In another high-profile visit to Taiwan, Czech senate president Milos Vystrcil is currently on a five-day trip to the island nation, which has earned him China’s wrath. In fact, China’s foreign minister and state councillor Wang Yi has said that Vystrcil “will pay a heavy price” for violating the so-called ‘One China’ principle. Vystrcil replied that the Czech Republic “would not follow the orders of non-democratic nations”. In fact, as part of his visit, Vystrcil has already addressed Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (Parliament) in which he made a strong case for democratic values. He stressed that all legislative bodies in functional democratic systems uphold human life as the highest value, and that laws are not passed to dictate what people should think or do, or to limit their natural desire for freedom, but to protect and care for them, and guarantee their basic rights and freedoms.
This was indeed a jab at China that was meant to contrast Taipei’s democratic experience with that of communist Beijing. And to top it off, Vystrcil said that he would like to express his support for Taiwan and freedom, and proclaimed “I am Taiwanese”. All of this is certain to rile Beijing further. After all, Beijing continues to see Taiwan as a renegade Chinese province that needs to be reunited. And of late, the Chinese leadership has been extremely aggressive towards Taiwan, threatening it with military muscle flexing and trying to curb Taipei’s diplomatic space. In fact, China has already poached away several of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in recent years and has now clearly taken to threatening countries that try to ramp up ties with Taipei.
But Taiwan’s success in managing the Covid-19 pandemic and its desire to help other countries limit the disease have opened up fresh diplomatic space for Taipei. Add to this China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour on multiple fronts – from the South and East China Seas to the India-China border – and its abrasive brand of wolf warrior diplomacy, and many countries have started to lose patience with Beijing. It is clear that the current Chinese leadership is on a hyper-nationalism overdrive to divert the Chinese people’s attention from the fundamental – and disruptive – changes being effected within China. As I have mentioned in my previous articles on the subject, the Chinese leadership is trying to rewrite the basic social contract it has with the Chinese people and save the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Hence, it is using hyper-nationalism to get it citizens used to the new reality which is marked by lower pace of economic growth.
But China’s internal problems are for Chinese leaders to solve. However, when Chinese leaders start using foreign policy as a tool to help address domestic issues, and that strategy starts harming the sovereign rights of other nations, then it becomes a serious problem for the international community. This is precisely what is happening with China today. China’s muscle flexing is nothing but a strategy of the current Chinese leadership to reinforce the authority of the Chinese Communist Party and reorient the socio-economic fundamentals in Chinese society. In fact, a similar strategy is at play in Saudi Arabia too today.
Coming back to Taiwan, Beijing’s aggressive approach towards Taipei is also designed to show Chinese citizens that the great dream of reunification is near. But in reality, Taiwan and China today are drifting further apart. And the more aggressive Beijing becomes, the more Taiwanese people will affirm that the two sides don’t have a common future. Plus, China’s aggressive tactics towards other regional countries means that the consensus for a joint approach to counter China is growing. In this regard, it will be helpful to recall that in the run up to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Truman administration in the US had given the go-ahead to create a regional alliance of nations on China’s periphery to counterbalance the Chinese communists. But back then Washington was reluctant to include Taiwan – controlled by the Kuomintang regime at the time – in this regional alliance. This was because Truman saw Chiang Kai-shek as having wasted American resources in the fight against the Chinese communists – a very debatable analysis. In fact, Truman’s state department had published a ‘White Paper on China’ which squarely blamed Chiang and the Nationalists for the victory of Mao Tse-tung’s forces in China – although it conveniently elided over the US’s own role in depleting Nationalist resources during the Second World War.
But today, Taiwan, a full-fledged multiparty democracy has proven its commitment to the ideals of democracy, multilateralism and free and open societies on numerous occasions. Therefore, it is time to bring Taiwan into a regional grouping/ alliance/ strategy to counterbalance China. After all, given their historical and cultural ties, Taiwan knows China best. Taipei’s inputs in evolving a strategy on behalf of countries that respect international rules would be vital.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.