Phony peacemaker in the war of Ukraine and real Intimidator in the Taiwan Strait

  • 2023-04-14
  • Andrew H.C. Lee, Representative Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

China suppresses Taiwan to kowtow

In August last year, China deployed warships, missiles and fighter jets around Taiwan in its largest display of force in years following US former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.

Just like the response to Pelosi’s visit, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) on 8 April conducted three days of combat-readiness patrol exercises encircling Taiwan entitle “Joint Sword”, in retaliation for President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during her transit in Los Angeles. A series of fierce pushback from Beijing also included imposing sanction against the two organizations that hosted President Tsai during the trip, the Hudson Institute and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

During the three-day military operation, 232 Chinese military aircraft and 32 warships were detected around Taiwan, including a swarm of jet fighters launched from one of its aircraft carrier Shandong. The exercises were to test Chinese PLA joint combat capabilities involving multiple services “under actual combat condition” and intended to practice rehearsing an encirclement and establishing an aerial and maritime blockade of Taiwan, with different formation of fighter jets, drones, bombers, and transport aircraft, and warships.

US and EU staunchly support peace and status quo in the Taiwan Strait 

Taiwan condemns China’s irresponsible and provocative actions in the strongest possible terms, and reiterates that President Tsai exercises a basic right of a sovereign nation when traveling to other countries to engage in diplomatic activities, and that China has no right to intervene. By using this as a pretext to take ruthless actions, China is without doubt challenging the international order and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the region.  This is a gross violation of a fundamental principle of international law and the United Nations Charter that disputes should be settled peacefully.

In response to China’s military threat against Taiwan, the U.S. Department of State stated that the US has consistently urged China to exercise restraint and to not change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.  It also stressed that the US has ample resources and capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure peace and stability and to honor its security commitments. 

Nabila Massrali, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Commission, on April 9 responded to an inquiry by a media outlet.  In her reply, Ms. Massrali stressed the European Union’s concern about People’s Liberation Army activities in the Taiwan Strait and around Taiwan.  She stated that China should not change the status quo unilaterally or by the use of force.  Any escalation, accident, or use of force in the Taiwan Strait would have major economic and security impacts on the region and the world. Therefore, it is critical that all parties concerned exercise restraint and reduce tensions through meaningful, open dialogue.

This EU’s position was expressed in an even more unequivocal manner by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other high-level officials in recent public statements.  On March 30, during her speech at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, President von der Leyen underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and stated that any weakening of regional stability in Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world, would affect global security, the free flow of trade, and the European Union’s interests.  She also pointed out that China has been ramping up its military posturing as well as disinformation and economic and trade coercion policies, willfully compelling other countries to comply as when it took retaliatory measures against Lithuania and other European companies in response to Taiwan opening a representative office in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

Cross-strait security is foundational to prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.  Taiwan is pleased to see the EU has been paying close attention to the security situation around the Taiwan Strait, and echoing on multiple occasions the position affirmed at the G7, United States-Japan, and United Kingdom-France leaders’ summits and other important international meetings, drawing attention to the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

China’s military-spending growth is alarming neighboring countries 

In the last three decades, China has increased its military spending by 39 times. The Chinese PLA has been sharpening its teeth by modernizing its forces for years. Aided by increasing defense budgets, the Chinese 2.2 million active duty service members and 660,000 paramilitary personnel, the world’s largest military force, is increasingly getting powerful and aggressive than ever before with the ever-expanding military modernization of its Army, Navy and Air Force.

In early March, Beijing announced its military budget of $225 billion for 2023 despite setting an official economic growth target of only 5 percent. The spending accounts for 5.7 percent of total government expenditure and marks the eighth consecutive year of increase in its military expenditure, amidst geopolitical tensions and global unease about the PLA’s increasing aggressive behavior. However western analysts widely believe Beijing spends much more on defense than the officially announced sums. This upward trajectory has mostly remained unchanged in China’s military and security development, making it the second biggest spender on defense in the world and its military budget continues to be over three times higher than that of its immediate neighbor India.

Against this backdrop, a number of countries, from Japan and South Korea to the Philippines, have been increasingly wary of Beijing’s growing assertiveness and military ambitions in the region.  In facing of the geopolitical security challenges posed by China, Japan has pledged to double defense spending of $51 billion for fiscal year 2023 while acquiring weapons from the U.S. with range well outside Japanese territory.  South Korea has also acknowledged that stability in the Taiwan Strait is essential to its security while announcing the 2023-2027 mid-term defense plan in last December expected to spend $268.8 billion for the next five years, indicating that the military expenditure will be increased by about 6.8 percent annually.  Despite economic headwinds, besides increasing its 2023 defense budget by 4.9 percent, the Philippines has also announced new U.S. base access rights and is exploring joint patrols of the South China Sea with Australia, Japan, and the United Sates.

Phony peace-broker in the war of Ukraine, real intimidator in the Taiwan Strait

While refusing to condemn the invasion of sovereign Ukraine by its autocratic and strategic partner in Moscow, China continues keeping military pressure on democratic Taiwan. While turning a blind eye to Russia committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, China blames the US and NATO for provoking Moscow, and undermines the sanctions campaign imposed on Russia.

While evading calling Russia’s attack on Ukraine an invasion or war, China now shifts into high gear into its preparations for war against Taiwan. While offering a 12-point peace proposal to end the war in Ukraine with right-hand calling for “ceasing hostilities” and “resuming peace talks,” China imperiously and repeatedly launches large-scale military drills to repress Taiwan and bring it under the yoke with left hand. While seeking to play a role as peace-broker between Ukraine and Russia, China blatantly flexes its military muscle in the Western Pacific and Taiwan Strait as a troublemaker and intimidator.

Beijing’s two-handed tactics with olive branch in one hand, sword in the other, fully demonstrates how untrustworthy and hypocritical this regime is. On Beijing’s part, China’s intervention signals its own needs and applies manipulative strategies to advance its agendas tied to self-serving motives at the expense of Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty. This is not because that China is a regime with dissociative identity disorder (DID), it is simply due to the fact that Beijing has always pursued selfish interest whenever and whatever is convenient. In viewing of both scenarios in Ukraine and the Taiwan Strait, the international community should stay on high alert over the PRC’s ambitions, hidden agendas, and it’s strengthening ties with Russia and efforts to subvert existing multilateral institutions, establish new norms that favor Beijing’s more authoritarian tendencies and insatiable ambition.

Making friends is part of sovereignty and fundamental human rights  

Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country, with 109 embassies, representative offices, and permanent missions in more than 70 countries and international organizations.  In 2023, Taiwan passport holders enjoy visa-free and visa upon arrival access to nearly 150 countries and territories, with additional 20 some countries eligible for granting eVisa, ranking Taiwan passport 35th in the world in terms of travel freedom.  China is in no position to dictate who Taiwan can and cannot be friends with.  President Tsai’s recent visit to diplomatic allies Guatemala and Belize and transit stops in the United States were a success celebrated by the Taiwanese people.  China is overreacting when it uses this as a pretext to further suppress Taiwan’s international space and impose so-called sanctions on related individuals and organizations.  Such irrational behavior not only increases the Taiwanese people’s antipathy to China but also exposes the erratic and absurd nature of the communist regime.  We urge the Beijing authorities to squarely face the reality that neither side of the Taiwan Strait is subordinate to the other.  Threats and suppression will not change this objective fact, but to push both sides farther and farther away.  And they will only strengthen the Taiwan government’s unwavering faith in freedom and democracy and its commitment to doing its utmost to ensure the international space to which Taiwan is entitled.

Taiwan commits to defending sovereignty and democratic values by working with the EU 

As a like-minded partner of the Baltic States and the European Union, Taiwan supports ensuring the security of supply chains and the global order of freedom and democracy. Based on the existing solid bilateral relationship, Taiwan will continue to strengthen mutually beneficial, reciprocal, substantive, and cordial partnerships with the European Union and its member nations to further unite the global democratic community and safeguard shared core values.

As a responsible member of the international community, Taiwan will not escalate conflict nor instigate disputes.  It will staunchly safeguard its sovereignty and national security and stand firm in defense of democracy and freedom.  Taiwan will also continue to maintain close communications and coordination with the European Union, the United States and other like-minded countries to jointly deter authoritarian expansion and aggression, preserve the rules-based international order, and defend a free and open Indo-Pacific.