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Can Taiwan counter China's mounting pressure?

William Yang Taipei
August 10, 2018

As China increases its pressure on Taiwan, Taipei is taking countermeasures to promote itself as a regional haven for democracy and civil rights. But is it sufficient to deal with Beijing? William Yang reports.

President Tsai Ing-wen and President Xi Jinping
Image: Reuters/T. Siu, picture-alliance/Xinhua/L. TAo

On July 24, China successfully lobbied five other members of the East Asian Olympic Committee to revoke Taiwan's right to host its first-ever East Asian Youth Games next year.

Recently, a group of Taiwanese LGBTQ activists accused Beijing of pressuring the organizers of the Gay Games in Paris into banning the display of Taiwan's flag.

Also, a performance by a Taiwanese high-school choir at the UN Center in Vienna was reportedly canceled due to pressure from the Chinese embassy in Austria.

On July 25, four major US airlines complied with Beijing's demand to alter Taiwan's description on their websites, changing the destination to "Taipei" instead of "Taiwan." The total number of international airlines that have so far caved in to China's demand is now 44.

Read more: Australia says China pressured Qantas over Taiwan status

China continues to lay claim to the island under its "one China" policy, which Taiwan rejects, and hostility toward Taiwan has only grown in Beijing since Tsai Ing-wen (Tsai pictured above, with Chinese President Xi Jinping) was elected as Taiwanese president in 2016.

Screenshot offizielle Website der Fluggesellschaft Delta
China has forced a number of international airlines to use 'Taipei' instead of 'Taiwan' as their destinationImage: delta.com

Soft power

Despite Beijing's continuous efforts to reduce Taiwan's international space, the island's government has shown no sign of surrendering to Beijing's heavy-handedness.

On Sunday, President Tsai reiterated that her administration would not succumb to Chinese pressure and highlighted the growing international support for Taiwan.

While Chinese actions worry many people in Taiwan, analysts are of the view that Taipei has the means to safeguard its sovereignty. For instance, they say, Taiwan can use its good relations with allies like the United States, Japan and the European Union. Additionally, Taiwan's economic ties with a number of countries around the world can help boost Taipei's  global reputation.

"The non-diplomatic aspects of Taiwan's international engagements have improved over the years," Russell Hsiao, executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, told DW.

"Although China has successfully prevented Taiwan from participating in the World Health Organization and other international bodies over the past two years, the support for Taiwan's meaningful participation in international organizations has definitely increased," Hsiao added.

Read more:

China insists on airline demands after US dismisses 'Orwellian nonsense'

US upsets China with new de facto embassy in Taiwan

China blocks Taiwan from International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting

Experts believe that despite taking a strong stance to counter Chinese pressure, the incumbent Taiwanese government can do a lot more to stop Beijing from using "bullying tactics."

Timothy Rich, an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University, says that Taiwan needs to promote itself as a viable and open tourist destination to the world.

"[This way] Taiwan can position itself as an important international player," Rich told DW.

Hsiao says there is no better strategy for Taiwan than to use its "soft power" in comparison to China's authoritarian governance style.

Many experts agree that the level of democracy, freedom of speech, and civil and human rights is much higher in Taiwan than in China.

Read more: Taiwan scrambles fighter jets to monitor Chinese bombers

Growing support

Taiwan's vibrant democracy makes it an ideal destination for hosting international summits, say observers. On August 1, Oslo Freedom Forum announced it plans to hold its first Asian edition in Taipei on November 10. Prominent human rights activists and journalists from around the world are likely to participate in the event. The conference organizers say that Taiwan's free society makes it an ideal destination to host international summits.

"Taiwan is a great destination because of its multiparty political system," Alex Gladstein, a chief strategy officer for New York-based Human Rights Foundation, told DW.

Gladstein hopes that the November conference will increase Taiwan's clout in the international community.

Read more: Donald Trump signs Taiwan Travel Act, drawing China's ire

Taiwan - Seeking Independence From China

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