China has undertaken actions to a new dangerous level in the wake of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit last week to Taiwan. The last time China undertook similar actions was 1996, when former President Bill Clinton sent in two aircraft carrier battle groups, and then there was really nothing China could do. This time, China’s President Xi Jinping, who has vowed a great “revival or rejuvenation of China,” is determined to let Taiwan and the whole world watch a demonstration of its military muscle.
For the last few days, China has conducted its largest provocative military drill in six exclusion zones, encircling Taiwan to facilitate live-fire military drills. The People’s Liberation Army fired missiles in waters off Taiwan and deployed military fighters and warships to violate Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and cross the median line in the Taiwan Strait. The unprecedented Chinese vessel and aircraft incursions not only raised tensions in the region, but also affected regular international traffic and trade.
China also has used Speaker Pelosi’s visit as a pretext for coercive economic trade measures intended to punish Taiwan. It has blocked thousands of food imports from Taiwan, covering everything from citrus fruit to certain types of fish and biscuits, and it has halted exports of natural sand, used in construction, to Taiwan. In addition, China also launched cyberattacks taking down Taiwan’s government website, electronic bulletin boards in the Taiwan Railways Administration, and even some 7-Eleven convenience stores were hacked.
The Taiwanese people have the right to make friends across the globe, and China has no right to interfere. Taiwan is not part of China, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never ruled Taiwan. This is a historical fact recognized by the international community and has long been the status quo. However, China’s actions suggest it is the CCP overturning the status quo and peace in the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s continued security is critical to regional stability in the Asia-Pacific region. As China’s military strength and confidence increases, Taiwan is trying to orient the country’s military toward asymmetric warfare by moving to buy a large number of mobile, lethal weapons that are difficult to target and to ensure that CCP cannot easily take Taiwan; there could be costs both financial and in terms of lives.
Taiwan is the eighth largest economy in Asia and the 18th largest in the world by purchasing power parity. However, Taiwan’s economy is still too reliant on China. According to official Taiwanese data, China and Hong Kong accounted for 42% of Taiwan’s exports in 2021, while the U.S. accounted for 15%. Due to lack of a bilateral and multilateral trade deal, Taiwan’s economic connections with the rest of the world are relatively weak. China’s recent trade restrictions against Taiwan prove that China is attempting to coerce Taiwan’s public into submission through an increase of economic pain. Support from the U.S. and democratic allies in the region is crucial to help Taiwan counter rising pressure from China. That should include closer economic ties with the U.S. and including Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).
The world is facing a watershed moment. To avoid what is happening in Ukraine, democratic free countries need to band together to push back against an authoritarian China with worldwide ambitions.