The skyline of Taipei. Source: Heeheemalu (via. Wikimedia Commons)
International Affairs

The China-Taiwan dilemma

The Chinese Communist Party has been firmly embedded into our mainstream media in recent months due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the treatment of the Uyghur population and their actions in Hong Kong writes Meghan Francis.

However, their relations with Taiwan is often a matter that is paid little attention. It is important that democratic countries do not take their eye off the rising tensions between these two countries.

The last few months has seen increased tensions between these two countries, due to China staging military exercises near Taiwan in both air and sea. This is a clear attempt to showcase the Chinese strength and willingness to use force in order to annex the island. Warplanes have been flying over Taiwan almost daily in January, showing that China is rapidly ramping up the pressure on the island and attempting to prevent independence being declared.

For China, reclaiming Taiwan is of exceptional importance as this would fulfil President Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream’, which is to make the Chinese state the world’s most dominant power and retake all ‘Chinese’ lands. The ongoing events in Hong Kong illustrate how the CCP are becoming more assertive in their desires of becoming the global hegemon and directly challenging the United States.

If China were able to successfully reclaim the island, they would be able to project their force over sea lines of communication, threatening existing routes for oil to Japan and South Korea. Taiwan is also home to the world’s most cutting-edge technologies which in the hands of the CCP could be extremely dangerous, advancing their surveillance of their population and developing their militaristic capabilities. This would shift the regional and global power balance and would most likely trigger a reaction for the United States. Two superpowers, at conflict on the global stage.

As we have seen from the treatment of the Uyghur population and the events in Hong Kong, it is no surprise that the Taiwanese population are growing more and more resistant to the CCP and the idea of unification. The support for independence is growing, generating incredible fear for the Chinese State which has sparked the rise in military exercises over Taiwan.

The President of Taiwan – Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progress Party, is firmly against the idea of unification, the One China policy which has created diplomatic isolation in the international community for the country and further political ties has proven to be a strong force against China, refusing to give in to their desires. Taiwan’s efforts to remain an autonomous political democracy has been bolstered by support from the United States.

Due to the One China policy, other nations are not permitted to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan however, the US has ensured a military agreement allowing the island to build up their defences in the event of a Chinese attack. However, this relationship developed under the Trump Administration with new arms agreements being implemented and the US ambassador to the UN declaring support for Taiwan’s membership as an independent nation. It has been reassuring to see President Biden is unwilling to abandon Taiwan and has reinforced America’s commitment to the country by inviting Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s representative to the US to the presidential inauguration – the first time such an official invitation has been extended since the US and Taiwan severed diplomatic ties in 1979.

The coronavirus pandemic has distracted governments globally, as they focus on their domestic security and health of their population.

Is it a coincidence that when other nations are domestically distracted that Taiwan are experiencing an increase in pressure from the CCP?

This is an assumption that democratic countries should not adopt. China’s actions should not go unnoticed. It is time for democratic countries to stand up for Taiwan, against the Chinese State, condemn their actions and support Taiwan’s membership in international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the UN. Taiwan has been a shining light for democracies in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, on December 31 2019, Taiwan was the first nation to notify WHO of the potential of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus and as a precaution, the Taiwanese government started to implement measures for detecting imported cases from Wuhan.

Taiwan has been extremely pro-active and forward thinking in infectious disease control since the outbreak of SARS in 2003 which prompted investment in strengthening their pandemic control measures. An illustration of their commitment to controlling outbreaks is shown after over 3,000 passengers from the Diamond Princess visited numerous places in Northern Taiwan. Due to their information technology capacity, 627,386 potential contacts were found and advised to quarantine at home, preventing community outbreaks.

To date, Taiwan has had a total of 919 cases and 9 deaths, out of a population of close to 24 million. The 31st of January marked the first COVID death in Taiwan for 8 months. Many people look to New Zealand as the beacon of excellence in pandemic management, however I think our attentions need to be turned towards Taiwan.

It is time to give Taiwan the international voice that they deserve and stand up against Chinese aggression.

Meghan Francis is an international relations student at Swansea University & the Welsh Conservative Shadow Youth Cabinet Member for Health & Wellbeing.

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