THE manner by which China has been exerting its influence, including Beijing’s apparent attempt to impose itself abroad as of late, goes beyond the globally accepted norm that truly deserves international concern, an independent Taiwanese think tank has observed.
But while the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS) has concurred in not only the observation, but even the complaints by countries about Beijing’s conduct, it also offered the best possible explanation behind mainland China’s demeanor.
According to CAPS secretary general Andrew Yang, the Chinese government has been dealing with the issue of its territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) mostly by way of intimidation, an observation that had been consistently raised by Asean member-states, particularly by other claimant states.
Even outside of the region, a host of countries have been very vocal about China’s conduct in the SCS in pursuit of its claims. The United States, in particular, has criticized the activities, claiming they were not in accordance with the existing rules-based order.
The US, which regularly conducts freedom of navigation and overflights in the regional waters, has called on the Asean, and even other states, to challenge Beijing’s “illegal” behavior, which it said is undermining both the region’s security and stability.
While America’s call makes sense for Taiwan, which is also among the claimants and has occupied the biggest island in the disputed territory, it could not, however, involve itself in the “united stand” that is being encouraged by US military officials, apparently because of the existing One China policy.
Taiwan is set to get 66 of the US F-16V fighter jets beginning in 2023 in order to beef up its defense and security.
“We are not part of the mechanisms,” Dr. Lee Che-Chuan, director of the division of national security and decision-making of Taipei’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) told the BusinessMirror, which joined international journalists during a recent visit to the tiny island nation that Beijing considers a breakaway province.
Outside of the region, particularly in countries that include Australia and even the self-governing Hong Kong, China has been reportedly exerting efforts to undermine governments by recruiting spies and infiltrators to work for Beijing’s interests.
While Canberra already has an inclination of the Chinese government’s purpose, this could not be made clearer by the recent unmasking of Chinese Wang “William” Liqiang, a self-confessed spy, who had sought asylum in Australia.
Wang, who claimed he had been working for Beijing, reportedly admitted that he had been tasked to penetrate Australia’s government, counter Hong Kong’s democracy movement by penetrating Hong Kong universities and media, and meddle in Taiwan’s political system and elections.
Taiwan is scheduled to hold its presidential elections on January 11, and its officials claimed earlier that China and its communist party officials are working hard to influence the results against re-electionist President Tsai Ing-wen because of her strong anti-Beijing stance.
Chinese communist model
According to Yang, China’s method in dealing with and in conducting its affairs with other states does not adhere to the prevailing rules-based practice, and no less than the Asean, the US and even the European Union have raised concerns about this.
He said the regional body, along with the Americans and the Europeans, have strongly criticized Beijing for its upfront behavior, telling the Chinese government to cease committing the acts, while declaring that they should not be tolerated and must be stopped.
Yang said there is “hard evidence” to support the claim that China is undertaking activities to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries by infiltrating their governments. As such, there is an international consensus about asking the Chinese government about its intent and purpose.
“What is your intention? What is the Chinese agenda in exerting its influence?” Yang asked aloud as he echoed the international call.
When the BusinessMirror tossed back the question to the former official, who had held at least three Cabinet portfolios, including being a former defense minister, he said China intends to “export” its ideology of communism to other countries.
“China is trying to create a different kind of model based on Chinese one-party rule controlled by communists,” he said.
“China is trying to sell that kind of economic model,” he added, noting that “while other countries are enhancing their democratic processes, China is enhancing its domestic control” along the communist line.
Resisting communist rule
Taiwanese officials said the same model is what Beijing now wanted to exert, or even impose, on democratic Taiwan, which it treats as a “renegade” province and which it has threatened to get back, with the use of a military force if necessary.
China’s line of reunification—and its means—accompanies regular acts of provocation and intimidation and even a consistent attempt to infiltrate the Taiwanese government by recruiting for spies and infiltrators among the Taiwanese.
Recently, former Taipei Defense Minister Michael Tsai had disclosed efforts by Chinese communist party officials to contact him through intermediaries, apparently to goad him into working for Beijing’s interests against Taipei.
The effort was made right after he left office in 2008.
China’s threat of using force in reuniting Taiwan, for one reason, has encouraged the Taiwanese to keep the island nation politically, economically and militarily afloat.
Chen Ming-chi, deputy minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, said that while Taipei promotes and values its military cooperation and alliance with other countries, especially with the US, they fully know that Taiwan’s defense rests solely upon the country itself.
This is why Taipei maintains a robust defense posture. Taiwan is set to get 66 of the newest variant of US F-16 fighter jets beginning in 2023 in order to beef up its defense and security.
“We need to upgrade our weaponry system,” said Chen, emphasizing that while Taiwan does not want a conflict with Beijing, it, however, needs to ensure that it could confront the challenge once it arises.
The decision of the US government to sell new assets to Taipei, which had been frozen in years by previous US administrations due to the One China policy, had prompted Dr. Ou Si-fu, director of INDSR’s division of advanced technologies and war fighting concepts, to declare that the US-Taiwan relations is “at its best” under the Trump administration.
Ou said that Taiwan is also building its capabilities in other areas of the military, and this included adding to its stock of war-fighting vehicles for the army and acquiring Aegis system-guided frigates from Japan for its navy.
While Taiwan’s defense is still no match for China’s military might, Taipei is working to improve its capabilities in asymmetrical warfare, one of which is by embarking on an indigenous military program (IMP) and ensuring the readiness of its citizens when called to respond.
One earlier study claimed that should China invade Taiwan, the latter can only deal with the aggression for at least a month before it would completely fall into the Chinese hands, but Ou said this is just a myth.
There are reasons why this would not happen, one of which, according to Ou, is China’s lack of command and control over its military, whose loyalty is divided between the country’s communist rulers and military officials.
At the Taipei Defense and Security Forum held in October this year, which focused on asymmetric strategy as a means “to fend off Chinese hybrid aggression,” defense and security researchers pushed for the development of Taiwan’s indigenous weaponry.
“At the present stage, I think it’s necessary to have a comprehensive military strategy combining defense needs and industry development,” Dr. Hung Jui-min, an INDSR research fellow, said.
The INDSR, which called the forum, admitted that Taiwan, “in terms of number, could not match China ship-for-ship, bullet-for-bullet, so the Taiwanese government must find the best way to use its limited resources to re-equip its military.”
The INDSR said that of the current indigenous military programs, the “submarine program is one of the big-budget items, with construction on a series of eight diesel-electric attack submarines scheduled for next year.”
As part of the IMP, the Taiwanese capital has deployed locally produced Kestrel missiles in order to protect its key infrastructures in the event of a Chinese attack. The deployment of the shoulder-fired home-built weapons followed the announcement that more would be domestically procured.
However it chooses to prepare for the worst, Taiwan seems bent on following the unofficial mantra it has held on to, that is, to meet “sustained pressure” with “sustained resistance.”