The decision to shift the potential meeting between President Tsai and US House of Representative Speaker Kevin McCarthy to California to avoid potential Beijing’s wrath is a geopolitical mistake that will further embolden China and weaken Taiwan and the West’s resolve and principled deterrence. It makes Taiwan and the US look weak and easily kowtowing to Beijing’s threat of force.
The Chinese Communist Party can use this precedence for future continuous usage and push for forceful measure and intimidation as a convenient tool and blackmail, and to up the ante by capitalising on any moves by Taipei in relation with foreign powers as convenient pretexts for it to justify its violations of norms and order.
While intelligence details have been cited as the basis to avoid further Chinese miscalculations and potential for the CCP to escalate tensions which will harm Taiwan’s security and its people safety, the West and the rest of the regional and global players must deepen their collective stance, condemnation and deterrence against Beijing’s continuous bullying and coercion against Taiwan by using this pursuit, and got away unpunished and undeterred.
By fearing of inciting Beijing’s wrath if Taipei was to be the host to McCarthy, it sends a wrong message to the rest of the region and the alliance of freedom that the decades old international framework based on law and norms is now being beholden to rising autocratic forces with unchecked hard power capacities being used to rip apart the rules based order, starting from Ukraine and potentially culminating in Taiwan.
China cannot be allowed to use force or threats of force and intimidation as a means of blackmail, as it will only strengthen its institutionalised approach in dealing with Taiwan and reinforcing its regional hegemonic claim by combining its integrated approach of further punishing and cornering Taiwan.
Its daily aggression and intimidation of Taiwan defence forces by air incursions into its ADIZ have now been normalised and institutionalised, and the next part will be to test further responses by harping on every move Taiwanese move with Western powers as pretexts for further aggression.
Regardless of the visit, Beijing is going to increase its hard power measures anyway, and Taiwan is seen as the ultimate red line and the foremost prize for the CCP and President Xi. To them, Taiwan will need to be retaken regardless of the cost, even at Beijing’s long term economic expense.
Li Keqiang’s recent reiteration of adhering to peaceful reunification pledge misses the entire calculations, and it remains a piecemeal reassurance strategy to lure Taiwan to complacency while Beijing strengthens measures for forceful takeover, as it realises time is not on its side.
Pledges of peaceful reunifications are not enough, as the fundamental core question remains on the future of Taiwan’s democratic ideals and institutionalised culture of freedom and human rights. These will need more than mere verbal intent or assurances alone, nor will the suggested Hong Kong model of autonomy and separate governance work.
The people of Taiwan despise war and conflicts, but are firm in their resolute demand for their rights of freedom, democracy and self governance in determining their options and will not tolerate any forceful measure or other integrated strategies employed by Beijing to sway the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people.
Beijing’s long held espionage, influence seeking attempts and media sway through institutions, people exchanges and soft power narratives, along with downright hard power intimidation will backfire in the long run. The inevitable fact remains that the Taiwanese people, regardless of party affiliation, will still prefer the status quo and for peace, but will also be adamant not to surrender their long held system of freedom and democracy to Beijing’s dictates.
Regardless of the extent of Beijing’s push to change the orientation as can be expected to grow this year amidst the crucial presidential election in 2024, the sentiments on the ground remain unchanged despite Beijing claiming otherwise in the recent momentum held by KMT.
Even if there is an upset by KMT in the 2024 presidential election, fundamental principles will not alter, and it will only serve to delay the inevitable. The question remains on who has the bigger power advantage in the race against time for the eventual unification, where Beijing is realising its own time trap now that its internal decline and structural demise signals the beginning of the end to its power resilience.
The people of Taiwan are matured, far-sighted yet realistic. They foresee the eventual inevitability of a Beijing reunification but will do everything possible to ensure that use of force and conflict are avoided for now, and are cognisant of the fact of Beijing’s economic importance. That said, the core tenets of self determination remain a distinctly prized culture and norms of freedom and democracy will not be at the expense of Taiwan’s strategic patience and calm. The Taiwanese people can wait, but can Beijing be patient enough to wait?
Xi wanted Taiwan as the most important legacy, so time is definitely not on his side, and therefore not on Taiwan’s side. The rest of the democratic world and the alliance of free nations need to stand in solidarity with Taiwan now more than ever, and that Taiwan remains the most important last stand against the growing unchecked autocratic forces, even surpassing Ukraine in terms of overall criticality and the costs at stake.
Taiwan remains an unwavering symbol of democratic beacon and freedom, and China needs to understand and respect the sheer will and principles of the Taiwanese people in this aspect, as do the determination of the people in Ukraine and all free countries the world over. The West and the rest of the world need to step up their support, goodwill and solidarity with Taiwan as the last push in standing up for freedom, law and order and human rights.
[US Navy Ships operate in formation in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in the University of Malaya for more than nine years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.