taiwan respond to such naked hostility and provocation?
The answer is to continue on broadly the same course Taiwan is currently on: the path of a responsible member of the international community dealing with a hostile authoritarian superpower on its doorstep.
Taiwan needs to be louder about the fact that it is open to dialogue with Beijing and that it is the CCP that is refusing to engage with it. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) recently offered an olive branch in the form of proposed talks, and such offers must continue while sticking firmly to the red lines that must be included in any debate over Taiwan's sovereignty.
Offering talks with Beijing, however, is not enough. Taiwan also needs to ensure the whole world sees it is making these offers and recognizes that it is Beijing that is refusing talks and ramping up hostilities, not Taiwan.
At the same time, pursuing closer engagement with the world’s major democratic allies remains vital. That means working toward closer trade and diplomatic ties with the U.S., EU, U.K., Australia, India, and other like-minded countries.
Little victories like increased investment and support for closer bilateral relations will be important, but securing membership of a trade group that doesn’t include China would be ideal. The CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) looks to be the stand-out candidate.
Taiwan doesn’t need to go out of its way to try and smear the CCP. China is more than capable of doing that on its own through actions like its genocide of Uyghur Muslims, the annexation of Hong Kong, and the continued cover-up of the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
This doesn’t mean Taiwan should be standing idly by as the world learns the truth about the Chinese regime. Few countries are better placed to offer an informed assessment of the CCP, and Taiwan’s diplomatic representatives around the world should stand ready to provide as much information as they can.
This engagement will drive closer support and understanding of Taiwan’s situation vis-a-vis the CCP. It will boost both Taiwan’s sovereignty and international support to counter Bejing's growing hostility.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. This is dangerous for Taiwan, as it is likely the increasingly beleaguered Xi Jinping (習近平) will want to mark the event with a statement of achievement.
Annexing Taiwan would be Xi's dream anniversary gift, and while the likelihood of him delivering that this year is extremely slim, Taiwan has to be sure of international support to counter escalating hostilities.