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Tsai Ing-wen gestures during a meeting with lawmakers from the Baltic states. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen gestures during a meeting with lawmakers from the Baltic states, Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 29, 2021 (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP).

Taiwan’s Rising Profile Is Drawing China’s Ire

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021

A flurry of visits by foreign officials and an invitation to the upcoming virtual democracy summit to be hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden have underscored Taiwan’s growing international profile. But the attention Taiwan is attracting is causing Beijing to increase diplomatic, economic and military pressure on its autonomous neighbor.

Ten European lawmakers from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia arrived on the island for an eight-day visit starting Sunday. “China is afraid that our mission in Taiwan will show the world that there are benefits to rejecting the so-called ‘economic partnership’ offered by the Chinese regime,” Maldas Maideikis, a Lithuanian parliamentarian who led the delegation, tweeted upon arrival in Taipei

Taiwan and the Baltic states “share similar experiences of breaking free of authoritarian rule and fighting for freedom,” said Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during a meeting with the visiting delegation the following day. “The democracy we enjoy today was hard earned. This is something we all understand most profoundly,” she stressed.

The visit comes as Taiwan is exploring a broadening of diplomatic relations with the European Union, and particularly Lithuania, where it opened a representative office last month and signed agreements with the Baltic state to collaborate on semiconductors, satellites and biotechnology. The current visit by officials from the Baltic states follows two congressional delegations from the U.S. last month, as well as a historic first visit by EU parliamentarians, which Tsai described as “highly meaningful.”

Beijing, which regards Taiwan as one of its provinces and vowed recently to realize “peaceful reunification,” has predictably responded with an outpouring of indignation. Vilnius “must pay a price for its mistake,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, adding that Lithuania has set a bad precedent for other countries to follow. In response to the opening of the de-facto embassy in Lithuania under the name of Taiwan—rather than Taipei, as is usually the practice—Beijing has recalled its ambassador to Vilnius and downgraded diplomatic relations to the level of chargé d’affaires. Furthermore, in yet another display of force intended to send a message to Taipei, China sent a sortie of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone last weekend.

Beijing has frequently deployed the same toolkit in its attempt to isolate Taipei internationally and pressure other countries from recognizing Taiwan’s sovereignty. But with the rest of the world increasingly growing weary of China’s belligerence and choosing to push back against its intimidation, these measures are not only losing their impact, but are also generating sympathy for the autonomous island. “Their intention is to slowly exhaust, to let you know that we have this power,” Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters, after briefing lawmakers about last weekend’s incursion. “Our national forces have shown that, while you may have this power, we have countermeasures.”

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Taiwan is also one of 110 participants invited by the Biden administration to its virtual Summit for Democracy to be held next week, despite strong opposition from Beijing, which was not invited. It will be represented by Digital Minister Audrey Tang and Hsiao Bi-khim, the de-facto ambassador to the United States. Taipei’s choice of its representatives at the summit was a deliberate move to avoid further provoking Beijing, Li Da-jung, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, told the South China Morning Post. “This arrangement largely reduces the political sensitivity that would have been caused by President Tsai Ing-wen attending the meeting, even if it is to be held in a virtual format rather than face to face,” said Li. 

Though the threat of a Chinese invasion is not imminent, Taiwan must play a careful balancing act. And the causes for anxiety are far from subsiding, as Beijing continues to ramp up pressure through other means. Last month, Chinese authorities announced that they would hold those who support Taiwan’s formal independence criminally liable, essentially forcing Taiwanese corporations to pick sides in the increasingly heated dispute between Taipei and Beijing. “They and their connected companies and financiers must be punished in accordance with the law,” said Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs office.

The Taiwanese conglomerate Far Eastern Group was the first casualty of the new edict. It was fined 474 million yuan, or $74 million, ostensibly over violations of tax and fire safety rules. But its chairman, Douglas Hsu, noted the wider political undertones surrounding the fine in an open letter published in Taiwan’s United Daily News. “Like most Taiwanese, I hope that cross-strait relations ‘maintain the status quo.’ I have always opposed Taiwan independence,” he wrote.

In Other News

Local authorities in China’s Henan province have commissioned a surveillance system to track foreign journalists, international students and other “persons of interest,” Reuters reported. Awarded in September to Chinese tech company Neusoft, the surveillance system compiles data from 3,000 facial recognition cameras in the province as well as other regional and national databases. Journalists, for instance, will be divided into three categories: red, yellow and green, in decreasing order of risk, and their entry into the province will trigger alerts to inform the relevant authorities. The tender document “illustrates the first known instance of [China] building custom security technology to streamline state suppression of journalists,” Donald Maye, head of operations at surveillance research firm IPVM, told the news agency.


Elsewhere, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon issued two statements last Wednesday apologizing for a joke that the bank would outlast the Chinese Communist Party. Dimon, who recently visited China and was exempted from quarantine in Hong Kong, made the remarks during a forum at Boston College. “I was just in Hong Kong and I made a joke that the Communist Party is celebrating its hundredth year,” he told his audience. “So is JPMorgan. I’d make you a bet we will last longer.” He later expressed regret for the comment.

Worth a Read

A Reuters investigation revealed that Taiwan has secretly recruited expertise and sourced the technology and components needed to build a submarine fleet to counter a potential Chinese attack from at least seven nations. The U.S. and the U.K. provided key technology, including combat-system components and sonars, while engineers, technicians and former naval officers from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain and Canada joined the project, which is set to deliver the first of eight vessels by 2025. “Taiwan isn’t really that lonely,” one person with knowledge of the project told Reuters. “Given all the export permits we managed to get, we know that many countries are helping.”

Rachel Cheung is a freelance reporter based in Hong Kong. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and Nikkei Asian Review, among other news outlets, and she was previously a reporter at the culture desk of South China Morning Post.

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