Taiwan in the face of an aggressive People’s Republic of China (PRC) needs to be cautious yet decisive. The sudden defacto take over of Hong Kong by the Mainland has shattered the illusion of ‘one country two systems’. With this policy shift comes less space for Taiwan and China for future engagements. The possible trajectories can be gauged by answering three questions: How long will the US cede ground? What will be the dynamic of their relationship? What role will Taiwan play concerning the two powers?
This tit for tat can only go so long without getting out of hand. Wherever China is in confrontation, the USA is backing the aggrieved party. However, in the case of Taiwan, we can see direct confrontation among these two powers. China claims Taiwan to be its territory under One China policy, on the other hand, the USA feels it is its responsibility to honor the defense agreement with Taiwan & with the democratization, the two countries have come further close.
Taiwan factor & shrinking space for maneuverability
President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Tsai Ing-wen in her inaugural address laid out her articulation of Taiwan’s cross-strait policy: peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue. In the wake of Hong-Kong’s new security law, Taiwan will in no way compromise with its democratic set-up which it has earned after 38 years of struggle against the authoritarian regime.
Improving image of Taiwan
The success of Taiwan in dealing with COVID-19 (creating a Taiwan model), and its philanthropist actions for many countries have earned a lot of goodwill and international praise. The world is now waking up to the fact that being a strait away from PRC and facing the brunt of its coercive tactics to amalgamate Taiwan with PRC, it is very experienced in the Modus operandi of CCP and can help the like-minded countries deal with the cognitive warfare which is practiced in real-time via disinformation campaigns on social media. Taiwan with other like-minded democracies can establish a framework to counter cognitive warfare (of which disinformation is a big part) by providing a proactive & accurate narrative against influence operations that are attempting to undermine democracy by trying to nudge outcomes that will affect the political process.
Taiwan’s Foreign Policy
The Taiwanese foreign policy revolves around 4 tenants which are: maintaining status-quo with PRC, gaining goodwill among like minded countries, increasing defensive capabilities, and economic strength.
However, managing the four tenants with increasing animosity between China and the USA is a challenge in itself. The Trump administration’s approach towards distinguishing the Chinese Communist Party from the Chinese people by remembering the May 4th movement and the roots of democracy, the USA is trying to delegitimize CCP on mainland China (as per CCP perception). In addition to this, CCP is reconciling with the fact that its approach towards Taiwan has failed, and what once China considered asymmetry of interests for Taiwan to be inclined towards China, has been shifting. With the latest pew polls showing record-low support for increasing ties with CCP. All of this mixed with China’s psych of perpetual vulnerability may soon lead to China trying to alter status-quo militarily.
Shrinking space for maneuverability
The space for Taiwan to maneuver has been shrinking with every passing day. In the context of the greater Indo-pacific geopolitical theatre, Taiwan has a lot to offer be it for the USA or other middle powers who would like to maintain the status quo towards free International waters for trade and commerce. The current world order, being unstable and challenged with non-traditional security issues (an example being COVID-19 pandemic), as well as not so peaceful rise of China with a proportional rise in its vulnerabilities requires a new solutions. Taiwan being a Subject Matter Expert in these issues with a unique perspective that comes from facing vulnerability because of global isolation can become an asset to the USA as well as middle powers in developing successful stratagem.
Taiwan understanding this should move ahead practically, while calculating in real-time the permutations and combinations of possibilities.
The world ahead & way forward
The situation between China and the USA will deteriorate, but to which extent and what speed will depend on the shifts in Chinese aggressiveness and the American elections in November’ 20. Taiwanese citizen can play an important role by being vigil & maintaining their vibrant democracy. Hopefully, taiwan’s involvement with other countries may deter any further escalations and may very well be the only chance to contain Chinese ambitions with minimizing the damage to Humankind.
The combination of Chinese overconfidence (overt expression of its vulnerabilities) coupled with its perception of Taiwan’s under importance in the USA’s foreign policy doctrine can lead to serious conflict and which could easily spiral in this season of Nationalism.
Author is a journalist specializing in international relations with extensive experience working with online media. He has a keen interest in all things geopolitics and thence enjoys writing on issues pertaining to Foreign Policy, International Relations, Strategic and Security Affairs of Indo-Pacific Region.