Taipei, June 7, 2019
Once again, Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an Observer was the focus of heated debate in its plenary session.
Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and like-minded supporters spoke for Taiwan, arguing that the WHA should include the rights and welfare of Taiwanese people. But, it was not enough to secure Taiwan’s attendance.
The déjà vu of political bullying in WHA is a strong reminder that China provides no solution to the development and prosperity of Taiwan.
Instead, it is the real factor hindering the progress of this island nation and causes trust deficits in local society.
The incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has faced a redistribution of power in Asia, with a stronger China fuelled by incentives and inducements made possible through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Taiwan is trapped in a more complicated and difficult situation than before.
An increasing number of stakeholders, organisations, politicians, and the media, either being penetrated or heavily influenced by China, are creating a united front spreading defeatism against the government and pushes pro-China populist sentiments in Taiwan.
After winning a number of mayoralties in the 2018 elections, the Kuomintang (KMT) has repeatedly reminded, or even threatened, the DPP government of prioritising the China factor in all policy matters.
Criticism is always easy as one only chooses to highlight the positive benefits of leaning to China, so the KMT condemns the DPP government of being incapable of handling Beijing.
Key members of KMT are unconsciously enchanted by the illusive vision mastered by China’s pied pipers, constantly repeating Beijing’s talking points on political unification.
The KMT seems to have forgotten that it lost power three years ago primarily due to its policy of over-reliance on China.
Nevertheless, for many decades, China has haunted the island and is coming back now with more “partners.”
Pressure against Taiwan
In terms of Taiwan’s national security, as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) keeps sending fighter jets and naval vessels to circumnavigate Taiwan, military pressure has become more severe than ever.
On March 11, 2019, the China Times posted a picture of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bomber Xian H-6J on its Facebook page, adding the note “H-6J looks great” instead of criticising these escalatory policies..
As Chinese leadership advocates assertively to unify Taiwan by force, some Taiwanese politicians have become conservative and even have self-censored.
On April 22, 2019, a KMT legislator criticised Minister of Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chen Ming-tong in the Legislative Yuan (LY) on cross-strait policy by questioning, “On what grounds do you urge China to renounce the use of force against Taiwan?” The opposition legislators seem to have forgotten that the assertive China is the one to be criticized, and not Taiwan.
On May 2, 2019, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB) and the Ministry of Defence Political Warfare Bureau briefed the LY on a special report, “Response Measures to China’s Fake News Psychological Warfare.”
An opposition Legislator condemned the NSB for refusing to identify Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-partnered media in Taiwan, asserting that the NSB was the source of creating rumours and confusion in Taiwanese society.
Leaders and senior representatives of Taiwanese media attended the 4th Cross-Strait Media People Summit on May 10.
Wang Yang, a member of PRC’s Politburo Standing Committee, urged media representatives from Taiwan to promote Chinese culture, cross-straits relations, and the advantages of unification—and received a warm applause in response.
Facing political pressure and economic incentives, according to the Australian, the leadership of Solomon Islands, one of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies in the Pacific, is considering pursuing formal ties with China.
Once it happens, over six allies of Taiwan within three years will have switched their recognition to China.
These examples illustrate crises undermining Taiwan’s democracy externally and internally. Maintaining the quality of democracy and order for everyday life is by no means facile.
The China threat facing Taiwan is not just a concern over military invasion or deprival of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, but ideological penetration and psychological warfare that aim at bringing upheavals to the lives of Taiwanese people.
Unfortunately, as the DPP government is trapped and has sought ways to secure Taiwan’s national interests and to promote diplomacy during the past three years, the KMT seems to avoid “offending” or “criticising” Beijing with implicit self-censorship and self-deceptive strategic ambiguity.
The KMT is paradoxically closer to the CCP—its long-time arch-rival on the Mainland, than the KMT is to the DPP, its current political rival on the island for the coming 2020 Presidential Election.
Rumours and disinformation
Internally, rumours and disinformation are spread throughout Taiwanese society through traditional radio programs or new social media, propagating the idea that a strong China will be the salvation of the “old and poor” Taiwan.
The infiltrated audience would be swayed by the remarkable Chinese economic performance and the potentiality of emerging markets—and even ignore the encouraging economic progress of Taiwan.
They may also refuse to acknowledge those global challenges facing China and refute them as strategic containment by the Western countries.
Taiwanese society has become politically fragmented, shadowed by the China factor more so than ever before. Coincidently, in Washington, as the Democrats and Republicans are so divided on almost all policy areas, surprisingly, they share concerns about China and act hand-in-hand to defend Taiwan.
As Beijing was blocking Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, on May 22, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Bill S 249 to urge the administration to “develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the WHO.”
This showed that Taiwan is not alone. Like-minded countries and international partners not only recognize the importance of and contributions made by Taiwan, but demonstrate their commitments to safeguard its democracy.
Not the sole solution
People in Taiwan should have a clear understanding that China is not the sole solution to a greater and prosperous Taiwan. Also, politicians, regardless of political parties, should not push the people of Taiwan into the dark trap of China, but should seek to enlighten the country’s democracy with determination and trust.
Alan H Yang is Deputy Director of the Institute of International Relations and the Executive Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at National Chengchi University, Taiwan.