Taiwan should focus its resources and energy on forging new cooperative relationships and substantial interactions with foreign countries, organizations and institutes. Doing so will put Taiwan one step ahead of China and help it escape the clutches of political isolation.
On Aug. 16, Chinese netizens protested Taiwanese bakery chain 85℃ for supposedly being pro Taiwanese independence after President Tsai Ing-wen paid a visit to one its stores in Los Angeles. Soon afterwards, food ordering apps in China took the chain off their lists of available restaurants.
The absurdity of this incident is astonishing. And it is just one of many examples of pettiness from China as it attempts to cut off Taiwan from the rest of the world. First there was the airline controversy in May, during which Beijing ordered several foreign carriers to change Taiwan’s designation to one that was in line with its “one China” principle, upon threat of economic consequences. Many airlines promptly gave in to the directive. In late July, a Taiwanese choir was banned from performing at the U.N. Center in Vienna, Austria, at the request of China. In early August, Taichung lost its status as host to the 2019 East Asian Youth Games, as a result of Beijing’s opposition to Taiwanese grassroots efforts to change the country’s name to “Taiwan” at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Not long afterwards, China struck again, this time demanding a change in name — other than “Taiwan.”
From this series of incidents, not to mention the end of Taiwan’s official diplomatic ties with El Salvador this week and four other countries since 2016, it is clear that China has doubled down on its political war of attrition. No matter is too small: Beijing has made it a goal to inject political controversy in the most trivial issues and events concerning Taiwan, to bring the island-nation down to its knees and force it to accept unification as the only solution for “peace.”
To combat such trifling behavior, Taiwan must take the high road in order to maintain its dignity and uphold its image as a progressive, democratic nation. Although it is tempting to pursue a retaliatory strategy, it would be difficult to match China’s economic and political prowess, rendering any attempt futile. Furthermore, it would only be a short-term solution, as Beijing could move from episode to episode, finding new demeaning ways to put Taipei down. With each new case, Taiwan should undoubtedly express its opposition and attempt to rectify the situation through pragmatic dialogue. However, if all else fails, it must avoid stooping down to China’s level. Instead, Taiwan should focus its resources and energy on finding new opportunities for cooperation and building substantial relationships with foreign organizations, institutes and countries. Doing so would put Taiwan one step ahead of China and help it escape the clutches of political isolation.
“Protecting Taiwan is protecting the values of freedom and democracy … Each diplomatic setback becomes our strength to break through our situation.”
This argument has already been made, but it needs to be said again to drive the message home. Already, there have been many instances of promising cooperation. To name just a few: in 2017 and 2018, Taiwan signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with Belgium, Poland, and India regarding sustainable energy, financial technology, and artificial intelligence cooperation, respectively. In April 2017, Reporters without Borders opened its Asian bureau in Taipei, passing on Hong Kong. According to the New York Times, this decision was heavily influenced by Taiwan’s high level of press freedom, coupled with the real possibility that journalists and employees would be surveilled against in Hong Kong. On Aug. 16, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans to open a branch in Taipei to “promote exchanges with local law enforcement agencies” and “further exchange information on cross-border crime.” This decision is symbolic of the deep level of trust and support between the two countries. On Aug. 17, Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs signed an MOU with the University of California-Irvine concerning talent recruitment and academia-industry exchanges. Furthermore, with the passing of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act earlier this month, the U.S. is likely to send a hospital ship to Taiwan for a Pacific Partnership mission to improve disaster response planning and preparedness, as well as to strengthen assistance between the U.S. and Taiwan.
These agreements portray Taiwan as a reliable partner in the international arena, and must continue. By being creative in response to China’s political pressure, Taiwan proves to the world that even without official recognition, it can prevail over injustice and aggression, which inevitably will garner more international support. In a statement by President Tsai shortly before her recent U.S. stopover, she proclaimed that “Protecting Taiwan is protecting the values of freedom and democracy … Each diplomatic setback becomes our strength to break through our situation.” This optimistic stance is indicative of Taiwan’s commitment to a brighter future, free from Chinese intimidation. Rather than quarreling with China in tit for tat disputes, Taiwan can persevere with its positive image. Furthermore, doing so would reaffirm the striking difference between Taiwan and China: A democratic, pro justice, progressive nation versus an authoritarian, belligerent, human rights violator.
China’s political attacks are unrelenting, which is why it is vital that Taiwan finds more ways to showcase its liberalism and advocacy for universal values. To be sure, it is an uphill struggle, one that comes with many upsets and much uncertainty. However, it must be done to preserve the nation’s sovereignty and establish it as a beacon of progress.
Top photo courtesy of the Tsai Ing-wen official Facebook page.