KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Just about every time Taiwan engages with the outside world, there is a phrase that pops up in Western media coverage: “In a move likely to anger Beijing...”
“Taiwan foreign minister is visiting Europe, in a move likely to anger Beijing,” or the "Taipei Representative Office in the U.K. is holding a Taiwan Day on the sidelines of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, in a move likely to anger Beijing,” and so on...
As Chris Horton has so eloquently written this week in The Atlantic, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) capacity for perpetual outrage really does know no limits when it comes to Taiwan.
The other emotion that seems to overwhelm the CCP when it comes to Taiwan is offense. Whenever Taiwan is described as a country, its national flag is used, or its name is mentioned, we are swiftly reminded by a plethora of CCP spokespeople that this “offends the Chinese people.”
In recent years, both of these phrases have been followed with thinly veiled threats. When talking about Taiwan independence, the current phrase from Beijing that instantly gets rolled out is “doomed to failure.”
If the comment is aimed at third parties who have the temerity to engage with Taiwan, we see iterations of the phrase “watch your back.” When Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) visited Prague, we were told this constituted “a malicious provocative act” and “despicable maneuvers” before the threats even began.
Attendees of the Taiwan Day event at COP26 in Glasgow received a letter from the CCP’s Consul General to Scotland. This advised them that they were being “exploited” by Taiwan “to endorse their independence obsession under the cover of climate co-operation” before warning them not to participate.
As Horton rightly notes in his article, many in the democratic world are growing tired of this approach. As Lithuanian legislator Matas Maldeikis rightly told him, “The more concessions you make, the more the Chinese side insists upon.”
The good news is that, far from accepting the CCP's demands in return for an easy life, a growing number of legislators and governments are drawing a line in the sand and saying "enough is enough."
In response to the letter about Taiwan Day at COP26, Stewart McDonald MP, who sits on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said, “Any attempt by the government of China, via its consulate in Edinburgh, to interfere with the work of democratically elected politicians in Scotland or the government of Taiwan and its delegation, should be given a very cold shoulder.” No delegates missed the event as a result of the CCP’s threats.
Also last week, an EU delegation visited Taiwan despite being warned the visit would “undermine the healthy development of China-EU relations.” Furthermore, the delegates were accused of “malice and prejudice against China."
The head of the delegation, Raphael Glucksmann MEP, ignored these threats and was ebullient in his praise of Taiwan, saying, “The flourishing of your democracy is formidable and this is why we are so happy to be here.'' Furthermore: ''You have shown that in this region democracy can flourish and that authoritarian regimes are not the future."
Hot air and outrage
This is the response to China’s hot air and outrage that we are seeing more often from Western leaders. There is a growing sense that while China will moan and beat its chest, there is nothing it can do to stop countries from engaging with Taiwan.
It has tried sanctioning Western politicians, but to those targeted, this is merely a badge of honor that they are doing good work standing up to the regime. Attempts to use economic coercion against Western countries like Australia, and even directly against Taiwan, have also backfired in recent times.
The CCP can only go so far economic measures since its own economic model is so reliant on exports to the wider world. And it is increasingly clear that at the moment, these steps are not nearly sufficient to bend most other countries to its will.
Now is the perfect moment for the world to take a stand against the CCP and make it abundantly clear that we are not going to let China throw its weight around. Now is the time for countries to improve relations with Taiwan and make it clear to the CCP that any attempts to undermine Taiwan’s freedoms and democracy will not be tolerated.
We are starting to see the first steps of this, but there is still room to go further.
There has been much talk of a new Cold War with China of late. This might be over-egging the pudding a little, but we are definitely engaging in a war of values and ideals already.
This is a war that the free and democratic world has to win, and in which Taiwan will play a critical part. There has therefore never been a better time to stand up for Taiwan, no matter how much such a move might anger Beijing.